Ignorance is not bliss, specifically when it comes to students’ knowledge on Africa.
An Undergraduate Student Government event held Monday focused on flipping the popular mantra, “ignorance is bliss,” through a discussion on stereotypes and misconceptions so often associated with African culture and people.
With a panel of experts and partnerships with various student culture groups such as the African Youth League and Somali Student Association, discussion was focused on defeating any false notions about the continent and its people, said Grace Azenabor, a fourth-year in marketing and economics and president of AYL.
“Throughout my years I feel like there is a lot that is misunderstood about the continent and like what’s really going on. But I think that people are quick to call a place of Africa a place of poverty, just malnutrition people and just a place of problems,” Azenabor said. “I think that there is a lot of good things in Africa and African people in general doing great things for the continent.”
The panelist discussed the nation’s disease epidemics, economic issues and poor air quality, all factors that contribute to not only Africa’s development struggles, but the public’s idea of how it functions as a society.
Sarah Hayford, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology, said working with international health organizations to increase the availability of vaccines in Africa is necessary to defeat influenzas, diphtheria and yellow fever.
“Vaccination is kind of what we think of when we think of preventing diseases,” Hayford said. “So, it is one of the things that we feel should be most successful.”
Many of the diseases that cause death in Africa are known as neglected tropical diseases, she said, “because no one cared about them or payed attention to them.”
These diseases include river blindness, also known as onchocerciasis, and Noonan Syndrome, which are usually transmitted by parasites or contaminated soil and water.
“These are things that do not have high death rates but are very painful,” Hayford said.
Robert Agunga, an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural Communication, Education and Leadership, said there is a problem with Africa following the World Bank’s guidelines because they are so cumbersome to implement.
The World Bank is an international institution that provides loans to countries around the world for capital programs.
While Africa is receiving loans from World Bank, many countries and people are not involved in the program, Agunga said, adding this is where many issues stem — specifically governments spending money that will never reach society.
“The main guidelines that have been in place for the past 40 years is that you have to involve the local people. Now the World Bank will put it in the policy that if you want this money you have to involve the people in your country,” Agunga said. “But if you don’t involve the people, the World Bank wouldn’t tell you not to spend the money. But the real sense the World Bank should have said if you don’t involve the people, you cannot spend this money.”
Additionally, Agunga said it is difficult to get African natives to Washington D.C., where the World Bank has a headquarters, for training. The lack of training contributes to the difficulty of implementing programs.
Backwards air pollution trends contribute to the nation’s struggles, as well, said Olorunfemi Adetona, an assistant professor in Environmental Health Sciences.
“Over the last 40-50 years there has been a drop deduction in level of contaminate,” Adetona said. “But in Africa has been the other way around.”
Adetona said the increase in air pollution is related to the development of new technologies, such as public transportation.
Like every continent, Africa has many issues, increasing students’ knowledge of the specific struggles can help deflate stereotypes, create more of a global understanding and allow for those interested in helping, do so easier.
“I would say educate and raise awareness about a lot of the issue. The more people now, the more empowered they are about how they can effect change,” Adetona said. “So, education about the problems at hand and education about the options people have towards effective change.”