As the prime minister began the second leg of a three-day trip across three countries in the African continent in a bid to bolster Britain’s post-Brexit position, Twitter had some complaints.
Users of the social network, including historian Mary Beard, took it upon themselves to impart a quick geography lesson upon news outlets who appeared to be struggling.
Amid reports of Theresa May’s attempts to “secure a trade deal with Africa”, the Cambridge classics professor pointed out: “I think it might be a good idea if UK media made it rather clearer that “Africa” was not a single country.. as in “trade deal with Africa”?????”
The PM has spent this week visiting South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya, but some reports failed to acknowledge the continent is made up of multiple countries and economies.
A tweet from BBC News announcing the trip was one of the first to receive criticism on social media.
People responded by reminding the broadcaster that “Africa” was not specific enough for the second-largest continent in the world, made up of 54 countries.
And the BBC wasn’t alone – Downing Street’s official Twitter account was also guilty of committing what many users branded a blunder.
Irene Davies tweeted: “Why say Africa? Every country in Africa is so different”.
Some argued the over-generalisation was similar to oft-criticised coverage that discusses “Europe” instead of specific countries.
But Frances Coppola, a writer for Forbes, pointed out the use of the continent’s name also misrepresents the nature of the negotiations.
Coppola said as well as being a “roll over” of an existing trade deal rather than a new one, the claim that May has struck a trade deal with “Africa” obscures the fact that the deal is with six southern African nations, not the entire continent.
Twitter user @Elobela83 argued that journalists could go the extra mile by taking steps to dispel lingering myths about the continent being a single country.
Descriptions and reports of Africa as if it were a country in and of itself have been subject to criticism and debate for a number of years, even inspiring the tongue-in-cheek name for “Africa is a Country”, an online outlet founded in 2009.
A number of politicians have also found themselves subject to scrutiny over the error.
Sarah Palin was called out in 2008 by Fox News chief political correspondent Carl Cameron, who claimed she “didn’t understand that Africa was a continent, rather than a series, a country just in itself.”
Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson also fell foul of the misconception, referring to Africa as “That Country” during a Conservative Party conference speech in 2016.
But the award for the most impassioned response goes to Twitter user @lajidefemi, reacting to an unrelated story by ABC, which claimed Rihanna was to give profits from her Fenty Beauty line to “African students”.
“AFRICA IS A CONTINENT!,” they wrote.
“REPEAT AFTER ME, AFRICA IS A CONTINENT!
“Not a street, not a town, not a tribe, not a country...it’s an entire continent. Sue your geography teachers.”