Students strive to change public perception on Africa

Published 19.02.2019 00:06

A group of students from African countries who study at Turkish universities launched a campaign to end the public misconception about their continent. The "Red Card for Negative Image of Africa" campaign involves students interviewing locals to test their knowledge of the continent. Students went around interviewing locals and foreign tourists in the Sultanahmet district in Istanbul dotted with popular landmarks such as the Blue Mosque. They handed out "red cards" to those answering their questions wrong. Turkey is among the most embracing countries for African refugees and students while Istanbul hosts a sizeable population of migrants from the continents, from Nigeria to Somalia, from Egypt to Ghana.

Still, students say they are bothered with the image of Africa as a continent solely known for poverty while few people are aware of culture of the continent. The word "zenci" in Turkish is also a point of contention for the community as it is viewed as an almost derogatory word for them.

Some passed the test on their knowledge of Africa while others utterly failed, to the chagrin of students who say the continent is actually a place that is home to rich oil reserves and resources, fertile lands and huge manpower, unlike its image in Turkey where it is viewed as a place relying on aid and languishing in a permanent state of poverty.

The decreasing interest in the continent following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire which ruled some northern regions of Africa for some time is particularly problematic.

Students, endorsed by academics from the African Studies Association (AFAM) of Turkey, gave correct information about Africa to interviewees as part of the campaign. Those include the correct place of their countries on the map as many failed to show where their countries are. Interviewees were mostly lacking in knowledge of countries in southern and other parts of Africa while most were able to correctly name capitals of North African countries. Foreign tourists among interviewees were most successful in answering questions.

The question "What are the first things you think when you hear Africa?" was met with a variety of answers but was largely "hunger, poverty, drought, 'zenci,' wild animals, terrorism and black continent." For some, it was "France and exploitation," a subject on the spotlight again after a spat between France and Turkey over what France called a "genocide" of Armenians during the last years of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey, in return, had called on France to account for its crimes against humanity during the colonization of Africa.

Students also informed interviewees that "zenci" commonly used in Turkish originated from the people of Zenc, the Ottoman Turkish name for Zanzibar and it evolved into being a Turkish translation equivalent to a derogatory term instead.

Many interviewees declined to spend a vacation in Africa, describing it as "too hot" and "full of wild animals" while others pointed out there were no proper vacation spots. Muhammad Guaye, a Senegalese interviewer, disputed them, saying Zanzibar, Cote D'Ivoire, Tunisia and Egypt's Sharm al-Sheikh were as good as other popular holiday destinations in the world. Though vacation in Africa was a far-fetched idea for many, most agreed that it was a good place for a safari.

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