Africa a Fascinating Continent

Jan Záhořík

International and Economic Relations Faculty

Since 2006, I have been visiting Africa every year, at least for a couple of weeks. Africa is usually portrayed in the Western media as a continent full of conflicts, diseases, famines, and other disasters. 

These stereotypes are nothing new and actually go back to the rise of colonialism due to the fact that Europe has always been thought of as the mother of civilization while the countries of the so-called Third World are seen as savage, barbarian, backward. 

African StudentsPrimarily, Africa is our closest neighbor with whom Europe shares many centuries of common history, economic relations, cultural and social exchanges and so on. Therefore, in order to avoid misunderstandings, we have preconceived notions of who is who, and other stereotypes that help to create differences and even violence. The best way to understand Africa is to have direct experience with it. Here we get to the first major issue - there is nothing like “typical Africa” as is usually portrayed in the media. There are more than 50 countries in the continent with many different languages, ethnicities, histories, political systems, religions, and environments. People in Europe usually think of Africa as a country, which is, obviously, nonsense. 

In this regard, one country that interests me, Ethiopia, differs from the rest of the continent even more significantly, as it combines African, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern cultural roots. Since 2006, I have been fourteen times to in Ethiopia and can agree with another stereotypical saying, that Ethiopia is a “continent within a continent”. Still, compared to many other countries in and outside Africa, Ethiopia is relatively peaceful and stable country, despite a de facto one-party state system and shrinking space for political and social freedoms. Doing research of any kind can thus be sometimes a bit complicated. For instance, recently, the Ethiopian government came up with restrictions concerning visa applications and now approval from the Ethiopian Immigration Office in Addis Ababa is needed, which may prolong significantly the whole procedure. The reason for this is approaching elections and a tendency to decrease the number of unwanted witnesses to them as they will again result in the absolute victory of the ruling party, EPRDF. 

However, Ethiopia is a paradise for scholars of any kind, as it has a very long history, various religious traditions sharing space for centuries or even thousands of years, an important status of regional hegemony in the Horn of Africa, and a special position in the evolution of mankind. The same goes with the history of Czech-Ethiopian relations. There is no other country in Africa with which former Czechoslovakia had such intensive relations. My concern is now to explore Czech-Ethiopian relations in the broadest sense, and this is also the purpose of my current visit to Ethiopia. In cooperation with Addis Ababa University and Jimma University, I am preparing an exhibition of the history of Czech-Ethiopian relations, and am writing material (in English) on this subject. 

Last but not least, when one spends some time in Africa, whether in Ethiopia, Rwanda, or Burkina Faso, sooner or later, one will realize that Africa is not only a fascinating and incredibly diverse continent, but in many cases, is an inspiration. There are many reasons for this statement but instantly, the title of Patrick Chabal’s book “The Politics of Suffering and Smiling” comes to my mind. Smiling makes you feel better, and causes culture shock when coming back, for instance, to the Czech Republic. So, welcome to Africa!

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