As an African in America I strive to make sure that others fully understand my culture, the depth of our education and health system and the true richness of my people.
For most people who have grown up outside of Africa and have never been there, the image that they may have of the continent is that it is a land full of lions and other dangerous wild animals freely intermingling with human beings in their day-to-day lives. Some people may even think that Africa is made up almost entirely of illiterate people who are starving due to hunger and famine, or people blowing vuvuzelas for every football game. For others, it is a land of great marathon athletes who practice barefooted around mountains or by being chased by lions. They assume that is how they scoop all the medals in the world marathons as they did again in the recently concluded New York City marathon on Nov. 7.
Except for a few communities such as the Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania that live in game reserves with the lions and other wild animals, the rest of the African communities do not have direct contact with the wild except by visiting the game packs, game reserves and mountain forests. And if you haven’t known this yet, the coffee you spend your Declining on at Starbucks is probably from Africa.
Education-wise, I am convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that, just as in any other continent, Africans are very smart individuals who can succeed in any academic environment and continue to be competitive in their professional fields after their studies. This has been proven by distinguished African personalities such as the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan of Ghana and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate in 2004, Professor Wangari Maathai from Kenya. We even have a female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia.
However, I also acknowledge that a lot still needs to be done in the education systems in Africa. In most schools there, the buildings are poorly-constructed mud-walls and the floors are made of soil. Also, the roofs are poorly maintained and made of rusted iron sheets that let in water when it rains.
The classes are big — some with a teacher-to-student ratio of one to 150 for primary school and about one to 70 for high school. This makes it a big challenge for teachers and generally lowers the quality of education. At the same time private schools, though they offer a higher quality of education, are very expensive for the average African.
Generally, one’s high school achievement is based on a single exam — usually a national exam. Thus, transcripts are often not that significant for college admissions. There are also admissions panels that decide what course each student who scored above a certain pass-mark has to pursue. Once they are admitted, the student cannot change their courses. Consequently, there are many people graduating with bachelor’s degrees in fields that they do not genuinely like. Of course, this makes them less productive in their professional endeavors, causing a great impediment to the growth of the continent.
Without question, health is a great challenge as well. Since Africa lies within the tropics, it is prone to tropical diseases such as malaria, with strains that mutate every season — it’s difficult to find a permanent cure. Then, due to high levels of poverty, sanitation is a challenge especially among the slum-dwellers, who live among cholera and typhoid outbreaks.
Having very few well-equipped hospitals and a large amount of Brain Drain has affected the health sector because many qualified African doctors move to developed countries — for example, Benin, a country in West Africa has less than 100 doctors, making the doctor-to-patient ratio about one to 25,000 patients. Meanwhile, there are hundreds of doctors from Benin in France, its former colony. If they stayed in Africa they would be paid in peanuts while their counterparts in France and other parts of the world live very comfortable lives.
As for the culture, I think Africans are very warm people — to the extent that most of the local languages do not have a word for ‘welcome’ because, traditionally, everyone is always welcomed so that one doesn’t have to be invited.
Culture cannot be complete without language. Thus, since England and France were the main scramblers and colonizers of Africa during the height of colonialism in the 19th century, English and French are the most commonly used official languages, although Swahili is currently the only local African language spoken in over five countries in eastern, central and southern parts of Africa. Who knows, Swahili could be the common African language in a couple of centuries. If you’ve watched Disney’s “The Lion King,” you should be proud to know a few Swahili words. Your favorite, I bet, might be “hakuna matata,” which means “no worries.”
Achudi is a member of the class of 2014.