The Savage Myth

The issue of violence is inescapable. Every continent has experienced eruptions of violence at some point throughout human history. Violence is something inside of us all and it creates massive changes rather rapidly making it tempting to focus solely on violence.

I can’t even tell you how many classes were offered at my University in psychology, sociology, political science, international relations, all about war and conflict and violence. In fact, it grows tiresome. But it mainly grows tiresome because the ideas are so isolated from the realities of violence and they are heavily biased against certain regions.

Although many academies and libraries were spread throughout the Islamic world, including in West Africa (the famous and amazing Timbuktu for instance, in present day Mali), the West ripped education and knowledge out of people’s hands (sometimes literally) once colonization began. We devalued the oral histories of these countries and even removed populations’ ties to vernacular languages making many lose centuries of knowledge on history, culture, and language.

Since then the study of the world including violence has been dominated by the Western World. They created a Western bent reality through some of the greatest human rights violations in history and yet the West still creates the picture of Africa as almost nothing but conflict and violence. This narrative has been gobbled up by most people, even among Africans because of a lovely phenomenon we shall explore called “double consciousness.” The narrative has been used to justify biased policies in the International Criminal Court, World Bank, and throughout the numerous Western powers with invested interests in Africa.

Yes, there have been enormous tragedies, horrible conflicts, and violence throughout the continent of Africa. However, we put aside the blame that the Western World must receive for numerous violent conflicts in Africa when we discuss the issue. We gloss over the complex motivations and circumstances leading up to violence. The West stereotypes the violence and even fabricate histories that turn asymmetrical wars against exploitation, classism, and colonization (i.e. Mau Mau) into “terror” campaigns and white colonizers and missionaries into “saviors” and “victims.” News agencies constantly report on the “tribal conflict endemic to African societies” neglecting that these conflicts are not rooted in thousands of years of “tribal tradition” but instead recent imbalances of power and corruption created largely by colonialism’s purposefully discriminatory policies.

Western media portrays violence in Africa as normal, natural, endemic, “to be expected from such an undeveloped, uncivilized continent.” Meanwhile they insist that the only way a white man could enter a school full of children or a theatre or a college and commit mass murder is an isolated case of the crazies. These consistent portrayals of violence dismiss the complexity of violence in Africa (as well as the Arab world) and insist on Western morality and “civilization.”

In reality, what causes violence in Africa is literally no different than what causes violence in the Americas, in Asia, in Europe, across island nations. It’s not tribal violence or primitive savagery. Violence is a complicated equation of power imbalances, inequality, poverty, resource scarcity, and systemic discrimination fueling degrees of conflict in every country.

I have devoted a series of Instagram posts to a beginning discussion of violence in Africa and what causes these conflicts. I will continue this here, on Instagram, and Twitter in the aforementioned effort to make information widely accessible and multi-platform. I look forward to expanding content through this blog and an interactive educational website (in progress) to assist in tutoring and my future classrooms.

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