54 states, 1.4 billion people, 2000 languages: Africa is not a country

54 states, 1.4 billion people, 2000 languages: Africa is not a country

Muslim girls at a festival in Lagos, Nigeria.ANP/EPA photo

Africa is not a country. Not all babies cry with hungry stomachs and a face full of flies. Not every African country is under a dictator (only ten percent) and the continent is not intended as a safari park for Western tourists.

Yes, those seemingly entrenched prejudices are sometimes too loud for Debeau Valuin (33) and not just him, he says along the Amsterdam Canal. Everywhere in Africa, he recorded anger and frustration at the ignorance of whites, often combined with a chronic lack of genuine interest in what was going on on the second largest continent on Earth. “I want to give voice to that disappointment and the desire to eradicate these harmful stereotypes. Because Africa is not a monolith and not a hopeless region, as you often hear.”

Falwin is a court clerk for the Canadian American Journal vice. He’s both inside and out when it comes to culture and identity, which he often writes about. Because he was born in the United States (Chicago), grew up in Africa (Lagos) and now lives in Europe (London), Valoen regularly switches between clichés and stigmas, back and forth.

54 countries, 2000 languages

What is Africa: 54 independent countries, home to 1.4 billion people who speak more than 2,000 languages. The writer makes it clear once again that his Nigeria has as much to do with Ghana (two distant countries) as Poland with Portugal. “Every country in Africa has such specific characteristics, such individual identities, which is why I wanted to write this book.”

So, his message is, stop relying on those boring stereotypes. Now try to get a real connection with a very exciting area which is also on the rise in many ways. “Most countries have democratically elected governments, impressive cities and a growing middle class that wants and wants the same things as people elsewhere in the world.”

There is a lot of dynamism in the fast-growing continent, which is also rich in important mineral resources. In September, Falluen will present his book in the United States. In Great Britain, it is now notably bought into schools because, as the writer heard from educators, it relates to the African theme of well-educated young people who are expressing themselves and holding their leaders accountable for everything from women’s rights to climate change, from employment to relations with China. There is a lot going on to draw hope from. But as long as many people in Europe continue to associate the tumultuous continent with hunger and safari, there is still a long way to go towards a true relationship with the region.

Falwin brings his life back to Nigeria as he describes the hustle and bustle of the ancient capital of Lagos (15 million people) and explains how West African countries fight over who makes the best jollof rice. He did not want to write a boring historical book, but it is still 1884. It is crucial because, according to Falluin, it explains a lot of misery, including the theft of ninety percent of the African heritage that he deplored.


The Berlin Conference began in 1884. Gentlemen from fifteen European countries and the United States gathered who divided the African continent “justly” among themselves, without the participation of even a single African president. It was, of course, also about seizing gold, copper, and other mineral resources, but it was justified as a kind of human mission to “prepare the savages,” says Falwin.

“Well, it’s been a long time now, but let’s talk about it and discuss it frankly. Fear not because I don’t know anyone in Africa who now wants to sue a European for what their ancestors did. Talk about it so that the children can learn from it and learn that in 1884 a group of People decided to take over other people’s lands just because they thought they were better than the people who lived there.”

Without this context, you will understand very little of what is happening now, he wants to say.

Falwin says with a laugh that his parents never wrote so openly and provocatively as he does. “My parents are still wary. “Be nice to the English.” They are now in their 70s and grew up in a different time. My parents remember independence and the influence of English before and after. Only when you do well in London are you good. That’s how they were brought up. Work My parents are in the West and are now living in Nigeria again. They are proud of their country. Like many others, they want to be seen for what they are, not some Western story still intimidated by movies or books.”

win afro

The writer says that Africans are asserting themselves more and more. The world is dancing on Afrobeat. Concerts of African bands were sold out in London, New York and Paris. Fallwin believes that there is no doubt about the fun surrounding these events. “You can also see the enthusiasm of the younger generations in art, fashion, film and sports. The realization that they have quality is increasing in many countries.”

A lot of African Americans found out in the movie Black Panther. Suddenly a high-tech image of that wild continent appeared. There was nothing in their imagination that they could hold on to, but now it exists. Falwin: “I would like to see people really participate in Africa in a way that makes things happen and actually exist. It is not in Fantasia the simple story of pain and suffering and the wild animals that roam our gardens.”

“And yes,” he says, “it is a complicated place because individual countries have become deliberately complicated by human intervention, which later made it difficult to fight for independence. The least you can do is show commitment to the different countries and not the decades-old myth.”

Debo Falluen: Africa is not a country (translation: Annemie de Vries), 400 pages, €26.99.

Depo Valoen:

Debo Valoen: “Now I’m showing a real commitment.”Bim Ras Photography’s photo

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