This is a rather random question. I just watched "The Last King of Scotland" and "Blood Diamond" within the last week and I have this desperate urge to visit Africa.
I went to South Africa a few years ago, but a friend of mine who grew up in what is now the Dem Rep of Congo informed me that that is not really africa.
So . . . . to get to the point - where is the "real" Africa? And at the risk of sounding like a big coward - how safe is it? We're getting news reports about the British diplomats kidnapped in Ethiopia, opposition leaders in Zimbabwe getting beaten up etc - is it wise for a white guy to go backpacking around Africa?
Nice and both an easy and difficult question.
What is 'real'?
Actually, when you are in a country or continent, you are always in the real country or continent, whether it's in a city, on a beach, between the locals or in an expensive hotel.
But assuming there is kinda feeling about the 'real' africa (I know what you mean) I guess your friend is right that south africa might not be the country that matches the real africa. But which country does?
There is the arabic northern part of africa, the sahara, tropical forests, small villages, big cities, beaches, wildlife.
Is the real africa the poor africa, starving because of a lack of food and drinks?
Not every country in africa is safe to travel independently. Congo, Angola, Burundi, central african rep., liberia, ivory coast are no go areas.
You might find the real africa in countries like Malawi, Cameroon and Ghana, safe countries with many local tribes, but also relaxed touristy things to do, like a safari or some beaches.
Personally, every country beneath the Sahara is the real africa, no matter how developed, how touristy, how safe etc.
I have travelled to Africa several times over the last 20 years, and for me, the "Real" Africa are the areas that have the least amount of tourists.
West Africa is the place for me. Sure, you may have to wait several days, in one place to wait for a "bush taxi" to get to your next destination as public transport is pretty much non-existent. As are many western facilities(such as toilets) but it is so worth it.
Mali is a country not to be missed.(I can't count how many people have said to me "Timbuktu really exists?").
Knowing some French is helpful as English in many West African countries isn't spoken, except for places like Ghana and Nigeria.(Yes, Nigeria is worth seeing)
The thing about Africa that draws me back again and again, isn't so much the scenery, or the wildlife(not much big game in West Africa), but the people. I never fail to see the irony in this; These people have so little, they survive from day to day and yet they are happy to live their lives. We have everything, and yet we are always striving for something bigger and better; a new car, a new house. Are we ever truly happy?
We are drawn to these places and people because they can teach us something of what it really means to feel alive.
Just go... you won't regret it.
I say, to most people, "THE REAL AFRICA", is the undeveloped part of the world that is in Africa!! Hah! I say THE REAL AFRICA Is the Africa of great and awesone scenery, amazing sounds and dance,wildlife, unblemished beaches and above all wonderful people.
Thus, Kenya, Tanzania, Mali, cameroon, senegal, Guinea, malawi scores heavily on this.
When you say opposition leaders being clobbered in Zimbabwe and tourists getting kidnapped, One may be tempted to ask so many questions including- how safe aqre you in your own house, city, office in the present world ?? get out and have a good time.
How can anybody talk about 'Real' Africa. It's like saying Switzerland and Austria are the real Europe because of the Alps. I never heard anybody talk about Europe in that way, it's funny. Africa is a continent and it's as diverse as anything else. I think the 'realness' comes in where an area matches most of the stereotypes.
It all depends on what you want to do and see. A good starting point would be to get the Lonely Planet Africa guide and read through and see what appeals to you most.
The international media potrays us as a backward and very dangerous place. The US army is in Kenya cordinating Military activities with the Kenyan army in the northern frontier yet they issue travel advisories about the same country!
Yes,It's no news when a dog bites a man but it is real news when a man bites a dog. So hop on to the next plane come back packing and you will have a different story to write about, forget the media and all
Take a look at the post called Traveling ideas, that Howie posted, in this forum.
Maybe Petercasie will answer your questions, about safety too.
To get a feel of the "Real Africa", may i suggest looking into volunteering (sp? sorry not my fortae). It will give you a chance to meet locals and more importantly help out.
I volunteered for a month in Mocambique working in an orphanage and building a house. Seriously, best experience of my life. Sometimes these programs cost more than you would spend by going on your own, but its paying for your expenses AND a donation to the organization (which they use for a good cause). I went with a group called "Care For Life" - google it.
You can volunteer for a couple of weeks and then go roam around so you get the best of both worlds. Just take normal precautions and you'll be fine. Don't be alone at night, where expensive cameras around your neck, roll through with a rolex, etc... I would walk around the village by myself and was plenty safe.
I can seriously echo the above comments about the people. They are wonderful. These people had nothing, yet they insisted on giving me a bag of rice before I left.
also, I brought a polaroid camera, which they LOVED. You always take pictures of people, but it sucks cause they never get one. So bring that. Also, maybe take extra clothes, etc to give away while you're there. The people of the village i lived in were so appreciative of everything from metal scraps to nail polish (the little girls LOVED this) to clothes to futbols.
Just go. you'll LOVE it.
Thanks for all the input guys and gals. It's given me a bit to think about.
There isn't a "Real Africa"out there...Just depends on what you're looking for...
Hey,Mike,i know it can be a bit daunting about what you hear everyday on the media but go and enjoy...In my opinion you can not miss out on Ethiopia,it is by far the "MOST FABULOUS COUNTRY"... Great cuisine,oh my God,The Most Hospitable people i've ever come across in my life and it's not far from my home(Djibouti)....So just go with your heart....Just seek your heart and go with it tells you...
The Diversities are most blinding,you get to speak french,Portugese,Arabic,English,ect ect... and of course the many,many african languages in the continent.
P.S:It doesn't matter on the colour of your skin,everybody is safe in Africa...You would just need to take those precautions like we all do.