Africa Not Fit For Print? Preparing to Change Our Perspectives

This blog is part of a series where we unpack our Backpacktivist Manifesto using video, articles, music, and other forms of media. We invite you to critically reflect with us on what it truly means to be an ethical traveler.

The most important quality in a backpacktivist is the ability to reflect and adapt. You need to be prepared to change yourself, prepared to change your perspective of a new place, and prepared to change the lives of others. A backpacktivist isn’t just keeping an open mind. S/he is actively changing who they are and how they interact with the world around them.


The following is an excerpt from photojournalist Jonathan Kalan’s Africa Not Fit For Print; The ‘Light’ Side of the ‘Dark’ Continent. His piece brings into focus the various narratives that describe Africa and the importance of keeping an open mind to these different narratives. He shows that there isn’t necessarily a right or a wrong to the stories we hear but that we must be open to change our perspectives and challenge our assumptions when on the road.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo…I was fortunate enough to be able to peer behind the constant narrative of war, conflict, corruption and poverty. I saw real people. I saw real lives. I saw raw potential. Disabled women breaking down stereotypes in their villages by starting small tailoring businesses. Young men, left crippled by the war, training to be carpenters and welders. Communities that massacred each other just nine years ago, collaborating economically and socially. People returning from being refugees and attempting normalcy — school, business, family.

If you were to look only at the bleeding headlines, it would appear that the eastern D.R.C. is a dangerous black hole, like the old maps which demarcate unexplored territory with “Here be dragons”. A no-man’s land of endless bloody conflict, rape and abuse, driven by our consumer demand for diamonds and iPads, by ethnic divisions and land boundaries. Some parts are. But then again some parts aren’t. Ituri, where I traveled, was once dubbed ‘the bloodiest corner of the Congo’ by the UN. Yet since that report, little news has emerged.

The theme here is that much of Africa is more than what is so commonly seen. It’s a rapidly changing continent full with hope, enterprise, entrepreneurship, a growing middle class and everyday life.” 

Read the full article here. 


Questions for Thought…

  1. Why do you think we hear such a one-sided view of Africa?
  2. What are some “typical” stories you’ve heard from the media or from family and friends about the places you’ll be exploring this summer? Have you heard other stories that go against the mainstream grain?
  3. What stereotypes of the Western world would you most want to dispel from the minds of the people we will meet on our travels this summer?