NORTH AFRICA: How “African” is North Africa?


Seen from space, Africa is one huge and undivided landmass. But for some on the continent, however, the widely-held perception is of two very different regions; Africa south of the Sahara desert, or sub-Saharan Africa, and north Africa. For some, the dividing line is more than the Sahara – it is culture, language and even skin tone. North Africa is predominantly Arab and relatively more developed. Many residents identify more with the Middle East than they do with the larger part of the continent. Hundreds of people from the south migrate to the north in search of greener pastures – but they are often met with hostility. But when it comes to an African identity, some sub-Saharan Africans believe they have more claim to the continent than their northern counterparts. On the other hand, the formation of the African Union in 2002 was a great leap forward in the effort to drive forward common action throughout the continent. And issues that are crippling the continent are just as relevant in the north as the south – Take for example that Egypt and Libya are suffering from greatly increased rates of HIV and Aids, just as Southern Africa is.

On the BBC’s Africa Live Programme they asked “Just how African is north Africa?” Does culture and language link the region more to the Arab world, or should geography be the deciding factor? Check out some of the comments below:

  • The word “Africa” in Roman times referred only to Tunisia and western Algeria; only later was it extended to encompass the whole continent. Even the word is said to originally come from Berber. So if you want to be pedantic, you can claim a Namibian or an Ethiopian isn’t African – but don’t try to tell me that an Algerian isn’t!

Lameen, USA / Algeria

  • To say the least, an ordinary north African will rarely identify himself as being an African. North African leaders such as Gaddafi have decided to identify with black Africa after being frustrated by failed efforts to unite the Arab world.

Michael Kithinji, USA

  • As a Libyan, I wouldn’t class myself as being “African” we have very little in common with African nations, and I’m confident that 98% of Libyans are against any African Union, contrary to the opinion of our “leader”. Since the formation of the African Union, Libya has only suffered due to the mass movement of Africans to the north, spreading drugs, prostitution, HIV and AIDS, with them which until recently was never an issue in Libya or any other Arab state.
  • Let us put to final sleep the souls of the likes of Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Samora Machel and the many others. Long live Africa, and may God/Allah bless all her children

Oheneba Kwesi Asante, Columbus, ohio

  • n 1998, I was a student at University of Minnesota. I had a chance to meet many students from both sub-Sahara and north Africa. Most of the north African students didn’t want to be called African. I asked two of my friends, one is from Tunisia & the other from Egypt why they don’t want to associate with us. The response from both were the same, “Africa is known in the world community for its backwardness, civil war, famine, HIV/AIDS, and illiteracy. The only good about Africa is its beautiful wild life.” I was so amazed to hear this kind of response from brothers, whom I believed were African like me.

Julee, Saint Paul, USA

  • It is interesting to see this topic as I am currently reading material which has already addressed this issue as it relates to the land advancement of Islam from Arabia. It was during the 7th century that Arab Muslims conquered Syria, Palestine, Egypt and North Africa. Until this time all of these areas were part of what was then called Christendom. By the year 1500 the entire north section of Africa was considered to be Muslim. It was during the 8th century that Berbers joined with these Arab Muslims from their bases in north Africa that they took on Spain and Portugal. Had these Arab Muslims decided to conquer to the South, this debate would be mute as all of Africa would consider themselves as Arabs. 

Diana, Ohio, USA

  • Morocco is as different from Egypt as Nigeria is from Ghana. Even skin colour would not stand up to scientific scrutiny if one were to genuinely attempt to make this a significant difference between north, south, east and west Africa. There is however a mental division between Africans that encompasses this argument and in my opinion these mental divisions have been created by western media. For example when an Egyptian says he or she is not African they are merely reacting against the negative media association of poverty and degradation with southern Africans. This type of denial exist for all sort of people of African origin and not exclusive to the so called North African. When the West coined the phrase “sub-Saharan Africa” to describe southern Africa, it conveniently conjured the image of Africans as sub humans; it is a remarkable turn of phrase I must say.

Robert Lowe, England



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