Africa is a Beautiful Continent
I was reading a headline recently about the coup in Gabon and once again I noticed that Africa only seems to be in the news when there is violence. I then looked at CNN and saw articles about violence in Niger, Libya and Sudan. If that bothers me, I’m sure it infuriates Africans. Collectively all of them. All 1.2 billion of them, in every single one of the 54 countries. In a continent that is bigger than all of North America combined – the US, Canada, Mexico… and Greenland.
I was in an airport recently and was talking to a woman who was East African. I said, “Where are you from?” And she said “Africa”. So I said, “Which country?” and she said “Eritrea, but you’ve probably never heard of it.” And I said, “No, it’s somewhere near Ethiopia.” She was amazed. Was she amazed that I knew that Africa was a continent made up of different countries? Or was she amazed that I had heard of her country at all? Eritrea has over 3 million people. The war between Ethiopia and Eritrea last year was one of the bloodiest we’ve seen. We’re not hearing much about it because those two countries are relatively independent – Ethiopia has NEVER been subjugated by Europe, and so they were not raped for their natural resources. Yes. I said raped. What other word would you use?
When I was in 10th grade at a predominantly white school, all of the black kids took African History, which was taught by the only black teacher in the school. She had us memorize the names of every country. She had us read about current affairs. She taught us about the Pan-African movement and the many efforts to shake off colonialism. She taught us about the amazing sub-Saharan kingdoms of Mali and Songhai, and the amazing city of Timbuktu with its wealth and libraries. She also explained how slavery happened, how Africans had a form of slavery and so could not envision the form it took in North America. Would they have traded us for guns if they had known? Who is to say – we cannot turn back the clock and ask that question.
Colonialism is a sickness that Europe brought to Africa and Rape is the best word for what they did. The “nice” phrase is “The Scramble for Africa”, when 7 European nations – Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Portugal and Italy – invaded, annexed, divided and colonized nearly 90% of the continent, leaving only Ethiopia – which fought them off, and Liberia – which they had set aside for free blacks from America that were not wanted, uncolonized. Why did this happen? The Industrial Revolution had come to Europe in the late 18th century and Africa had all of the raw materials that Europe needed to make products other Europeans wanted to buy. Africa had gold. Africa had diamonds. Africa had oil. Africa had rubber, timber, copper, iron, ivory, cotton, cobalt, even cocoa beans. And Europe wanted it all. At first, they got it by trading. But that was not good enough. So, the European countries took their guns and slaughtered Africans, divided the land and instilled militia and governors to oversea the rape of the land. Yes, I said it again. So many horrible things happened as a result of this devastation, but in my mind, one of the worst things was to divide the land with boundaries that had nothing to do with the people. Before colonization, there were 10,000 different states and groups, with different languages and customs. These 10,000 states were either divided or grouped together into 54 chunks of land. So that when it came time to declare independence, there was internal fighting for power and natural resources that could not be easily resolved.
So, this is why we hear about the fighting. What we don’t hear about are all of the amazing things that are happening all across the African continent. For example, there is Nigeria, a country 1.4 times larger than Texas. With the 6th largest population on the planet, Nigeria is also the 4th largest oil producing nation in the world. Almost 80% of the population is literate. There are 61 different cities in Nigeria with busy highways and skyscrapers. Nigeria also has beautiful beaches. And! In addition to a thriving music scene, Nigeria has the second largest movie producing industry – Nollywood – in the world. It produces more movies than Hollywood in the US.
Had you ever heard of Gabon before the coup? In West Central Africa, Gabon is the richest African country that we never hear of. With its small population and dense forests covering 88% of the land, Gabon is the 5th richest country in Africa. Gabon also has oil, as well as manganese and iron for steel, diamonds and gold, and uranium. They also have over 500 miles of coastline facing the Atlantic Ocean and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Gabon has been independent from France since 1960, and China is its biggest trading partner. I hope Gabon can find peace soon, and that our newspapers can find other reasons to highlight the country.
Another African country that we never hear about is Mauritius, an island country in the Indian Ocean off the coast of East Africa, east of Madagascar, it is about the size of the city of Maui in Hawaii with over 1 million people, making it one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Mauritius was controlled by both France and Britain, winning its independence in 1968. Many of its people descend from India as well as China and France. Mauritius is one of the richest and most peaceful African countries with free healthcare, free education, and even free transportation, and boasts a 92% literacy rate, compared to the US which is only 79% literate. Tourism is a major part of Mauritius’ economy in addition to the export of clothing and sugar. There hasn’t been any war or political violence in Mauritius since independence. So, they don’t make the news much.
And then there is Botswana. You may have heard of Botswana because of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, even though the author of the books is a white man from Zimbabwe. Botswana is just above South Africa, about the size of France, home of the Kalahari Desert with only 2.3 million people, 79% Tswana. It became independent in 1966 and since that time has had the most consistent record of democratic elections and lowest perceived corruption in all of Africa. In the 1960’s, it was one of African’s poorest countries, but it has blossomed with tourism and diamond mining into one of the richest countries in Africa. Botswana is known for its safaris, both for hunting and photography. There have been no wars in Botswana since before independence. So, they don’t make the news much either.
When people say they want to go to Africa, you should ask them where they want to go… and more importantly, what they want to see. Many people feel as though going to the West African countries like Ghana will give them a sense of connection. Over 1 million tourists visit Ghana every year, and Ghana has many monuments of the slave trade. But one of these days, I hope that more of Africa will be familiar to us, and a possible travel destination. It’s an amazing continent. It just has a very bad reputation.