When deciding to come to Rwanda, I knew much of the responses I would get would revolve around me going to Africa. I knew that I would have to correct those individuals and emphasis that I was specifically going to Rwanda, a country in Africa. Yes, I was going to Africa, but simply saying that dismisses the vast size and diversity within Africa. Before arriving in Rwanda I felt that talking so much about Africa as a single entity was detrimental to truly understanding the continent’s diversity. What I learned however is that knowing how to describe Africa correctly is the best way to understand its diversity.
After seeing a woman on the bus wearing an African necklace, I began to notice other instances of African pride in Rwanda. When I heard Toto’s “Africa” come on at the wedding last week, I was too intrigued not to do anything about it. I brought my curiosity to my Academic Director at SIT, Celine, and asked about the kind of pride that Rwandans have for Africa as a whole. She described how Pan-Africanism still very much exists in Rwanda and the majority of Africa. Unity is important for Africans, she explained. There is a shared culture in Africa that does unify the continent. However, she went on, the issue is when Africa is generalized to be the same something rather than share similar somethings. So yes, I am in Africa and I interact with African people in African culture; but more importantly, I am in Rwanda and I interact with unique Rwandan people in specific Rwandan culture. And even then, Rwanda is full of diversity.
As THE Sam Weinberg (my older brother) once said as a sweeping declaration at the Weinberg dinner table years ago: “Ignorant America Generalizes.” So, is it bad to identify Africa for what it is and what it shares? Certainly not. What perpetuates ignorance is when generalization demeans 1.1 billion people to being one person with one experience.
Check out the true size of Africa here: http://kai.subblue.com/en/africa.html