Africa is generally accepted as the origin of humanity itself, as “the cradle of humankind.”
Yet what do we really know about Africa? This is the birth place of all of human life and most of us only know what we see on TV and movies.
When I say “Africa” only a small portion of people are going to think of the beautiful, diverse, inspired place that I know. For most people the word “Africa” brings to mind images of vast deserts, poverty, and elephants roaming through the savannah, but it is so much more than that!
When I tell people I live in Africa the questions I get asked are preposterous. “Do you live in a hut?” “Is there electricity?” “Are you afraid of lions?” It is so tiring, but I cannot be bothered by it, and I do my best to use these questions as an educational opportunity. I get these questions because that is what you see when you watch movies or TV about Africa.
On IMDB’s list of Top 100 Movies about Africa, nine out of the top 10 movies are about violence and war. This is exactly what I mean when I say that the media has written our views of Africa for us.
Africa is consistently portrayed in a hopeless way…with some giraffes thrown in the mix occasionally.
Africa is a big and wild land (and far away for most people) and I do not expect that everyone should hop on a plane and go check it out, however I do wish that we could change some of the common misconceptions about Mama Africa.
So to get us started I made a quick list of the things that I feel everyone should know:
1. Africa is not a country!
It is 53 separate countries all with their own leaders and a variety of governing systems. It is divided into five different sub regions, some of which are as large as America. Long story short, Africa is a huge continent, rife with different cultures and people.
2. Africa does not have one language.
Every person who lives in Africa does not speak “African” and not everyone in Africa speaks in clicks. There is an estimated 1,500-2,000 language spoken in Africa. Most countries in Africa have several common languages as well as many tribal languages.
3. Africa is not one giant desert (or jungle).
While parts of Africa are covered in desert and parts of Africa are covered in rainforest that does not mean that all 11.7 million square miles are covered in any one landscape. I have friends who have eaten snow off the top of Mt. Kenya! I have driven through the lush green savannah on a motorbike, and that is only in one African country. Here I will reiterate that Africa is huge and therefore has many many different types of land.
4. Women have held head of state positions in three different African nations.
I often hear people talking about women’s right in Africa, and while I do agree that African women need support and equality, that does not mean that all women in Africa are entirely without rights and education. In fact, Africa has had three women heads of state which is more than history has shown for America. Liberia, Malawi, and Central African Republic have all had strong women who hold office in the last couple of years. I can personally say that the African women that I have met are some of the strongest working and most inspiring people I have ever met!
5. Africa is not covered in wild animals.
Africa has lots of wild animals, this is true. However, that does not mean that a lion is going to be strolling through the sprawling downtown area of Cape Town. There are also many countries in Africa where you will not find any of the commonly thought of safari animals.
6. AIDS is declining in Africa.
HIV/AIDs is another thing that people seem to always associate with Africa. AIDS in Africa is on the decline! The World Health Organization says, deaths from AIDS-related causes in sub-Saharan Africa declined by 50% from 2004 to 2012!
With knowledge and education always improving this number is sure to continue to grow.
I have only visited three African countries so far, and I can say that there have been big differences in all of them. The one thing that remained the same however, was the presence of ambition tangible of whatever community I was in.
The African people are consistently the most hopeful and motivated people I have ever met, and that’s what I wish people could see.
Generalizing Africa to poverty and violence is something we should feel the remorse about—it causes detachment from one billion people who are equally important as you and I.
The UN estimates that by 2050 almost one in three children under the age of 18 will be African…that is a HUGE portion of our future! We should begin to recognize this continent and it’s people with the potential they are capable of.
I yearn for a day that when I say “Africa” people think of beauty, diversity, hope, and equality.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Photos: courtesy of the author