Our image of the world is wrong

Images are powerful. They can alter unconscious beliefs. In the last 400 years, one image in particular has greatly influenced the beliefs of both Africans and the rest of the world population about Africa.

Let me first use an example of the destructive power of images. It is in the interest of western aid organizations that their populations start to feel pity for poor people. As a result, they share lot of images and videos to generate that feeling of pity. Especially the image of black African baby’s with flies around their faces seems to have been effective. By constantly showing this image, this has instilled the unconscious belief that Africans are poor, helpless, sick, and in short: desperate to be saved.

By constantly seeing this image of Africans as victims, a sense of victimhood was developed. This image of a victim led to a self-fulfilling prophecy. The aid that is sent from outside is not used for long-term solutions of empowerment, but for a cycle of dependency. Even worse, both African governments and major aid organizations benefit most from this situation, and most of this aid ends up into their pockets.

That is why many initiatives (often of young Africans) in the last years have tried to create a different picture of Africa. A positive image where Africa is not depicted as this miserable place full of disease and starvation, but full of beautiful lands and cultures like any other place on earth. What they try to do, is to change the image. Because when the image changes, the unconscious belief will follow.

The world as you know it, is an illusion.

In this blog I will focus on a different image of Africa. This image has greatly distorted the reality. The world as you know it, is an illusion.

The Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator created a map of the world in 1569, which is known as the Mercator Projection. The focus of this map was on naval navigation, which was of particular importance for trading routes from Europe. Due to the central position of Europe, the Northern Hemisphere was greatly expanded, while the Southern Hemisphere was projected much smaller than it actually is. This image Is still the most widely used image of the world.

The Mercator Projection

There are some things that stand out. One element is the enormous size of Northern America versus Southern America, or the size of Greenland versus that of Africa. Also Europe is quite large in size compared to Africa. It is important for us to realize that this map is a projection, and in this case, a projection that has greatly distorted the actual sizes of the different continents on the world.

For many hundreds of years, this projection was used as the universal standard. It has implanted an image of the world and its continents in our brains. This has created a false belief about both the size and central position of what is we often call the Western world, the First world, or the Northern Hemisphere.

A more recent projection was developed by German cartographer Oswald Winkel in 1921, which is currently overtaking the Mercator projection. It is the official map of National Geographic, which adopted it in 1998. Most educational institutes and textbooks have also started to adopt the projection. However, a more recent projection shows the real sizes of continents relative to each other.

The Winkel Tripel Projection

This critical approach is the Gall-Peters projection. The projection became a point of debate in the early 1970’s by German historian Arno Peters, who brought the design of Scottish clergyman James Gall of 1855 to a larger audience. In this projection all areas have the correct sizes relative to each other. Especially Africa stands out, as it far larger than most people realize.

The Gall-Peters Projection

In order to achieve the projection of correct sizes relative to others the actual shapes of the continents are a bit distorted, so the image is not yet perfect.

However, it creates a more realistic image of the size of the continents compared to each other than the Mercator’s projection, or even the Winkel’s Projections. That is why UNESCO has started to use this projection, and since 2017 some schools in the United States are replacing their maps with this projection.

The single most important problem of African youth are their beliefs and mindsets.

Why is this so important? The single most important problem of African youth are their beliefs and mindsets.

Many young Africans constantly see the colonial projection of Mercator as the map of the world in their classrooms. This has created the belief that Africa is a marginalized southern continent, less wealthy and powerful than the great, exemplary western world of Europe and USA.

Besides this wrong image in their geography lessons, they also receive wrong images in their history classes. As a legacy from colonialism, Western history still takes a prominent place in most African education textbooks. Many learn about Cicero, Shakespeare, or Napoleon. What they don’t learn, is their own glorious history of Ancient Africa. Of Egypt, Carthage, wealthy Mali, and the trans-Saharan trade routes full of gold. Or the sophisticated libraries of Alexandra and Timbuktu. For most of human history, Africa was a center of science and wealth. There are many thousands of inspirational stories about African history before it was colonized. As an Africanist reading about this inspiring history of Africa, I have realized how distorted the image of Africa in the last 300 years has become.

This lack of images of their own correct history and geography, has greatly influenced their self-worth as Africans, and has had a destructive influence on their identity. Many young Africans look up to the Western nations as role models. Many brilliant students try to leave Africa as soon as they have the network, scholarship, or job to do so. Sometimes, they are even ashamed for their black skins. A worrying phenomenon is the increasing amount of African women who are bleaching their skin in an attempt to chemically ‘alter’ their outlook.

In contrast to this majority, there is a growing group of Africans that are fully aware of their real history and their real geography. They have become confident, critical and inspiring leaders as a result. They realize that black is beautiful, and nothing to be ashamed of. They have connected to and accepted their identity as Africans, and are proud of it. I expect that these enlightened role models will increase in number in the coming years.

I firmly believe that when African youth will start to replace the old images with the real images, this will greatly influence their beliefs. No longer shall they want to be pitied, and be dependent on ‘saviors’ either white or any other color.

African youth must be enlightened, and made aware about their own glorious history, extremely vast and rich lands, inspiring culture full of art and science. This is what is called the African Renaissance, and with this blog I aim to share what I have learned from inspirational African scholars about African history.

Only when African youth will escape from their current mind-sets and beliefs, will it become possible for them to start become independent, confident, and proud Africans, who need no one to solve their challenges besides themselves.

As all journeys start with a single step, so should the first step in this journey be that all primary, secondary, and tertiary schools in Africa replace the Mercator Projection with the Gall-Peters projection. I would even suggest that all schools in the world should consider to start using the Gall-Peters projection.

A comparison shows how large Africa really is

This is not only important for young Africans. It is important that all citizens in the world become aware about our distorted images of the world, and Africa in particular. Too often, people that have not visited Africa yet, have been faced with incorrect images by aid commercials, negative news stories, or Hollywood stereotypes. As a result, they have gained an unconscious belief that Africa is full of misery and need to be saved. I hope that with this blog I have enlightened the minds of both Africans and non-Africans. Africa does not need to be saved, it only needs to be awakened. As soon as Africans become aware about their glorious history, geography, culture, and opportunities, peace and prosperity will follow.








Is your research based on outside-in perspectives?

The perspectives that establish the situation of a foreign country are often determined by the government and news agencies. These are informed by the intelligence of defence, government, NGO’s, and local correspondents. The perspectives shared with the Dutch or European population at large are often informed by these ‘outside-in’ perspectives, not necessarily creating a realistic view on what is happening underground. This is interesting, as my personal experience has been showing a different perspective while doing research in Uganda for my thesis of the master African Studies.

From the outside-in perspective, Uganda is considered as a reliable, stable, and safe partner of the Netherlands. It is praised by the Dutch government as a regional policeman, contributing to security in the region, with a steady macro-economic development. Dutch citizens can safely visit and do business in Uganda, which is receiving millions of development aid. But the inside-out perspective says otherwise.

Inside-out perspectives

After interviewing youths in Uganda, from students, professionals, activists, to slum dwellers about their current social-political and economic situation, I got a completely different description of the Ugandan government. It was described as an oppressive dictatorship by all persons interviewed. There are critical internal voices about a sophisticated veil of intelligence in order to maintain control of the government, based on external legitimism like in colonial times. Several hundreds of thousands motorcycle-taxi drivers were enlisted as informers, to ensure that there was no freedom after speech, even though it seems the Ugandan population have freedom of speech to the outside world. The population has been forced into dependency of the government; a situation described in the academic debate as waithood. Civil society organizations or opposition groups were actively neutralized to ensure control of the government. Semi-structured interviews helped me to discover that the ‘outside-in’ image of international donors on security and governance can be quite the opposite from the ‘inside-out’ perspective of the Ugandans themselves.

This painful contrast between the outside-in perspective which describes Uganda as a safe country, and the inside-out perspective which instead describes Uganda as a sophisticated dictatorship actively oppressing any opposition and free behaviour, contribute to instability instead. It makes me wonder if this is the case in more African countries. What if our approaches has been built mainly on outside-in perspectives, and less on the real situations, based on inside-out perspectives?

Day 9: Energy

Some people seem to have energy the moment they wake until they go to bed. Others are tired all day long, watching the clock continuously, hoping that they can go home again soon to watch their favourite TV programme.

I did a course about how to optimize your energy some time back, at SoChicken made by Jelle Hermus. I found his comparison to a rechargable battery and a bucket of water interesting.

The common convention is that we are batteries, that start at 100% and get to 0% as the day progresses. Over time, we need evenings, weekend and holidays to recover. He argued that there are so many leaks these batteries often get broken, especially when there is too much pressure with not enough recharging moments. When these batteries are using their emergency ratio’s consistantly without time to recharge, this often leads to a battery who is not able to recharge well anymore. The same happens with people that get a burn-out. After a burn-out, they need a much longer time to repair their battery again.

The leaks he mentioned were multi-tasking, bad sleep, lots of caffeine, sugar and alcohol, television, social media, constant use of mobile phone, distractions by news and apps, overthinking, procrastination and sad or angry emotions. All of these leaks made the battery lose energy.

However, he also argued that when these leaks would be taken away, preventing energy to leak and thus remain usable, we could become overflowing buckets of water. Instead of starting the day with 100% energy and having 0% at the end of the day, we get energy from specific inputs: sleep, food, sports, relaxing time, travelling, energizing work, interesting conversations etc. If we can prevent the leaks as much as possible, combined with having as much energy inputs as possible, we start to gain more energy instead of lose it, becoming an overflowing bucket of water.

I definitely liked this philosophy behind energy and try to minimize my energy leaks while optimizing my energy inputs as much as possible, with more fulfilling, productive and enjoyable days as the result.

Day 8: Morning Ritual – Productivity

A third benefit of waking earlier to have a morning ritual is to plan your day. By making a plan for the day, visualizing yourself achieving it, you create focus and order.

This can be done by creating a to do list for the day, plan how much time you want to allocate per task (the larger ones), how you will take breaks and how you enjoy your free time.

By better planning and focus you upprade your productivity, and it will eventually be how productive you become, how much income you will earn.

Day 7: Morning Ritual – Gratitude

One of the most powerful realizations in my life has been that you can not be afraid, or sad when you feel grateful. Compared to most people I know, I am generally calm and in control of my emotions and optimistic.

This has an effect on a lot of things, as I am extremely grateful for a lot of things. When something bad happens, I am often the first who looks for things to be grateful for which alters my emotions completely.

By being grateful for what you already have in your life: life itself, health, a house, family, friends, a partner, a pet, a job, financial income etc. at the first moment of the day, this influences the rest of the day and life in general. You make your choices based on your hopes instead of your fears.

Day 6: Morning Ritual – Sports

The idea behind doing exercises in the morning is that you activate your body and metabolism so it will process food more effectively.

The exercises could be anything, personally I like to do push-ups to build my core and as you can do them practically everywhere, I could eventually add or completely replace this with sit-ups. I do 2 sets of 50 push-ups.

You could also make the whole ritual based around sports as you are running, cycling or swimming anyways. At the moment I cucle 2-3 times per week to my work in the Hague which is 22K back and forth. I want to either run or swim the days that I am not cycling.

Day 5: Morning Ritual

One of the most effective areas to transform that will affect the rest of your areas and life is to gain a morning ritual. It will make you healthier, stronger, calmer, more focused, grateful and productive. Furthermore, it gives you the most important resource you can never get back: time.

The morning ritual often consist out of several aspects of which some exercises, gratitute mindset and plan for the day are most common.

Even though I have know the benefit of installing a morning ritural for years, as a natural night owl I find this super difficult to implement. Many nights (full of motivation) I made the decisiion that today was the last time sleeping out. I often used the drastic change method without effect. I have been able to wake up early for several prolonged periods such as two summers ago or my internship in Uganda. At these periods I achieved super-human productivity and felt super fulfilled, disciplined and confident,

That is how I want to be / feel every single day, so I aim for 06:00 to have 1 to 2 spare hours before life starts. Currently I wake up around 7:30 – 08:00 AM.

I am using the kaizen method to wake daily 15 minutes earlier, reaching 06:00 this sunday. After that I will take a month to make it a habit.

The benefits of this changed behaviour will be financial wealth, a Spartan body and mentality, and time/productivity to make my dreams become a reaility such as finishing my book.

Day 4: Personal Transformation

I am interested in becoming the best version of myself, by optimizing my behaviours and routines.

In general, there are two methods to achieve this transformation: Drastic change is the sudden and extreme change from the current state to the desired state, often implemented when one is motivated and enlightened. This is the usual method used in the Western world, romanticised by Hollywood movies. In reality, this is also the most difficult (and least likely to succeed) method.

Repeated and subtle change is called Kaizen in Japan, as an alternative method to the drastic change. Instead of drastic change, a strategy is formed to use a lot small intermediary steps to go from the current state to the desired state. This simple method is more effective, often leading to faster transformation compared to several failed drastic changes with decreased confidence as a result.

Even though the second method is less heroic, it is more effective and simple while it leads to the same result: transformation. In the end it will be the transformation that is visible to outsiders.

While I have been using the drastic change often, with repeated failure as a result, I will shift to the kaizen method.


Day 3

As I will hopefully graduate soon, real life is about to start.

While I have been working on installing daily/weekly routines to bring me to the next level over the past years, this has worked with ups and downs. This year I will make no more excuses and succeed in making myself the person I want to become.

To motivate myself, document my progress and share it with you, I will blog about it every single day. These blogs can be about sports, financial success, self-discipline, control of emotions, vision and more.

One exercise to realize your dreams is to think ahead 90 days. Imagine that you just had your best 90 days of your life, and you are looking back. What happened? What choices did you make? What changed in your life? This exercise helped me to have an amazing internship in Uganda and complete my master thesis to my highest standards. Now it will help me to get the job of my dreams.

Where am I in 90 days?
– I found a full-time and well-paid Africa/NGO job
– I wake up daily 06:00 AM
– I completed the first draft of my book 
– I wrote 90 daily blogs
– I either have my driver license or getting close 
– I am in my best shape ever

Where will you be in 90 days?

Uganda Blog 27-3-2019

Dit schreef ik in mijn eerste blog, ongeveer 12 weken geleden:

“Hier haal ik weer inspiratie uit in hoe ik strategisch en tactisch advies kan geven aan de oppositiepartij en uiteindelijke doel: Bobi Wine. Bobi Wine was een popster uit de ghetto die opkwam voor jongeren van Oeganda en is nu de rijzende ster in de nationale politiek is met zijn beweging: People Power, waar hij democratie en vrijheid vanaf onderen promoot. Met een gemiddelde leeftijd van 15 heeft Oeganda een erg jonge populatie.

Hopelijk kan ik bij Bobi Wine en Besigye een goede indruk maken. Ik verwacht dat één van deze twee de nieuwe president van Oeganda zal worden en dit zijn de twee revolutie leiders op het moment. Wat ze nodig hebben is een sluwe adviseur/strateeg die het juiste advies kan geven om deze geweldloze strijd tegen het dictatorschap te winnen. Als ik het goed aanpak, kan ik die strateeg worden.”

Gisteren ben ik bij Bobi Wine thuis geweest, waar we van gedachten konden wisselen en ik de beste indruk tot nu toe achter heb kunnen laten. Ik wist dat er waarschijnlijk weinig tijd was, dus had van te voren een brief geschreven waar ik enkele strategische ideeën in had verwerkt en mijn diensten als strategisch adviseur voor de vreedzame revolutie aanbood naast mijn visitekaartje, waar op de achterkant mijn motto ‘Light up the Darkness’ staat (en hem direct opviel). Ondanks dat hij vandaag vertrekt, en we elkaar dus nog op het nippertje hebben gezien wilde hij me graag gisteravond wat langer spreken (ik dacht onder het genot van een biertje).

Rond een uurtje of 23:00 pikte hij me dus op onderweg naar een herdenking / rally van een man die onschuldig in het openbaar was geëxecuteerd door de politie. Hij reed zelf en er waren 3 van zijn luitenanten ook in de auto. De 30-45 minuten in de auto naar die plek waren echt super chill, ik had mijn eerste indruk al gemaakt en kon nu dus direct als strateeg / adviseur mijn ideeën en observaties delen. Hij sprak ook vrijuit over wat de plannen en uitdagingen van People Power zijn, wie hij zelf was en waarom hij was opgestaan tegen het onrecht et cetera. In deze auto hebben we onze vriendschap gevormd. Toen ik hem vertelde dat ik niet kon wachten om in Nederland mijn mond open te doen (publiekelijk ipv geheim) over het onrecht in Oeganda, vroeg hij of mijn undercover rol nog overeind stond bij de regering, en of het niet beter was dat zo te houden zodat een actievere rol in de vreedzame revolutie kon spelen. Ik denk dat het allebei mogelijk is (kan ook gewoon communiceren vanuit Nederland) maar ga ik wat beter over nadenken.

Niemand wist dat we eraan kwamen, want anders zou de politie zijn gemobiliseerd en wij gearresteerd of ieder geval gestopt die rally bij te wonen, was dus ook 1 persoon die alle telefoons veilig zou stellen zodra er politie zou komen (want anders worden die gestolen en krijg je niet meer terug). Toen we in de buurt kwamen van die rally, zag iemand dat Bobi Wine in de auto zat, en ontplofte de buurt vol energie en blijdschap. Allemaal mensen die  naast de auto gingen rennen, zingen en People Power leuzen aanhaalden. Toen we bij de rally aankwamen ging ik vooruit met een van de luitenanten (mijn toegewezen bodyguard) binnen de menigte om het van een afstandje te volgen, en Bobi volgde paar meter achter me. Ook nu werd iedereen wild en met zijn allen zingen, heel tof en intens om mee te maken. Dit duurde ongeveer een uur, waar Bobi meeleefde met het onrecht, mensen inspireerde om dit niet langer te pikken en vreedzaam verzet te tonen tegen het dictatorschap. Nadat dit klaar was gingen we terug met de auto en een escort kregen van tientallen dolblije jongeren op hun Boda Boda’s. Op de terugweg, Bobi eerst nog vol energie met zijn luitenanten en daarna een stuk vermoeider en ik onder de indruk, nummers uitgewisseld en: ‘It was amazing meeting you again Erik, I’m inspired by you as such a young person committed to fight injustice, let’s keep in the touch’.

Daarmee heb ik al mijn doelen voor de stage in Oeganda behaald (baan, zelfontwikkeling, stage, onderzoek) en is deze blog dus ook enigszins een reflectie op mijn tijd hier.

Vooral die meeting met Bobi Wine heeft veel doorzettingsvermogen en geduld gekost. Nadat ik zijn nummer had gekregen en had geprobeerd te bellen en daarna een bericht had gestuurd kreeg ik geen reactie. Na ongeveer een week zag ik dat die online was en stuurde nog een bericht, waarna hij me belde dat die graag wilde afspreken in de avond. Ik heel blij natuurlijk, maar ik hoorde in de avond verder niets meer en kreeg hem weer niet te pakken. Ik stuurde een bericht dat ik hem zou graag nog zou ontmoeten maar moest ook weer niet te desperate gedragen, dus geduldig zijn. Dit was extra moeilijk omdat ik wist dat hij diezelfde week uit Oeganda zou vertrekken.

Nadat hij naar Dubai vloog accepteerde ik het dus maar, dat het niet ging gebeuren. Toen kreeg ik ineens een appje van hem kreeg waar hij zijn verontschuldigingen aanbood en vroeg een afspraak te coördineren met collega Roy. Ook hier kreeg ik in eerste instantie geen reactie / afspraak uit tot ik hem gister te pakken kreeg, en hij vertelde dat Bobi woensdag weg zou gaan voor langere tijd, maar als ik 09:00 bij zijn huis zou zijn dinsdag (vandaag) we wel iets konden regelen. Toen ik daar 08:45 was moest ik uiteindelijk nog 2.5 wachten omdat ze met iets bezig waren. Toch werd het allemaal beloond met het moment dat we eindelijk kennis maakte. Een goede les doorzettingsvermogen en geduld voor mij.

Ook de vele interviews van de afgelopen tijd waren interessant. Bijvoorbeeld in dat gevaarlijkste ghetto van Oeganda, waar iedereen aan de drugs zit en dronken is. Ik was bezig met mijn interviews (die gaan over dictatorschap, revolutie etc. ofwel iets wat de regering absoluut niet wilt dat ik die informatie krijg) toen er OPEENS een politieagent en LC1 (lokale bestuurder) naast me stonden… Ik dacht dus shit, nu zit ik echt in de problemen maar groette beleefd en deed alsof er niets aan de hand was. Toen gaf degene die ik aan het interviewen was ze €2.5 en vertrokken ze weer en vertelde hij me: ‘this is how Uganda works’. Nog vier andere interviews gehouden maar de meesten zaten aan de drugs dus waren niet zo lang, die drugs werden ook overvloedig aangeboden maar wees ik beleefd af.

Andere interviews hield ik op Kyambogo universiteit (op één na grootste van Oeganda) waar ik eerst een lezing had bijgewoond (en werd gevraagd zelf een praatje te houden) waar ik het had over Light up the Darkness en ook wat kaartjes uitdeelde. Kort daarna kreeg ik de vraag of ik niet wat meer wilde vertellen over dat Light up the Darkness, wat ik deed en blijkbaar in staat was studenten te inspireren, want de leider van die groep heb ik daarna nog een paar keer gesproken waar hij die Light up the Darkness volledig omarmde, als het licht het nieuwe Oeganda, en de darkness het machtsmisbruik, tribale verdeeldheid, corruptie etc. Hij gaat een campagne beginnen (genaamd Light up the Darkness) om de verlichting die hij zelf heeft ondergaan te gaan verspreiden op eerst zijn universiteit en daarna alle andere universiteiten. Ik adviseerde hem ook naar de boeren toe te gaan, omdat ik denk dat studenten + boeren een inherent revolutionair potentieel hebben en zie veel potentie in deze Arthur (22). Deze ontwikkeling zal ik dus ook met interesse blijven volgen.

Op persoonlijk gebied merk ik dat ik sterker aan het worden ben van die 2 x 50 push ups per dag. Ik heb de hele Art of War stap voor stap (een paar zinnen per dag) geleerd (ik zou dit nog 1 of 2 keer moeten doen om uit mijn hoofd te kennen) en een persoonlijke transformatie ondergaan op het gebied van discipline en uitstelgedrag. Een boek genaamd Millionaire Succes Habits heeft hier ook veel bij geholpen. Ik kookte dagelijks lekkere maar simpele gerechten en ben zeer tevreden met mezelf de afgelopen drie maanden.

Ook stagebegeleiders waren erg tevreden en verwacht ik een hoog cijfer van te krijgen. Ze vroegen me meer stagiairs te sturen en een band op te bouwen tussen FDC / Oegandese universiteiten en Universiteit Leiden, wat ik zal gaan doen.

Mijn belangrijkste les tijdens deze stage was dat ik niks of niemand anders nodig heb om al vreedzame revolutie strateeg te zijn. Afgelopen jaren veel manieren bedacht om dit te worden via omwegen; officier, militair analist, diplomaat, professor, mediator etc. etc, welke allemaal een lange weg zouden vormen om de strateeg te worden. Afgelopen maanden was ik die strateeg gewoon al, en het enige wat ik nu moet zien uit te vogelen (heb ik denk ik al gedaan zelfs) is hoe ik hier mijn brood mee gaan verdienen. Ik ben er van overtuigd dat ik de beste vreedzame revolutie strateeg ter wereld kan worden, en dat ga ik dus ook doen!

Ik zie dan ook erg veel uit naar mijn terugkomst in Nederland en komende leven. Tot snel!