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Addressing some myths about Africa

[Editor’s Note:  Lesley student Doucette Kayombo, who comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, gave a version of this talk for Community of Scholars Day.]

For many centuries, a one-sided view of Africa has been portrayed to the rest of the world. This has been done in an effort to belittle and patronize African culture and African people. In an attempt to reverse this detrimental view of of Africa, I am going to speak the truth about Africa by addressing some key issues that are crucial to understanding Africa better.

1.  Stereotypes about Africa go from the smallest things like believing that African people are able to speak to animals, to the big things like having the impression that Africa is just one big neighborhood.  Actually, Africa is a continent; it is composed of a total of 254 countries. Africa is made up of huge portions of land like Algeria– which is about 919,595 square miles, to tiny portions of land like Gambia– which is 451 square kilometers.  Africa is a massive continent, and chances are the African people that you might have met are not my friends… I am probably not even aware of their existence.

2. Different countries in Africa speak different languages; but the most widely spoken languages are Swahili, French, and Arabic, as well as English, and many other languages. Africa is considered to be the home of the greatest linguistic diversity in the world. There are too many languages spoken there for me to list– some sources say as many as 1,500-2,000 languages.

3.  Not all Africans are black. Although the majority of Africans are black, there are many African people who would not be categorized as being black. There are Indian Africans, White Africans, etc. These are people that have only known Africa as their home, because for generations, their families have established themselves there.
4.  It is widely believed that Africa is backward and underdeveloped and that the living conditions are horrible. I would like to give a balanced view of that.  First, depending on what we are calling backward, there are areas of life in which Africa is far ahead of everyone else. To give one good example: in America, there are now more than 100 women in congress.  But in Rwanda, 67.5 % of their parliament is occupied by women.  The 23.5% in the U.S. congress is thus far less.  Of course, as in any country, there are places in Africa that have extremely bad living conditions.  But as I mentioned in my Community of Scholars Day talk, there are also cities in Africa that are extremely modern: Nairobi, Kenya and Cape Town, South Africa are two examples that are frequently mentioned as among the most up-to-date in the world.
5.  Most people in the west do not realize how much wealth from natural resources Africa has. They also don’t realize how much they benefit from what originates in Africa. Consider these things:  as authors John Prendergast and Fidel Bafilemba explain in the book Congo Stories,
Americans rely on what they call “the 3 Ts.”  These are indispensable to modern electronic devices. “Tin functions as a solder on circuit boards in every electronic device we use. Tantalum stores electricity and is essential to portable electronics and high-speed processing devices. Every time you send a text message or open an app, tantalum is used. [And] tungsten enables cell phone vibration alerts.”
To a certain extent, the western world looks at Africa as if it were a distant planet from a distant galaxy, with different forms of humans who are simply too foreign. But none of that is true.  In reality, Africa is very much intertwined with the rest of the world.  And the same red-blooded humans who live in other parts of the world are the same ones that live in Africa. In being more conscious that African people and culture are actually very relatable lies the key to both acceptance and respect. Living in Africa has taught me that no matter how different people may seem to us, when we simply remember that we are all humans living on the same planet, we find more similarity and compassion towards what we may have labeled as foreign.  And right there is the very first step towards learning from each other… and about each other.

Lesley student Doucette Kayombo


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