How Big is Africa? You Have No Idea. ~ Ryan Pinkard

Via on Jun 15, 2012

If you know your nerd history, you may have heard of Kai Krause. Krause is famous for developing graphical user interface design, something you might really be thankful for if you have enjoyed computers any anytime after 1985. Whatever else Krause has been up to since then, he was good enough to put together this infographic that combats a concept he calls immapancy—insufficient geographical knowledge. Please share it.

I know a lot of good people—people who care about the world and its problems in a very intelligent way. But even those people are often uninformed for reasons that aren’t their fault.

Take a look at this world map by Google. Does it seem misleading the way that Africa seems much closer in size to the U.S. or China?

In fact, the actual landmass of Africa could swallow the U.S., China, India, Japan, and all of Europe at the same time. Due to the phenomenon that occurs when a three-dimensional globe is turned into a two-dimensional map, the view of the world you know is lying to you.

But more important than appreciating the physical size of Africa, is the way in which we don’t always treat the troubled continent as a continent.

When I tell people I’ve been to Africa, I get a number of responses.

Did you see lions? No. The starvation must have been terrible. No. Do you mean South Africa? No. I have a friend who lived in Uganda, do you know him/her? Seriously?

My favorite response is simply, “Why?”

The point is that in my experience there are a lot of people who don’t know anything about Africa—like 99 percent.

Africa is not a country.

We find it too easy to speak of the starving children in Africa, AIDs in Africa, even KONY 2012. We can quickly describe a picture of Africa, whether it resembles The Last King of Scotland or The Lion King, and this image somehow applies to the continent as a whole.

When someone stereotypes the cultures of Asia as a single group, we call them a racist. So what seems okay about doing this to a place that is equally or more diverse?

There are over one billion people in Africa, belonging to 56 countries, speaking over 2,000 languages. That is more people and countries than the entire Western world.

South Africa “the country” is different from South Africa “the region.” The people of West Africa are different in color, ethnicity, religion, language, climate, geography and colonial history from those of East Africa. North Africa has been completely separated from Sub-Saharan Africa, in history and culture, since the great desert formed.

And as diverse as the regions of Africa are, the ways that make them similar to each other also make them similar to the rest of the world.

The most popular religion in Africa is Islam, making up 25 percent of the world’s muslim population. The rest are predominantly Christian. Shaman and witch doctors  can exist but their practices are adapted to fit the dominant faith.

While the “tribe” as an ethnic and cultural group can still exist, it is incredibly rare for anyone to live a hunter-gatherer existence. For those who do continue, it is a choice, and their contact from is modern world is not cut off. There are no isolated people on this earth.

Africa has cities—modern metropolitan cities—some with tens of millions of people. In and out of cities, everyone has a cell phone (sometimes two). Anyone under 30 has a Facebook and wears popular styles. And they love American hip-hop, from Tupac to Akon.

Of course there are exceptions, as with any country or place you come from or visit. I neither want to be condescending nor too general—I am not an authority. For such an amazing continent that people don’t usually give a chance, Africa is still a frustrating and troubled place that could use a helping hand.

It is my opinion, however, that before we as privileged Westerners can make a meaningful difference, we have to understand the place we are helping. We need to understand that the little continent with all those problems is the size of America, Europe and half of Asia, combined.

We all can use a little clarification.

Ryan Pinkard is an editorial intern at elephant journal. Ryan is a wanderlust backpacker journalist in training, and a student at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Find his writing and his images from around the world at ryanpinkard.com. Follow his reviews and exploits on music at milkdrinkscat.tumblr.com.

About elephant journal

elephant journal is dedicated to "bringing together those working (and playing) to create enlightened society." We're about anything that helps us to live a good life that's also good for others, and our planet. >>> Founded as a print magazine in 2002, we went national in 2005 and then (because mainstream magazine distribution is wildly inefficient from an eco-responsible point of view) transitioned online in 2009. >>> elephant's been named to 30 top new media lists, and was voted #1 in the US on twitter's Shorty Awards for #green content...two years running. >>> Get involved: > Subscribe to our free Best of the Week e-newsletter. > Follow us on Twitter Fan us on Facebook. > Write: send article or query. > Advertise. > Pay for what you read, help indie journalism survive and thrive—and get your name/business/fave non-profit on every page of elephantjournal.com. Questions? info elephantjournal com

2,617 views

Appreciate this article? Support indie media!

(We use super-secure PayPal - but don't worry - you don't need an account with PayPal.)

9 Responses to “How Big is Africa? You Have No Idea. ~ Ryan Pinkard”

  1. stommefilm says:

    Great article, very good point!

  2. Krista says:

    Awesome article. This stuff drives me crazy.

  3. mmarc says:

    I'm very conscious of this too, and I think the author's overall message is a good one. It's interesting, though, that even as he writes about the problem of simplifying all of Africa into one culture or one stereotype, he speaks of having been to "Africa." I've traveled fairly extensively throughout the continent and in cases where it's been a trip to several countries, I'll refer to it as a trip to Africa, but even then with a certain kind of uneasiness. Maybe this is what Pinkard means when he mentions having been in Africa, and I hope that's the case because if not it strikes me as not unlike the thoughts he's criticizing that lump the entire continent into one single identity.

  4. Great article, Ryan.

    Bob

  5. muks says:

    I spent a few months in Sudan and I can understand the issues in your article very well. People were approaching me with very different stereotypical opinions and questions, e.g. "Have you been working in a leading position?" (No, there are local people with University degrees who do) or "Did you meet 'someone'?" (Nope, in a traditional Muslim culture I cannot just meet someone out of a marriage.) or "Africans are not able to found and run businesses" (My boss looked very African to me ;))

    If I see the picture the media is creating about Africa I understand those questions and opinions very well. I appreciate efforts to get to know different places and people in Africa though.

  6. a poet in India says:

    Catch the Wind
    (a poem about Jason Russell of Invisible Children on the occasion of his reactionary psychosis after his Kony 2012 video went viral)

    Useless lawyer waste of people
    Mrs. Spring.
    And they tease you.
    Can you hold your hand out
    With the world wind some
    With the run of your life?
    You turn away.
    Pornography,
    Your poetic form is finished.
    Boring daddy
    Hear you play their thoughts.
    Go back to work.
    I give up.
    So much bigger than me.
    You’re supposed to send it in.
    Your country a track record
    Gettin’ into our country.
    You can say anything.
    I’m not so sure about that.
    No response.
    I’m serious,
    I need this.
    Mass movement organization,
    Experienced donations so far.
    Star into city.
    Can somebody give me a donation?
    Fresh start,
    I will always almost happen.
    Translation:
    And you fold the world.

    Anonymous, mysterious
    (Let me get my glasses.
    That’s strange.)
    We talk to you
    Earth activated.
    Look at your gymnastics.
    Wide horses,
    It is good to see yah.
    That’s right on
    The movie
    We Have a World in View.
    Pardon me,
    What does it mean to yah?
    All of it sink in?
    Tryin’ to explain to yah
    A whole wide world
    Movement.
    As much as you can
    You don’t stop and think
    How many are in movements.
    All of that’s threatening you.
    There remains something important
    Over there
    Deep
    Would benefit your discovery program:
    Hear what we think
    All the time.
    Find the key inside.
    Have you been in bed before?
    And you’re layin’ there in their scrap,
    Who’ve you’ve crossed their minds.
    Their hands
    Definitely on this.
    I’m talkin’ about
    A mural
    With all these signatures.
    Well I bet you
    Couldn’t handle the delivery.
    I hand it of you
    Tasted enemy.
    It’s a systems failure.
    Know what I mean?

    A rising forward movement
    In which hundreds connected with deep were slain.
    You’re going to go to school,
    Examine ideas,
    If you let me
    Give you something to do.
    Sterling Abbot
    Your wife’s concentration,
    Another wife
    You’re gonna live
    In the very bones of yourself.
    This is not flesh and blood.
    It’s your waistcoat
    Of ruling ideas
    And guarding passions.
    Get out;
    I don’t want to.
    Ruling passions can be difficult
    I understand.
    Play come on.
    In making a very sharp objection
    Present myself.
    I’m a licensed teacher.
    I’ll be conceiving of no reply.
    Just a truthful father shooting.
    I damage your report to everybody.
    I throw it off.
    I’m so bombard your home.
    Even flying the hammer and sickle you find me.
    I’m business news.
    Man I’m sitting
    Where you put your feet,
    What you stand on.
    There you are
    In our rosebushes.
    What you’re looking for
    Is a door:
    Can we just solve here?
    You pick ole Major Warrant,
    The simplicity minor that was just talkin’ to yah.
    Not him.
    Comin’:
    Deny it –
    Somethin’ eating everybody,
    Runnin’ through a whole population.
    All the locals come down with it.
    They got manifestors runnin’ around.
    Not everybody tweaks.
    Tommy
    You’re no good:
    Opportunity
    Show some lime in everyone.
    Shut the door.
    The article
    Won’t come out in your paper will it?
    If it don’t
    Your foolish pride
    In front of
    Jason.

    I’ll explain
    That American.
    Did Rock Hudson throw a popular fit outside or anything else?
    Oops, you got mad at me.
    Upended
    It,
    Piano.
    You’re not gonna like this.
    Go get your prize:
    I’m the man;
    That’s me on the spotlight.
    Cut that burrito,
    Spanish book,
    America is beautiful
    Machismo.
    The same
    War bond
    In your hunted fugitive.
    Almost everywhere
    Apparently.
    It’s the Earth;
    It’s all mankind
    Got the problem.
    What’s the solution?
    You put out fires for sure.
    The arson
    Don’t make a scapegoat.
    Every arson
    You make propaganda
    Immune from hospital.
    Is that the smartest thing to do?
    How do you get
    The manifestor
    To come to terms?
    Alienate him further
    (Giving that launch infamy)
    Increase his fuel,
    That stuff inside him bombing children.
    He needs to feel
    The community.
    Stick around:
    Man that’s a good question
    The community.
    Look after One
    Is this opera house,
    Wire at the top.
    Wire specialist
    I’ll give him a hug.
    We’re gonna go over there.
    A very big
    Change in identity
    So we’re there.
    That’s included.
    The weathering ride to help,
    That’s why you went,
    Just to get something
    (I’ve dropped this so many times it ain’t funny.):
    Enlightenment.
    This is not a Buddhist sutra.
    We’re lookin’ beyond escape.
    This is just phase one.
    There’s three.
    How much room on spaceships?
    The Earth we stay
    Planetary and all grown up
    If that keeps up:
    Darn it,
    I should could do better can’t I?
    I’ve given you your healing song.
    Happy birthday.

  7. [...] made it a habit to save every bit of acceptable biodegradable waste I produce. The waste problem in West Africa will do that do [...]

  8. [...] impressed. The diversity of their staff was amazing, including reporters and producers from Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. There were several American reporters at Al Jazeera who had left U.S. news [...]

Leave a Reply