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 ThÃ©ophile 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.