Africa Not Fit For Print; The ’Light’ Side Of The ’Dark’ Continent
Friday, January 13, 2012
A Chinese, Latin American, and North American student are sitting in a classroom. The teacher pulls out a map of Africa, and asks ’tell me what you see”. The Chinese student speaks of opportunity and business; South African steel, Congolese minerals, and Angolan oil to power his country’s growth, and an endless list of future contracts for Chinese-built roads, bridges, and infrastructure to link the continent. The American reflects on Darfur, the Rwandan Genocide, thatched-roof villages, famine, Bono, Madonna, nonprofit work, and starving children. The Latin American student draws parallels in a tragic reflection of the worst parts of his own country; nefarious warlords, corruption, and poverty.
Who is right, and who is wrong? No one. And everyone. The complexity of this mighty and expansive continent can hardly be confined to a single narrative. Over one billion people. 54 independent states (as recognized by the UN). Nearly 3,000 languages. And as remarkably diverse as the continent is, so too should be the stories that emerge from it.
As I stepped through doorway of my concrete apartment in Nairobi, Kenya the other morning, I had the strange feeling I’d done something terribly wrong. I had just returned from two weeks traveling by local transport — bus, boat, motorcycle, and foot — through the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and as it happens, had an incredible, inspiring, and uplifting time.
Before you barrage me with your criticisms, and claim perhaps I’m blind, insensitive, ignorant, or arrogant for eliciting pleasure from my time in the D.R.C., let me explain myself.
The journey went hard against the grain of the typical Congo narrative; I did not pay a single bribe. Immigration officials turned out to be the friendliest and most helpful bunch I met. No men with AK-47s kidnapped me. I spent Christmas day hunting with Mbuti pygmies in the world’s second largest rainforest, swimming in crocodile-infested rivers with their children. I met with grassroots NGOs and social entrepreneurs that were changing communities and bringing hope. I encountered warm smiles, and generous hospitality. I saw a beautiful, untold side of the country.