A new campaign has been launched against the use of the phrase “sub-Saharan Africa” that encompasses African countries south of the Sahara.
The Celebrate Africa Foundation, which is leading the campaign, said the term is a euphemism to distinguish between the five Arab countries in northern Africa and the rest of the continent.
Nigerian-born Chika Onyeani, who is chairman of Celebrate Africa Foundation, told VOA the group has written to the African Union Commission, the United Nations, U.S. President Barack Obama and others urging a halt to the use of “sub-Saharan Africa.”
Onyeani said the phrase is racist and used with the onset and spread of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa.
“I believe that it is demeaning to Africa because Africa was always Africa during the time of Nkrumah (Kwame). Nobody referred to Africa as ‘sub-Saharan Africa,’ but it was due to the AIDS pandemic. That was when this term started being used to refer to black Africa as against Arab Africa,” he said.
Onyeani said he and his group feel “sub-Saharan Africa” is a racist term that should be rejected by all Africans.
“We feel that it’s a racist term, and it is something that Africans should not accept. Right now, there is no other continent that you have sub-anything. You have Europe, you don’t have sub-something Europe; you have America, you don’t have anything sub about (America); you have Asia. But, it’s only the same people who have been referred to as sub-humans that are being referred to as sub-Saharan Africa,” Onyeani said.
He said the campaign is aimed at collecting two-million signatures to present to world leaders and major international organizations asking them to stop referring to Africa as ‘sub-Saharan Africa’.
“Our target is the United Nations, the Secretary-General of the United Nations. We are going to send this letter to the president (Obama), to the Secretary of State (Hillary Clinton) and to all African leaders. We are going to also appeal to people like you (who) would make opinion, who are journalists of substance that you should not accept any press releases or any statements that refer to Africa as ‘sub-Saharan Africa’,” he said.
Onyeani said, since no one demarcated northern Africa and southern Africa, the continent should be referred to as simply ‘Africa,’ or mainland Africa, or it can also be referred to by regions.
He said he was aware that there are more serious issues to be concerned with in Africa than the term ‘sub-Saharan Africa.’
But, Onyeani said Africans must fight the little wars in order to win the bigger ones.
“There is no doubt that we have problems of poverty, we have problems of less development, we have problems of the AIDS pandemic or whatever, we have problems of corruption. We can be fighting to win those wars on those other fronts, but, at the same time, we should not allow ourselves to be degraded anymore,” he said.
Onyeani appealed to individuals to go to the Celebrate Africa Foundation website and fill out the petition, or to join the campaign by calling 917-279-4038.