As Africa month comes to a close I wanted to take a moment to celebrate this vast continent of ours. A continent so diverse, so complex, so astounding and so kaleidoscopic that it is virtually impossible to comprehend or define in a few simple words. Marketers and storytellers alike are definitely spoilt for choice when it comes to the colourful pictures they could paint. Why is then that instead of choosing from an endless array of brushes and colours they often prefer a generic paint by numbers?
It boggles the mind don't you think? Especially when there are so many ways that Africa could be marketed, but isn't. Let us take a moment to consider just the regions that make up this continent.
Southern Africa Perhaps the most misunderstood region is actually Southern Africa as its so often confused with South Africa. All to often, the all that is quickly whipped out is a broad brushstroke of a dramatic Table Mountain and Victoria Falls, with a glimpse of the Okavango in a corner, often hidden underneath a roaring Big 5. And, if you are very lucky you will sometimes get a smattering of a milkyway over a desert landscape. What is not shown is the adventure smorgasbord of heart-stopping experiences that are laid out on an absolute dreamland of diverse landscapes, all topped off with the distinct flavours of different cultures and stories that make each and every bite unique.
East Africa East Africa is painted as the home of the Big-5 safari with some jumping Maasai Mara thrown in for a bit of a cultural detail. What is less spoken about is how this region has been cleaved by the forces of creation leaving an epic rift valley so remarkable that it makes the Grand Canyon pale in comparison. Or how this valley cradles a series of Great Lakes that stretch all the way from Malawi through to the Gulf of Aden, forming pockets of vibrant inland seas so unique from another that it seems as if a series of painters forgot all their boundaries in creating one fantastical landscape after another. And that is before even touching on the fact that East Africa holds within its womb of creation the birth of humankind and their favourite elixir (coffee).
Central Africa Perhaps the least painted of all is Central Africa. So all consumed by journalists, marketers seem to have forgotten this gem entirely, writing it off as just the deepest darkest part of Africa. And with this black brushstroke they erase the world's second largest rainforest, Africa's Amazon with its own unique Big 5, with nary a second glance. They gloss over the origin of that distinctive heartbeat of Africa that resounds and vibrates off the water as Brazzaville and Kinshasa live up to their "UNESCO Cities of Music" titles. They bypass the fantastical, almost prehistoric, Jurassic Park wonderland that lies just off the coast in the islands of Sao Tome and Principe. And they forget the evocative power of the "Heart of Africa."
West Africa West Africa is so often painted as just that French part of Africa where the tragedy of the slave trade has its roots. What is less painted is the rich colourful tapestry of heritage and history that finds its expression to this day in the mysterious remains of ancient civilisations and once powerful kingdoms that emerge as colourful stitches across the region, and as memories held in museums across the world. A tapestry made ever richer by the cultural exuberance that seeps from the very pores of the myriad of vibrant cities that are bursting at the seams with a gluttony of experiences for all the 6 senses.
North Africa Perhaps the most confused of all is the painting of North Africa that is separated by an imaginary line that summarily divides the region from sub-saharan Africa and relegates it to the Middle East. What marketers seem to have forgotten is that Africa cannot be divided by a line in the sand, because doing so erases the power of our continent entirely. The ancient civilisations that built the pyramids of Egypt, cannot be divided from those that built the pyramids of East Africa, nor the kingdoms of West Africa. It is only when we see North Africa as part of Africa that we can begin to understand the treasures that she holds, rather than seeing her as just a playing ground for the UK or poor man's Athens or Acropolis. North Africa's jewels can only be seen in all of their uniqueness when they are revealed in all of their Africanness.
Indian Ocean Islands The Indian Ocean Islands are so often glossed over as just a group of interchangeable sun-sea-sand destinations. Once you've seen one you've seen them all. Or have you? The pretty postcard of palm-lined white beaches actually masks what this region really has to offer which is a mega-diversity that we rarely associate with small islands. And I am not only talking about the sheer number of endemic animals and plants, both on land and underwater, that make this region a veritable fairyland. I am also talking about the sheer diversity of histories, of peoples, of languages, of cultures, of traditions, of food and music. I am talking about the stories of these places and their origins that would silence you in sheer wonder.
What I have painted here is a mere dilution, a tiny glimpse of the unique kaleidoscope of colour and richness that each region holds and offers up for the taking. And while I have far from done it justice, I hope that my small introduction inspires you to move past the paint-by-numbers to explore for yourself what Africa truly has to offer.
If you are looking for further inspiration to colour your African picture I suggest taking a read of these:
5 Epic Things I Learned Mapping Tourism Across Africa.
Are These Africa's Top Bucketlist Cities?
5 Places in Africa to Blow Your Mind.
If Africa's Regions Were Travellers This is Who They Would Be.
Why African Culture Will Blow You Away.