Africans seek to counter negative stereotypes

Switzerland's African community wants to do away with the negative image some Swiss have of it

Africans’ efforts to improve their standing in Switzerland have received a boost after high-profile diplomats threw their weight behind a new association.

This content was published on August 18, 2003 minutes

The Swiss African Forum (SAF) aims to defend and promote the interests of Africans living in Switzerland, in part by countering negative stereotyping.

The South African and Nigerian ambassadors were among those who attended the SAF’s first African Integration Forum in August. Both expressed their willingness to support the organisation, which was founded last May.

At that meeting, the forum spelled out its objectives, which is to better defend interests of Switzerland’s 35,000-strong African community, and to do more to counter their negative image.

“We need to mobilise ourselves so we can become a political force that is listened to and taken seriously,” said the meeting’s chair, Alois Fonje, of the University of Bern.

He said other ethnic groups in Switzerland, such as the Italians and the Spanish, had plenty of political clout because they presented a united front to promote their own interests.

Political force

Fonje stressed the need for unity among Africans in Switzerland. He said that if they did not work together, they would never achieve recognition as a political force, and would continue to be seen as “drug dealers”, and a drain on the community.

The Nigerian ambassador, Aisha M Jimeta, said all Africans in Switzerland were ambassadors of the continent, and had a duty to respect the rules and mores of their host country.

She urged Africans to maintain close ties with home and to use their skills gained abroad to help the African “renaissance”.

“Other nations have learned, bought or stolen ideas from developed countries,” said Jimeta. “I’m not suggesting you steal anything, but it is time for Africans to take their knowledge home so it can benefit Africa.”


Jimeta also stressed that Africans in Switzerland were highly regarded back home, and should use their standing to influence positively the attitudes of people in their home countries.

Her sentiments were echoed by Aids activist, Romy Mathys – herself HIV positive. She urged Africans in Switzerland to rid themselves of the stigma associated with the disease, and to encourage their families and friends to do the same.

She said that of the 25 million estimated Aids sufferers worldwide, 20 million were in sub-Saharan Africa, and that without a change in attitudes, the disease would continue to devastate the continent.

swissinfo, Jonas Hughes

Key facts

The forum aims to defend interests of Switzerland’s 35,000-strong African community.
A key aim is to counter Africans’ negative image as “drug dealers” and a drain on the state.
Another is to encourage Africans to rid themselves of the stigma associated with HIV/Aids.

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