Orientalism vs The Truth

Orientalism is an interesting and deeply contested topic buried within International Relations. It is a  theoretical perspective of the world introduced by the famous philosopher Edward Said. Edward Said claimed that the so called ‘West’ had a highly stereotypical view of the East where the East had been regarded as barbaric, savage and anarchic, with no form of structure or order. It was argued that these stereotypical views stemmed from the colonial era where Western actors felt the need to intervene within the affairs of the East and control their process of state-building. The West believed that they were superior to the East, in terms of their political structures, economic systems and values, and therefore needed to implement these concepts within the East. The idea of the ‘white-man’s burden’ was a prominent actor in influencing the Wests decisions to control the state-building processes within the East. Orientalism is almost a modern re-creation of colonial thought.

Edward Said believed that despite the end of colonialism, stereotypical thought of the East still remains with depictions as the ‘other’ and almost excluded from the international society, where, as Robert Cooper describes, the East is a jungle. Even today, there is an urge for Western powers to intervene within state affairs with the intention to spread their own values and ‘save’ the Eastern states from failure. The demonization of certain cultures, religions and geographical locations in the contemporary world provides clear examples of how the West still regards the East as barbaric. The idea of Africa being the ‘dark continent’ with little development, failed states and poor living standards still hovers within the discussions amongst Western powers. However, this Orientalist approach is nothing short of a façade, created to widen the gap between East and West and further verticalize the hierarchical world order.

Africa is a growing and developing continent in terms of economic growth as well as its spread of cultural values across the globe. The stereotypical view of this continent being backwards and ‘dark’ is far from its reality. There is clear evidence of emerging economies.  In  2010 for example South Africa became the latest addition to the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) which are 5 emerging global economies. South Africa has become a location of economic investment and can be ranked in the top 15 economies worldwide.

Nigeria is also an emerging economy and became  a part of the world’s 4 next economic giants, the MINTs; Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey. Countries such as Nigeria have become central points of trade and investment and therefore portray the positive alignment of African states within world economy.

African culture is rich and diverse and influences and inspires people of different ages, religion, and race beyond Africa. The credit must therefore  be given to those it has originated from.

The idea of the East, The African continent in particular being a savage and barbaric place has proven to be wrong. Africa is flourishing from many angles. Its hidden talents are now being revealed and its economies are prospering like never before. Yes, it is true that some areas are weak, nevertheless, Africa is progressing and taking its slow but steady steps into a brighter future.


Featured image | map of Africa | Norman B. Leventhal Map | flickr

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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