Africa - Initial Impressions

“Abey, tu ne kya National Geographic join kar liya hai kya?!” (“Have you joined National Geographic or something?!”) commented a friend when he got to know I would be going to Kenya. “Of course I have. Why else would anyone go to Africa?”, I told him sarcastically. After all, Africa only has animals, jungles, starving children, deserts and exotic tribes – people and places only someone from National Geographic would be interested in.

Stereotypes, of people, places or cultures, do exist unfortunately, and more so about Africa than any other place. The first stereotype was not the only one though, other “gems” I had to hear were:

“How do you commute to work? On foot, lion or elephant?” There are no cars in Africa and every other animal is a lion or an elephant.

“How’s the jungle?”Of course, all of Africa is a jungle, teeming with exotic wildlife.

“Please take pictures of those poor, naked African kids, you will definitely see them running around”Of course, all kids in Africa are poor, naked and they are always running around.

There is some truth to these stereotypes and generalizations. Almost 69% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa lives on less than $2/day and the continent is home to a large variety of wildlife. But is this all there is to Africa? No, there’s more, much more.

Africa has the potential to be the bread basket of the world, possessing 50 per cent of the world’s uncultivated arable land and a disproportionate amount of its resources. The World Bank expects the region to grow at 5.6% in 2013.

Nigeria, one of the region’s largest economies is set to grow well over 7% over the next few years, while Angola – an emerging African powerhouse is reaping benefits on the back of a natural resources boom - will clock an even more impressive 8% in the next two years.

Investor interest in the region remains strong, with $31 billion in foreign direct investment flows expected this year, despite difficult global conditions.

Of Africa’s 48 countries, 22 states with a combined population of 400 million people have officially achieved middle-income status; while another 10 countries representing another 200 million people today would reach middle-income status by 2025 if current growth trends continue.  

Based on these realities, how important is it to dispel our preconceptions and embrace reality?

19th century European colonizers referred to it as the “Dark continent”, but it definitely has a bright future.