One continent, 54 nations

Manaf Zora, president of Saint Mary’s African Student Society (SMASS) has been asked “Why we don’t you have an African dish?” too many times.

“What’s an African dish?” he replies.

Zora says Africa cannot be stereotyped by one language, one food, one culture – Africa is incredibly diverse. The north of the continent is not the south and the west is not east.

Last Monday, SMASS held an exhibition displaying the colours, flags, and maps of the continent’s 54 different countries, along with countless historical and geographical facts.

The organizers put people’s misconceptions and confidence to the test.

“I found most of Africans lack the knowledge of the content of Africa,” says Zora.

“They know their home and maybe two neighbouring countries but actually they don’t know the rest of the continent.”

“Some people think that the entire continent is a country, which is really sad,” says Martha Chilufya Mutale, secretary for SMASS.

“We hope that people leave actually thinking they know more than they first arrived – to be a bit more unified.”

Monica Mutale of the African Diaspora Association of the Maritimes (ADAM) has partnered with SMASS before.

“It’s really nice to get into the schools, and nice any time we have an opportunity to get out. We try to get out and into the community as much as possible,” she says.

One visitor from the community came with an open mind and a will to learn.

“What brought me here today, honestly, just really wanted to know more about Africa and wanted to explore different cultures and broaden my mind,” says Carl Archer, who stopped by.

“To understand why it’s so important to be a global citizen and not just think about your own country.”

There were poets, drummers, and dancing, but that wasn’t all that was going on.

Tariro Dheka, the vice-president of Saint Mary’s African Student Society, demonstrates the flag of Zimbabwe, her home country (Photo: Danielle Cameron)
Tariro Dheka, the vice-president of Saint Mary’s African Student Society, demonstrates the flag of Zimbabwe, her home country (Photo: Danielle Cameron)

“Instead of having a dance or music, because you can see on that on YouTube, we’re giving a challenge that we give you questions and I make sure you can’t find them on YouTube – I wrote all 12 questions and I wrote all the answers on the boards, so that will give you a chance to go explore every country and see the flag,” says Zora.

There was also another challenge issued; identify all 54 countries’ flags and Zora would give you $100.

But, if you lost, you donate a dollar. This event was an opportunity to raise money to help with the drilling of wells and for an Ebola survival orphanage in Sierra Leone.

They hoped to raise $10,000, although with the low Canadian dollar it will have to be closer to $12,000.

“Even if we raise $10, we’re remembered then by something,” says Zora.

The biggest takeaways the organizers and participants shared that day were the numerous myths and misconceptions they wished to dispel about Africa and Africans.

“We don’t all live in huts,” says Lindsay Panashe, public relations manager for SMASS.

“Africa is one of those places where development has been hindered because everyone just looks down upon it – looking at it as the ‘Dark Continent’. We’re trying to get the word out that there’s so much potential in Africa; there’s riches and natural resources – everything – it’s all there,” he says.

“Everybody born in Africa is an African and Africa is the mother that will welcome everybody. If you’re slapped on the right cheek, give them the left.  We got slapped on the right and we’re to give the left, but this time, we’ve opened our hands with a hug for the whole world,” says Zora.

“Just be proud to be African – be proud of where you come from, show your pride, wear your clothes, speak your mother tongue. No matter where you are, just be proud to be African,” says Tariro Dheka, vice-president of SMASS.

How do the organizers measure this day’s success? “If you learn one thing about Africa today, I met my goal,” explains Zora.

How much do you really know about Africa? It’s a pretty big place.