HUNTSVILLE, Texas — When Africa is mentioned on the news, it is generally alongside the topics of poverty, disease or other misfortunes, but Nigerian-American journalist Dayo Olapade’s Africa is much different than the one many Americans see on television. Her Africa is filled with hope.
In her new book, “The Bright Continent: Breaking Rules and Making Changes in Modern Africa,” Olopade brings this Africa to light.
“I think the expectation that people in Africa can’t afford anything, that poverty means that there’s no commercial activity on the continent. I think it’s quite to the contrary,” Olopade said.
Olopade’s African travels and findings are contained within the pages of the book and offer some interesting insight into the continent and the people who live there. She presents the idea that the path to African progress lies within Africans themselves. Instead of asking the question, “What can the western world do for Africa?” Olopade dares to ask, “What can Africa do for itself?”
During her travels, she began to witness the epic creativity engendered from African hardship – something she began to call kanju. People like Kenneth Nnebue, who turned his low-budget straight-to-VHS movies into a multi-million dollar film industry known as Nollywood, have kanju. These people look at their challenges and see them as opportunities.
“It allows us all a vision of the silver linings involved and the things that many people pity about Africa. When you think about an electrical grid that doesn’t work, when you think about schools that don’t educate children well, when you think about health systems that are strained, it can be a little overwhelming, and it can be depressing,” Olopade said in an NPR interview.
“By contrast, when you imagine these as motivations, which they are, when you imagine these as invitations to solve problems and to create dynamic, efficient workarounds, the state of affairs begins to look like a catalytic environment that generates new ideas that can, in fact, be applied to the developed world as well.”
“The Bright Continent” calls for a new way of looking at Africa. Rather than seeing it as a continent riddled with poverty and corruption, Olopade brings to the reader’s attention the amazing things Africans are doing to help themselves every day.
Olopade is very concerned with the overshadowing that is occurring in the media; Africa seems to have a PR problem. Though the issues in Africa are still very present today, Olopade thinks that people often let the coverage of those problems overpower the multitude of innovative solutions and progress being made.
“I think that when you focus on leadership that’s bad, when you focus on institutions that are patronizing, you miss all of the exciting activity that’s happening across the continent,” Olopade said.
This activity directly relates to the biggest misconception tackled in “The Bright Continent” – the typical view of Africans in need. According to Olopade, these people are not simply waiting around for a handout.
“The idea that people are sitting on their hands, the idea that people are waiting around for, you know, clicktivism, or the annual, you know, donation check, or for the shipment of Super Bowl T-shirts from the losing team to come in, it truly offends me,” Olopade said.
“One of the more poignant moments for me in reporting this book, and I mention it early, is going to the airport very early in the morning, you know, and people just walking to work.”
“That is happening across the continent every morning. People walk long distances in the dark, having woken up, you know, and bathed in the dark to provide for their families. And that, rather than that image from the UN poster of, you know, dusty feet waiting for a handout, is what I would like people to take away.”
You can read more about the myths Olopade busts in “The Bright Continent” by picking up a copy of her book or checking out this article.