What I wish American Teenagers could Know about Africa…

I know this title is provocative…BUT…let’s face a reality: American teenagers know little about Africa. I don’t blame them. How do you want them to know much about Africa when schools and TVs seldom include ‘Africa’  in their programs? And when they do include it, it’s all about war, poverty, famine, AIDS, corruption, nakedness…

I know, all of these are part of Africa, unfortunately. However, Africa shouldn’t be defined by these negative and tragic phenomena since there is more than that all over the continent . There is life, wealth, joy, heroism, strength, hope…

If I were asked to list what I wish American teenagers could know about Africa, I would say…I wish they knew that:

1. Africa is not a country but a continent

Sounds silly I know but wait until you hear things like “Is Africa in Kenya? Who is the President of Africa? What is the capital of Africa?…”

2. Kenya is not the capital of Africa. It’s a country and its capital is Nairobi

Sounds even sillier but the ‘truth’ is that Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria are the ‘well known’ African countries by American teenagers. These three countries are thought to make Africa. And, among the three, Kenya is considered as the capital of Africa.

I can bet 1000000$ that urban African teenagers (who have access to TV) are able to list ten American states and their capitals. Once again, I won’t blame the young American kid. African teenagers spend their youth watching films showing and describing Chicago, L.A, New York, Miami…Some of them (living in Kampala, Yaounde, Soweto…) can tell you where and how to take your subway in Chicago while they have never been out  of Africa. How many American teenagers ‘watch’ Africa on their TV? So, don’t blame them.

3. People in Africa are not all the same.

The same way as we shouldn’t make generalizations about Americans (and American teenagers), we should avoid talking about Africans as if they were one homogeneous people, with the same habits, the same culture, and the same history. There are more than fifty states in Africa. Within each state, there are several tribes that are different from each other. In the Congo for example, every time you drive for 20 miles, from one village to another, you find people talking a different language with a different culture and history. Tell me, what does  a Tunisian  or Senegalese have in common with a Zambian or a Tanzanian? One thing: they belong to the same continent. From there, their roads take divergent trajectories.

4. Africa is not a big village where naked people still live in huts and roam around hunting for monkeys and ants.

I will never forget a question that an American high schooler asked me one day. She asked: “Are there grocery shops in Africa?” Yes, there are still huts and monkey hunting in several parts of Africa but the continent is buzzing now with big cities where people live a modern life. They are dressed in clothes, they go to school, they buy food from the market and the supermarket.


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