The topic of my Ignite talk tonight is #africaisnotacountry.

What is Ignite Bainbridge?

In the words of fellow OfficeXpats member Leif Utne:

The first-ever Ignite Bainbridge! is less than 24 hours away! Join us tomorrow night (May 16) at the Pavilion for a fun and fast-paced festival of stories and ideas. Hear 14 Bainbridge Islanders present on topics ranging from African development to local currencies to karaoke. The Ignite format is simple: 5 minutes, 20 slides, 15 seconds/slide, auto-advancing. The fun starts with a mixer at OfficeXpatsat 6:30. Presentations begin downstairs in the movie theater at 7:15. Tickets are $5 at the door.

Intro to #africaisnotacountry

My simple goal with this 5 minute talk – and this blog post and hopefully the video that will be shared online after the event – is to remind you that Africa is not a country.

In fact, Africa is a continent – a very large continent.

To put Africa’s size in comparable context – the land mass of Africa is big enough to contain the United States (including Alaska), China, and all of Europe.

Africa contains 52 countries and an incredible diversity of languages, cultures, and ethnicities.

Why am I talking about #africaisnotacountry?

Africa matters to me because it is a big part of my life. I have devoted many years to running Kabissa, a nonprofit that supports grassroots organizations throughout Africa seeking to put technology to work for the benefit of their communities.  My work with Kabissa has taken me to many countries – from Nigeria to Morocco to Kenya – to train people working for civil society groups on integrating the Internet into their work.

I have an international background – I was raised in the United States, Germany (where my parents are from), Botswana and Kenya. I was in Botswana as a very young child – my earliest friends were Batswana and I am told my first words were in Setswana, though I have forgotten all of it now. I spent formative teenage years in Nairobi, Kenya where I graduated from high school. The years in between I spent mostly in Washington, DC, with stints and holidays in Germany. My father worked for the World Bank and my mother was a doctor, and Africa was often discussed at the dinner table – and many Africans came to dinner!

When I came back to the United States to attend university, I was struck by how little people seemed to know about Africa, its size and its diversity. I had people showing me Africa on an atlas and asking me where South Africa begins. Not realizing that it can be cold (and that it even can snow) in Africa. That there is no such language as “African”.

Still today people frequently refer to “developing nations such as Africa and India” or “Africa is a country at the brink of crisis”.

You are missing out if you think Africa is a country

People who do this are missing out on wonderful knowledge. It is fascinating to understand Africa as an enormously diverse place with people of many languages, cultures, religions, physical features, skin tones. Diverse climate zones, temperatures. Diverse geography from deserts to mountains to lakes.

You are not helping when you say Africa is a country

There are many problems in Africa. But when politicians or even charities refer to Africa as a country they are ignoring the fact that there is a wide diversity of conditions under which Africans are living. Many are living quite well and are probably more comfortable than most Americans – it is false to assume that all Africans are starving or suffering.

More importantly, the 52 countries each have their own distinct governments, laws, economies and societies. This means that it is actually impossible to generalize on their problems or the solutions to those problems. And it’s not helpful.

The fact is that the solutions to Africa’s problems lie in Africa – and are being worked on by committed people seeking to improve the lives of people in their own communities. If you want to help them, ignore the stereotype images of starving Africans and instead use the Internet to connect with Africans and do a little research. Find and support organizations working locally in their own communities. Nice places to start? Kabissa,Global GivingSee Your Impact.

So. Join me in spreading the word that #africaisnotacountry.

On twitter you can call out folks referring to Africa as a country or share anecdotes using the #africaisnotacountry hashtag. I will pick it up and get warm and fuzzy feelings when you do, and maybe even post roundups to my blog.

And anywhere, anytime when you hear anybody refer to Africa as a country please interrupt them and say “dude, come on. Africa is not a country!”

Crossposted from

User login

Forgot password?