“Tell me about Africa.” “I’d like to know more about the people of Africa.” “Where is Cameroon?” “What do you love most about Africa?”
I, like many Africans residing abroad, have been asked these questions countless times. And even for the most expressive of us, trying to paint a befitting picture of where we come from in a few sentences has left us stuttering more than once.
Africa… what makes her beautiful? How can one possibly capture in words the allure of a land so wide and diverse, and with a history so deep? This seems quite daunting to me, not because English happens to be my second language, but because the magnificence of Africa transcends human expression and can only be felt by the heart.
The continent of Africa is the second largest in the world (after Asia) and is made up of 54 countries. Over 1.1 billion people live on the continent; making it home to 16% of the world’s population. Over 2,000 languages are spoken in Africa (of which Arabic, English, French, Swahili, Berber, Hausa, and Portuguese are most popular), by over 3,000 distinct ethnic groups.
Whether discussing the hot expansive Sahara Desert in the northern part of the continent, or the pristine beauty of island nations such as Seychelles; or simply marveling at the north flowing River Nile (to the east), not far from which the immensity of the Congo Basin that spans 6 countries unfolds; or just pondering the giant ancient pyramids of Egypt while gloating over historic remnants of the powerful Mali Kingdoms; Africa means something different to a lot of people.
What becomes interesting is that in spite of its vast topographical differences and diverse cultures, certain strong commonalities exist that tie Africa (and Africans everywhere) together.
These can be summarized into the following:
1. She Is The Gift That Keeps On Giving.
The continent of Africa is tremendously endowed with an abundance of natural resources.
The continent has the world’s largest reserves of precious metals, notably platinum (over 90%), cobalt (over 60%), gold (over 40%), diamonds, uranium, bauxite, silver, iron. She is also rich in coal, oil and natural gas; salt, cocoa, coffee, tea, tropical fruits and wood; you name it, she has it. 30% of the earth’s mineral resources are found in Africa.
Photo: BrinsImage Photography
Not only is she naturally blessed, Africa is also a land of possibilities. For centuries, Africa has been a great source of much of the world’s needs in terms of minerals, food, energy, skill, knowledge and manpower.
Africa and Africans have been subjected to some of history’s darkest and most oppressive systems such as slavery and colonization, including many wars. And although the continent continues to be plundered through what can best be described as parasitic ties with resource-hungry world powers and foreign-owned companies that drain its natural wealth (while labeling the people “poor”), Africa still continues to forge ahead.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), 3 of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies this year are found in Africa. They are Ivory Coast, Tanzania and Senegal.
In fact, during the Tokyo International Conference on African Development that took place this past weekend in Kenya, Japan pledged to invest $30 billion in Africa over the next three years. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (of Japan) is reported to have said, “We have a feeling in our gut that in Africa, where possibilities abound, Japan can grow vigorously.”
Japan is only one of many countries finding ways to tap into the huge potential of a forward moving Africa.
Africa’s beauty is in her fruitfulness, her tenacity and in the sheer power of her continuing, enchanting existence.
2. The Spirit Of The People.
If one was to describe Africans in 3 words, I would say: warm-hearted, welcoming and hardworking.
In our Conversations Group on Facebook, we posed the question: As people of African descent, apart from our skin color, what other traits/commonalities do we share?
Input from group members included:
“Great food and our rich culture!” (Betty H); “Hospitality…love for family,” (Adele M); “Spirituality,” (Eugene N); “Rhythm and rhyme. Musical genius. Drums,” (Glen C); “Community/ it takes a village,” (Lawrence I); “Humor and wit,” (Foday M); “Intense spiritual connections,” (Kween A); “We’re ingenious and innovative,” (Kenya M).
As you walk the streets of Africa, you will feel her in the air around you; you will hear her in the hearty laugh of her people and melodious chants of music, you will see her move in effortless dance steps of women and the gentle thump of children running around barefooted. She is obvious in the confident voices of community elders and warm conversations of families sharing a meal; she is the peace that permeates the air of hot humid evenings that settle into long peaceful nights before the break of new dawns.
It is true that most visitors to the continent have always felt the pull to return, simply because the African experience is an extraordinarily soulful one.
3. Red Mud and Lush Vegetation.
Last year, I had the pleasure of traveling back home to Cameroon for 3 weeks. I had not been to the continent in close to 7 years and to my home country for even longer (please don’t ask why … I’ll blame it on years that sped by too fast and plans that somehow didn’t happen soon enough). Needless to say, it was a trip filled with very special moments.
During my stay, I noticed something I had previously taken for granted – the raw authenticity of the African lifestyle. I was struck by the beautiful parts of our motherland where nature remains largely untouched.
Africa is grounded to the earth, her originality deeply rooted and connected to the fresh red mud. Africa is bright colors, joie-de-vivre, community and people who find ways to make ends meet.
Africa’s appeal runs deeper than the expertly manicured lawns and carefully planned cities that the west boosts of.
4. The Best of Both Worlds.
She is different, for she offers the best of both worlds – the “developed” and the natural. In most African nations, there is something for everyone.
For the city loving traveler, there are many interesting, glamorous options that meet western standards – Abuja (Nigeria), Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Dar-Es-Salaam (Tanzania), Douala (Cameroon), Cairo (Egypt), Kinshasa (DR Congo), Lagos (Nigeria), Marrakesh (Morocco), Pretoria (South Africa), Yaounde (Cameroon), Kampala (Uganda), Gaborone (Botswana), Accra (Ghana); all of which cannot be possibly listed here. In 2013, South Africa alone, one of the top touristic destinations on the continent, welcomed over 14 million visitors.
And then for the adventurer who wants to dig a little deeper, luxury chauffeur-driven cars, 5 star-hotels and towering skyscrapers in the main cities give way to unpaved roads that lead into less developed growing inner cities. These are busy and bustling, where during my time in Nigeria and Cameroon, I noticed that scurrying motor bikes (called Okada in Nigeria, and Ben-skin in Cameroon) that transport inhabitants from point A to point B have become a growing phenomenon. Africa’s inner towns are full of growth and commercial activities.
For the one who seeks the closest touch of mama Africa, further inland lie our villages, nestled among beautiful rolling hills, lush green vegetation, rivers, lakes, and waterfalls, where thatch-roofed huts are common and women bathe in streams after hot days on the farm.
As you can tell, Africa’s beauty aesthetic would surely be missed by those who view it through lenses tainted by western-informed expectations.
For the world citizen looking for a wholesome, calming and grounded experience, even as you feast on her physical beauty, you will most importantly feel Africa in your heart. She is indeed The Motherland.
Lema’s website is www.lemaabeng.com
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