By Chas Danner
Sarah Rothbard introduces us:
Nigerian-American journalist Dayo Olopade spent two years traveling through 17 African countries. But it’s still difficult for her to talk about the continent[:] 800 million people live in Africa, most of whom she has not met. Nonetheless Olopade, author of The Bright Continent: Breaking Rules and Making Change in Modern Africa, is trying to reorient Western views of the continent. Six of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies are located in sub-Saharan Africa. Twenty-three African countries are now middle-income, she said, with their feet on the first rung of the ladder toward posterity. And over 300 million people make up Africa’s emerging middle class. They earn 10 times the poverty benchmark of $2 per day. Right now, unbeknownst to the West, Africa is incredibly dynamic and energetic. It is young—70 percent of the population is under 30 years old—and increasingly urban, with 50 cities of more than a million people and more than half the continent living in urban, cosmopolitan settings.
Dayo believes one of the reasons that Africa’s progress often goes unnoticed is because of “poverty porn”:
Many of the images that come out of Africa—from commercials featuring celebrities speaking on behalf of hungry children to Toms shoes—come from sources with business models that rely on people feeling badly about Africa. Poverty porn also exists at an institutional, global level. Olopade was shocked to see a poster that won a United Nations-sponsored contest depicting the torsos of leaders of the G-8 nations as skinny, African kids waiting in line at a refugee camp from the waist down.
The caption: “‘Dear World leaders. We are still waiting.’” But in Africa, “people, in my experience, wait for no one,” said Olopade, recounting the astonishing amount of commerce that takes place in the middle of traffic on the roads of Lagos, Nigeria. From your car, you can buy everything from mobile phone airtime to live animals. Congested roads aren’t an opportunity for self-pity but for marketing.
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