Africa: The Invisible Continent

| May-June 2010

Advocates for African countries often complain that Westerners treat the continent as if it was a single, monolithic entity—a mind-set rooted in ignorance that results in negligence. One would think, then, that the high-speed spread of information technology would offer hope. In the case of the hugely influential online encyclopedia Wikipedia, however, Africa isn’t merely oversimplified; it’s nearly invisible.

Oxford University Internet specialist Mark Graham dug through Wikipedia’s user-generated geographical entries and emerged with a map, published in The Guardian (Dec. 2, 2009), demonstrating the encyclopedia’s geographic blind spots. For Germany there is an average of one entry for every 40 square miles. For Chad, the average is one entry for every 10,500 square miles. “Remarkably,” writes Graham, “there are more articles written about Antarctica than all but one of the 53 countries in Africa.” That oasis of Wikipedia entries in this desert of information is Burkina Faso. 

The information gap exists in spite of the fact that more than 8,000 English-language editors sign up every month and more than 1,000 articles are added every day. Still, Graham writes, “there are more articles written about the fictional places of Middle Earth and Discworld than about many countries in Africa, Asia, and the Americas.”

As technology improves in developing countries, new Internet access may mean new editors for Wikipedia—and a lot fewer blank spots on its information map. Unfortunately, Graham argues, “it is equally conceivable that as peer-produced projects . . . become our primary sources of knowledge, we could begin to see permanent information inequalities.

“In any case, it is clear that we are far from running out of topics to write about.”

Jonas D. Rand_3
6/18/2010 5:23:12 PM

This is the same account as the previous one with my name. My account was "locked" after I posted the above, so I created another one with my secondary e-mail address. I should not have posted the above as fact, however, because it is not proven. He allegedly lives in a trailer park, see, though that claim is unconfirmed by Wales himself. It was written on a message board, Wikipedia Review, which is the only forum dedicated to criticizing Wikipedia, written by a poster who often has an anti-Wikipedia sentiment. Additionally noted is the fact that the claim from Jimbo Wales' ex-wife Pam about becoming a nurse was made in Valleywag, a gossip newsletter that publishes unreliable claims. While my personal belief is that it is true, you cannot believe what you hear in a publication like that, as it is somewhat sensationalist gossip from a Web 2.0 Silicon Valley gossip website.

Jonas D. Rand_1
6/18/2010 4:53:11 PM

Wikipedia often suffers from a marked insensitivity - and ignorance - to non-Western cultures, as demonstrated by this and many other examples of a lack of information regarding African geography. For example, the town of Mao, shown on most Chadian maps, has an article on Wikipedia that, excluding automatic "template" messages, is not longer than a page. Contrast the article on Eeklo, Flanders, a Belgian town with a similar population size, which has about 3 and a half pages, including history, a list of notable residents, and local events. Despite this, the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, has the audacity to make statements about how "the free encyclopedia" will help the "child in Africa". He embraces Objectivism, a political ideology that openly embraces selfishness, which is euphemistically referred to as "self-interest"). Mr. Wales lives in a trailer park in Florida. An ex-wife claims that Wales once attempted to thwart her interest in pursuing of a career in nursing, because, as an altruistic vocation, it went against his ego-centered belief system.,_Chad

Gregory B. Camp_2
5/15/2010 3:10:42 PM

Thanks for helping me realize my ignorance of Africa

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