Is the world map a conscious approach by the erstwhile western superpowers to offer misleading information on the actual size of the African continent? Unfortunately, the answer is yes for many critics, and they have proof!
In actual perspective, a map is a diagrammatic representation of a specific area that provides a pictorial representation of features such as size and location. If this is true, then those who believe that maps misrepresent the actual size of Africa might have a point.
The design of the current world map, which many find misleading, is credited to European cartographer, Geert de Kremer, widely known as Mercator. His 16th-century map projection, which originally distorts countries' size, is the template used for world maps today.
There are limited counter-arguments against the assertion that Mercator's map was 'made by Europe for Europe.' However, the level of his accuracy on other aspects of his work, when compared to the misleading information about the African map, shows a 'conscious error.'
On the map designed by Mercator, the African continent, which sits on the equator and is reasonably undistorted, is represented to look smaller than it is.
In contrast, countries such as the United States, Canada, and Russia, were represented to look larger than they are – a proof that shows a conscious ploy to provide misleading information about Africa.
On the map, Greenland, an island located between the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, is represented as almost the same size as the African continent. But in reality, Greenland is about the same size as the Democratic Republic of Congo in Central Africa.
In defense, western map experts claim that the reason behind the enlarged maps of countries in Europe and North America was to enable 'more space' for cartographers to mark essential landmarks in their part of the world.
"If you would take a map projection with equal areas, then there is almost no space on the map to display all [these details]," Kraak, a western maps expert, says.
"There was, of course, much to map in Africa, too, but that mattered less to the cartographers up north," he adds.
However, many critics disagree with the claims and believe that misleading information is a conscious political tool. They claim that Mercator worked on a brief to make the enlarged countries look powerful and intimidating to African revolutionaries and Africans in general.
"The term 'power of representation and representation of power' sums up quite well how maps and the rise of the Western nation-state system and with that, empire and colonialism are linked," says Marianne Franklin, professor of Global Media and Politics at Goldsmiths, University of London.
One aspect many observers find concerning is the carefree attitude of concerned stakeholders to update the observations.
If the misrepresentation of Africa on the original map was an unconscious error, or as Kraak claims – was to enable representation of landmarks, why are there no conscious attempts to update it accordingly?
One man worthy of note for his conscious efforts to ascertain the actual size of Africa is Kai Krause. The German Software and Graphic Designer designed an African map – different from the Mercator map with several non-African countries overlaid within the continent's borders.
According to him, the goal is to contribute to the fight against immappancy. One of the most significant things his map reveals is the true size of Africa.
Although the map provides a graphical representation of how big the African continent is, when compared to Europe and countries such as China and India, critics argue that it has its flaws.
But for Krause, this type of observation misses the point. As he explains on his website: "This was not at all an attempt to create an accurate map."
Instead, it was his way of showing just how much the rest of the world underestimates Africa – not just in size but also in many other aspects. Krause hopes his work will play a small role in changing perceptions about the continent: "Here is to Africa achieving the stature that it deserves to have," his explanation concludes.
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