9 Things you May or May not Know about Africa

by phil on February 24, 2011

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I made this list because I got tired of people asking me if I saw tigers when I was in Africa.

1. There are no tigers in Africa. They are not native to the continent.

2. There are approximately 1,500 languages spoken in Africa.

3. There is more arable land in Africa than there is anywhere else on earth right now. This is one of the reasons that foreign governments are trying to snatch up land in Africa – to grow food for their own populations. Click here to read about Libya’s land acquisitions in the Niger Delta of Mali. But it’s not just Gadhafi (who will hopefully soon be deposed). China and South Korea have been quietly amassing large amounts of African land along with arid countries like Saudi Arabia.


4. 10% of Kenya’s GDP moves through financial transactions made with cell phones. The use of mobile technology in Kenya may transform how cell phones are used throughout the world. “When you think “financial innovation,” East Africa doesn’t leap to mind. But for the past several years, millions of Kenyans have been using their cell phones as mobile bank accounts.” Read more here.

5. Not everyone in Africa has HIV/AIDS. I get strange looks when I tell people my girlfriend is Malian. I’m often asked: “aren’t you worried about AIDS?” There are many African countries still struggling with HIV/AIDS. This is true. But the continent is not being ravaged by the disease as some people seem to think. The HIV/AIDS rate is 1.7% in Mali. It is 3% in Washington, DC, the city I was living in before traveling to West Africa.

6. Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire produce 57% of the world’s cocoa. If you notice the price of your chocolate going up, it’s because Laurent Gbagbo has refused to give up power in Cote D’Ivoire despite losing the November election. “Coverage of events in Côte d’Ivoire seems to have gone quiet, but a dangerous power struggle continues over the recent November 2010 presidential election results.” Human rights abuses should be dealt with in Libya, but let’s not forget Cote D’Ivoire. The lack of media attention has allowed Gbagbo to unleash his security forces on opposition supporters. More here.

7. There are not many Africans walking around half-naked in the bush. The iconic image of the African is one of “tribal village life.” For better or for worse, most people do not live this way. Even in many villages, people have cell phones and you are likely to see Barack Obama’s visage plastered on t-shirts.

8. 13% of the world’s hydroelectric power potential lies in the Congo River. It is the deepest river in the world and the most powerful river in Africa. During the rainy season, 50,000 cubic meters of water enter into the Atlantic ocean per second. It has the potential to single handedly power all of sub-Saharan Africa.

9. Africa is enormous. The continental United States could fit within the Sahara Desert (which by the way is the largest nonpolar desert in the world). Think about that for a second.

Obviously there is a lot more to Africa than what I’ve written here. There are also a lot of people who understand that Africa is not the neatly packaged image often shown in media and entertainment. This post intends to say that: 1. Africa is a big and complex place, and 2. There is a lot of misinformation about it. I have a fractional understanding of Africa, but it’s good to know that it is always possible to expand my perspective and further educate myself.

Up Next: The West African music series continues in Senegal. If you have not had a chance, check out the how to draw camels website. Everything is now up and running, including a blog that will focus on aid/development issues and social enterprise, and of course, camel drawing.

Mobile phone photo credit: Flickr user whiteafrican

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