When most people think of the African continent, they imagine wars, corruption, starvation and a host of other maladies. I’ve heard people who consider themselves liberal proclaim in public, without any sense of shame, that they only prefer Africa for the animals.
Yet when you step into the pulsating cities of Accra, Kampala, Durban, Lagos and Dakar, you will find thumping music, thriving fashion scenes, thought-provoking art and advances in science. So without further ado, let’s explore what makes Africa great.
While many are fine assuming African is synonymous with illiterate, let me point out a small sample of scientific discoveries that have emerged from the continent. From the 1960s when a scientist in Ethiopia named Aklilu Emma developed a way to treat Bilharzia to 2003 when Moroccan scientists developed a cure for avian typhoid, this continent has been full of useful and life-saving discoveries.
Regarding clean technology, Africa has been at the forefront. M. Bah Abbah of Nigeria created a cost efficient refrigerator that runs using the laws of physics. Because of this, $2 worth of energy can run a refrigerator for 27 days, rather than the meager two days that traditional electricity allows.
The Cardiopad, a device which allows heart examinations to be submitted electronically to experts hundreds of miles away, was invented in Cameroon but has applications on a global level for those in rural communities.
In Kenya, a man named A. Mutua created a cellphone charging device that uses kinetic energy from shoes to charge devices, and in Swaziland, two teenagers developed a hydroponic planting methods that increased crop yields by 140%. Mozambique has also jumped onto the green bandwagon, developing the first clean cooking plant, which uses excess cassava for a cleaner and safer impact on the environment.
And next time someone tells you Africa doesn’t contribute anything, remember to show them your cellphone. Those minerals found inside? Those were developed and extracted from African soil as well. And while you might not like the mining practices, almost every person in the world benefits from them.
African music ranges from traditionally infused beats to popular styles such as rap and pop. I would highly encourage you to click these links (although perhaps not at work as they lead to youtube) and take a stroll through the thriving African music scene.
Keko, a female Ugandan rap star, has been churning out hits for years. Now signed with Sony Music Africa, not only did she blast the President of Uganda over the anti-homosexuality bill, but she constantly stays at the forefront of African trends and music.
Olugbenga, a Nigerian who juxtaposes warm, slow beats against the vibrant and chaotic streets of Lagos, gives a fantastic example of what indie music in Africa is able to achieve.
Mafikizolo featuring Uhuru’s song Khona is a South African hit that has been playing in night clubs steadily since 2013. With backup dancers that would make Lady Gaga jealous, and vibrant bright scenes, this enchanting Zulu song showcases some of the continent’s best talent.
And one of the most campy and hilarious music videos to emerge in the last few years is from Nigerian star Temi Dollface, whose song Pata Pata uses 195’s pin up imagery that mixes seamlessly with distinctly Nigerian styles. Beyonce would be proud.
Although it’s not widely recognized, African art has been influencing some of the most prolific Western artist for years. Picasso, Matisse and Gauguin have all taken a page from the minimalist, colorful motifs that have been present in much of African art for centuries.
However, there are plenty of up and coming African artists who deserve their own recognition.
Nnenna Okore is a Nigerian born artist who uses mixed media, such as rope, clay, burlap and wood to make pieces that focus on both consumerism and wastefulness in modern times. Featured in museums from New York to London, her work is a fresh contribution to the modern art world.
Samuel Fosso is a Cameroonian photographer who uses portraits to highlight the identity of his subjects, while playing with gender roles, has an amazing story. A winner of multiple international photography awards, he moved to Bangui in the Central African Republic amidst fighting in his home state, and started his own photo studio at the age of 13. The brutal civil war now raging in the CAR almost saw an end to his life’s work when his studio was raided. However, numerous prints survived the attack thanks to fellow photographers and a member of Human Rights Watch, who bravely collected his works during the chaos.
Dan Sekanwagi, a self-taught, Ugandan-born artist, once worked as a structural draftsman for an engineering firm. It was this learned precision combined with his artistic sensibilities that influenced his striking and unique paintings. Sharp angles juxtaposed with soft curves and motherly scenes are a distinctive feature of his work.
While Paris is known for its fashion, Africa is coming up behind her. From traditional clothes made of bark cloth to couture featured on the runways of Milan and London, African fashion designers have brought their individual styles and whimsy to fashionistas everywhere.
Def.i.ni.tion is an African clothing brand that sells funky apparel and home decor with a local kick. For instance, after Uganda passed their anti-pornography law banning ‘miniskirts’ (although the law didn’t outlaw them specifically, rather it went after ‘revealing clothing’) Def.i.ni.tion came out with an infamous tank top that proclaimed: Life is Short, Wear a Miniskirt #Uganda. Those tank tops are currently sold out. Other clothing in their store is a nod to the continent and its many features, which includes a Matatu Airlines shirt, referencing the minibuses (matatus) that run around the city, jamming traffic at every turn.
Taking a step up, we have Oumou Sy, from Senegal, who is known as the queen of couture. Her designs are not only been showcased around the globe, but she owns stores in Geneva and Paris. Still, despite her ability to work and live around the globe, she still resides in Dakar, calling it home.
Laz Yani is a South African designer who studied in Port Elizabeth and London before beginning his career. The first designer to ever utilize braille in his work, his heartwarming message was well received at South Africa’s Fashion Week. His designs are emblazoned with Swarovski crystals that spell out: “I aim to use these clothes as a new language of confidence.”
So perhaps some people only come here for the animals. Perhaps for them, the culture is not worth their time to explore. They have my pity, as they’re missing out on some of the best in science, fashion, art and culture the world has to offer.