KLM &You: Conquering the Dark Continent Since 2013


Thanks to Africa is a Country and Serginho Roosblad for this hat-tip. I feel like I’m in a time warp.

What is this?

KLM’s latest marketing campaign for their flight destinations in the African continent. You can see the whole thing here.

What’s wrong with this?

Serginho said it all with equating ‘The Dark Continent’ to colonial mentality. Long story short: KLM’s language draws on colonial and imperial pasts (and presents), presenting Africa as an exotic destination for westerners to come, see, and conquer.

But I’d like to unpack it a little more. I’ve highlighted four areas on the ad:

1. “The Dark Continent”

For Westerners, the idea of the Dark Continent has strong roots in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” a required reading for many high school students in the US. However, its origins go back much further than that.  In Mistaking Africa, Curtis Keim explains that

the myth of the Dark Continent… originated in mid-ninteenth-century Europe when scientific race theory was developed, without reference to the actual cultures of Africans in Africa. Then it was transferred to Africa by Europeans who had both a theoretical and a practical interest in seeing Africa as primitive. And when scientific race theory combined with imperialist urges to conquer, there was no end to the primitiveness that could be found (44).

2. “Undiscovered, unspoiled Africa”

The description of Africa as undiscovered and unspoiled is speaks to this “primitiveness,” and suggests that the continent is there for white tourists to “discover” and “conquer,” ignoring not only the hundreds of years of colonial and neo-colonial imperialism, exploitation and occupation, but also the 1 billion people who live on the continent.

3. The white guy

Ready to discover Africa! Onward!

4. 54 independent countries

This seems to be KLM’s effort to show it recognizes Africa is not a country, which falls short amongst all the other safari and colonial festishizing.


For more reading:

Binyavanga Wainaina’s How to Write About Africa

Curtis Keim Mistaking Africa: Curiosities and Inventions of the American Mind

Imran Garda’s Nine signs the journalism on Africa you’ve just encountered is trash

V.Y. Mudimbe The Invention of Africa

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