Monthly Archives: February 2013

The True Size of Africa

The True Size of Africa

I first saw this map with friends at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York and loved it for what it taught me about the real size of the continent. To see that the United States accounted for West Africa alone astounded me. I remember being equally shocked when I flew over here to learn from the plane’s captain that I had as far to go from New York to Dakar as I did from Dakar to Johannesburg.

Along with Africa’s huge size, the second largest continent on earth behind Asia, comes an incredible diversity. The climates, crops, foods, cultures, economies, and of course languages, vary greatly between the regions. As I spend more time working in Malawi, I am finding that interacting with those outside Malawi in a professional setting takes some negotiation. This is because even counterparts who have spent their careers in Africa may not have worked in Malawi specifically, and each country has its own specific context and way of doing things.

Even within a nation, African states boast a formidable diversity. Over 500 languages are spoken in a giant nation like Nigeria. Even in a small country like Malawi the people speak about 16 different languages, depending on who you ask.

This map helps break down the idea that Africa is one big poor country with lots of guns and sad-looking children. It isn’t. I hope that as Africa gains influence and relevance to the West in the coming years that our governments will learn to take the nuanced approach that each region and nation deserves, rather than reducing an overwhelming diversity of peoples, economies, and states to one undersold monolith.

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