These observations remind me of a very useful article I read years ago, as I prepared for my first trip to Africa (and my only one so far). In the deeply satirical How to Write About Africa, Binyavanga Wainaina offers Granta readers a verbal equivalent of the scenery shown above. In his scathing satire, he models the focus on myriad pathologies that travel writers and journalists seem determined to include when writing about Africa.
Learning about the cultural, physical, political, and economic geography can help those outside Africa better understand this enormous region that is home to one out of every seven humans, living in rural, urban, and suburban places in places that are dry, wet, flat, hilly in over 50 countries (depending on how one counts island nations such as Cape Verde) and speaking scores of languages.
As an example of what many of us are missing, I provide the results of two Google image searches for a single city representing less than one percent of the continent, but illustrating its diversity. The two groups of images were found by searching on Durban and "Durban people." Durban is an exceptionally diverse city (and the home of the fellow geographer who shared the acacia articles with me), but this random assortment of images is a nonetheless valuable glimpse of the richness of the continent as a whole.
In addition to geography resources, it is useful to seek news from Africa from media outlets that have reporters working throughout the continent. The Africa portal pages at Al-Jazeera, BBC, and NPR are good places to begin explorations.
Power is the ability to tell the story of another person, and to do so in a way that makes it the definitive story of that person -- or people. A key way to exercise that power is to choose the stage at which to begin telling the story.
Updates -- June 2018
The acacia may be overdone as a symbol, but of course it is a tree and deserves our respect. Another tree that is important throughout much of Africa is the baobab, which I first encountered when I was a graduate student at the University of Arizona. where the entire campus is a carefully curated arboretum. I remember being stopped in my tracks the first time I saw one of these magnificent trees there.
I heard this story just a couple of days after reading -- and blogging about -- a new report on the degree to which the United States is unprepared to engage with the increasingly important continent of Africa.