Africa is probably the most misunderstood region in the world. It is a continent that generates an enormous amount of interest and attention, yet is also subject to significant misrepresentation and generalisation that does little to account for its diversity or complexity. Africa is home to over 1 billion people (UN, 2017) and is the most linguistically varied place on earth with over two thousand languages spoken, but all too frequently, it is often viewed as a homogeneous, single entity. Nonetheless, in the west such a perception is commonly encountered and perpetuated. Owing to the sheer size of Africa, it can often be difficult to comprehend the vast differences, hence the resort to oversimplification. Furthermore, at first glance, certain developments that have occurred seem to have little consistency, or are simply regarded as uniquely ‘African’ such as authoritarianism, corruption, and the collapse of states. For those uninitiated in African affairs, trying to understand these trajectories can be overwhelming. In order to provide some coherence to this web of complexity, the stock response is to slip into reductive explanations that do little to explain why things have happened. The consequence is to simply look at the outcome, rather than to understand how and why they have occurred.
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Dr. Matthew Graham
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