Web meme two, why I blog about Africa

Like Erik Hersman, who tagged me for this meme, I usually duck Internet memes. Generally, I duck because they’re a little silly and I suspect people don’t actually want answers to the questions asked. This meme – “Why I Blog About Africa” – I’ve ducked because it’s hard.

This meme began in Francophone Africa, started by Théophile Kouamouo in Abidjan, and it’s spread first through French-language blogs and now into the Anglophone Afrosphere. Elia Varela Serra has rounded up and translated French responses, as well as a set of English responses, and it’s a fascinating set of responses from people who live on the continent who’d like the rest of the world to better understand their home countries and what they love about their continent.

For those of us who love and write about Africa and aren’t from there, the motivations are a little different, I think. I write about Africa because I’m dumb about it, and writing makes me less dumb.

This summer, I gave a talk in the Netherlands about my first trip to Africa, as a student in 1993. One of the themes of that talk was what an idiot I was, how little I knew about Ghana as I was moving there, and how much help I needed from friends to bridge barriers of culture before I could really understand my neighborhood, my city, my community.

Most Americans are idiots about Africa. It’s not entirely our fault – unless you’re looking for it, you stumble over very little news about Africa in American media, and less that’s not about natural disaster, poverty or bad leadership. Certainly part of why I blog about Africa is to try to convince people that there are other sides to see, and to celebrate.

But that’s not the real reason, if I’m being honest. I’ve spent a great deal of time blogging about Somalia not because I have happy stories to share, but because I know so little about that country, its history, its present and future. Writing forces me to learn, and sharing what I learn helps me learn more, as people correct me, contradict me and explain things to me. Ultimately, learning about Somalia – a place I’ve never travelled – has taught me a great deal about how my country exerts power and fights wars. These aren’t happy lessons, but they’re ones I’m grateful for.

It’s traditional to tag bloggers at the end of a post like this, urging them to respond as well… but I’m late to the game. Instead, let me link to some of the other amazing African and Afrophile bloggers who’ve answered the questions with their own reasons, ranging from the silly to the inspiring.

Black Looks
David Ajao
Rebekah Heacock
Zambian Economist
Juliana Rotich
Rafiq Philips
Denford Magora
What An African Woman Thinks

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3 Responses to Web meme two, why I blog about Africa

  1. John Gaynard says:

    Ethan,

    I too am not from Africa but I share your fascination. I did a lot of work-related traveling there in the 1990s, in the French-speaking countries. Here is a post I put on my blog that points up the difficulties of using modern business theory in a country (Ghana, in this case) that still needs to satisfy the basic requirements.
    http://johngaynardcreativity.blogspot.com/2009/01/application-of-problem-solving-methods.html
    Best wishes, John
    P.S. I have got the feed from your site so I will be looking in regularly.

  2. Ddenford says:

    This is a very interesting and fresh take on the meme, Ethan.

    I think it is also an important one in revealing the motivations of those of us who blog about Africa. Our concerns are different, but I think that each of us is contributing immensely to an understanding of the continent. Even when we write the “silly stuff!”

    And, yes, there are times I think that the preoccupations of some of my fellow-bloggers are rather silly, but then I look at it this way:

    By concentrating on the “lighter” stuff, these bloggers show the world that this continent has much more going for it than mud huts and so on.

    Your Global Voices Project does stunning work presenting this African Quilt to the world public and I thank you for such obvious passion.

    Keep on blogging!

  3. Ben Colmery says:

    Ethan,

    You know, I find myself asking “why?” a lot with anything related to foreigners going to Africa. I was just in Lagos, doing some research (which I talk about, among other things, in the links below), and I couldn’t help but wonder about each foreigner I saw there. People don’t really travel there out of curiosity. It is mostly for business. And it is hard not to wonder if their motives have the “good” of Nigeria at heart. And perhaps they shouldn’t necessarily?

    Anyway, I am blogging about Nigeria to add to the collective pool of information about this country that is largely unknown to the outside world, but strangely important given how much oil it contributes to the rest of the world, and to hopefully promote awareness of what could help Nigerians who are struggling to have true independence and justice.

    Interestingly, you tagged Rebekah Heacock–I am working with her on this project. Thought she is researching Uganda, not Nigeria. But same project.

    Anyway, I also blog about Nigeria because it fascinates me. It has almost every development issue imaginable, and is a wildly complex place. Oil and a resource curse, religious conflict, corruption, population explosion, health issues, environmental degradation, bad governance, foreign exploitation, militia rule, former military rule, and people filled with spirit and an enterprising nature. I simply can’t get it off my mind.

    http://themorningsidepost.com/2009/01/nigeria-blog-entry-1-slave-to-the-traffic-jam/

    http://themorningsidepost.com/2009/01/nigeria-blog-electric-power-to-the-people/

    –Ben

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