The Story of Africa

I was out having dinner last night when we got onto the topic of Kenya and my work there. I have recently made a sort of pamphlet detailing the story of an orphanage in Busia that we are seeking to raise money for to build a school <the story of MOCH Orphanage> and one of the men sitting at the table who had read this pamphlet asked a very interesting question. He said “I don’t mean this to belittle, but the children in the pictures look very happy?”

Firstly, I am not saying this in anyway to criticise this person. I commend him for his honesty and I am pleased that he said what he did because it raises a very profound point, something which I will call – the story of Africa.

For most people, especially those who have never visited the continent, the word Africa is associated with various negative images. Famine, poverty, war, genocide. Whenever a country in Africa makes the news it is invariably because something bad has happened. The pictures we see are of starving African children, or young men wielding guns and machetes or a mother in tears because she has just lost another child. Thus, Africa is a place of suffering and sadness. It’s story is not a positive one.

However, if and when you travel to a country in Africa I would predict that you encounter a very different story. The main reason why I started KenyaWorks and why I believe so strongly in it is because I believe so strongly in so many of the people that I met in Kenya. Take the orphanage in Busia as an example. So many of the children there have had awful lives. Many have been abused, have lost parents and sibling to AIDS and other illnesses and have generally had to struggle to get by. Yet, I have never been to a place where I have seen more happiness, laughter and love.

Similarly during my time in Nakuru I met so many young men and women who were struggling on a daily basis to survive. Yet, they were always laughing and joking with me and were a pleasure to be around. There is a real energy among young people in Kenya to change their lives and make their country better and this drive is infectious.

Now, I don’t want this to turn out as a cliched story about “how all Africans don’t have money but they are happy” because that’s cheap. I merely want to make the point that the story of Africa in many people’s minds is incorrect. It is not their fault and I certainly do not blame them. In fact I’m sure I felt this way before I first visited Kenya when I was 18. But Africa is a continent of great potential where people are actively, on a daily basis, pursuing ways to make their lives and the lives of their community better.

The world understood this after WWII and the ‘end of Empire.’ During this period there was great hope that Africa could in a sense save us. The world saw so much potential in the continent. Philosophically, politically, economically, culturally there was an excitement about what it was going to bring. Over the last 60 years this hope and excitement has gradually faded. But I still think and I hope KenyaWorks will eventually be part of a movement that helps Africa and African peope fulfill their potential. And thus change the story of Africa.