Victor Wynne

Rethinking the term Sub-Saharan Africa


Tatenda Chinondidyachii Mashanda:

The power of Western agency means that they can construct words which speak exclusively to their perceived reality. The UN, EU, World Bank, IMF or any other big institution that you might think of has been leading in using the term SSA. It must be pointed out that even many governments and organizations in this region also use the term SSA without really interrogating the meaning or implied meaning of SSA. This has been useful in setting up a false dichotomy and systematic normalization of the term.

It is important to emphasize that these deeply embedded assumptions and stereotypes about Africa not only stand in the way of effectively learning about the continent, but also have been the basis of ill-conceived academic research and policies.

Six years ago the Nigerian born Chikia Onyeani of the Celebrate Africa Group argued that the term sub-Saharan Africa is demeaning to Africa and must be rejected. He rightfully argued that there is no other continent that has sub something, there is no Sub-Europe or Sub-America. We should be concerned that it’s only the people who were considered as sub human in history who are being referred to as sub-Saharan Africans. The concept of some invisible border, which divides the North of Africa from the South, is rooted in racist thought. A black and white view of African culture only serves racist generalizations. There are more serious issues to be concerned with, but we cannot exclude identity and terminology from conversations on race.

I have also used this term without really thinking much about it, or questioning its use. I see now how problematic it is and will certainly avoid it.