Thursday, September 26, 2013

Things are dark when your eyes are closed!

As many readers know, I believe that a major reason that Africa is regarded as the dark continent is that people look at it with their eyes closed.

I’ve just returned from a wonderful Bouchercon in Albany, New York, where I connected with many friends and met new readers and writers.  I can’t recommend it more highly to attend a Bouchercon in the future.  In 2014 it will be in Long Beach, California.

Tomorrow I pack my goods and chattels in Minneapolis and head to South Africa where I will spend yet another summer.  Sigh!

I have two brief pieces about ‘darkest’ Africa today.

The first is about a Time magazine article that ran on August 9 titled “Africa’s Drinking Problem: Alcoholism on the Rise as Beverage Multinationals Circle”.

From this title, one would reasonably be left with the impression that Africa was a continent of excessive drinking.  But the article was, in reality, full of sound and fury, but offered little other than misinformation.  How it was picked up by Time, I have no idea, except perhaps it was an easy hit at the Dark Continent.  It was written, as far as I can make out, by an American living in Kenya.

I was very pleased to see the Mail & Guardian in South Africa respond to the article in one of its own “Is Africa the drunk continent? How Time Magazine ignored the data”.  I’ll summarize what it said.

1.  The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the per capita consumption of alcohol in Africa was the equivalent of 6.15 litres of pure alcohol per annum for people 15 years or older.  This is almost identical to the world average of 6.13.  As is so often the case, by ‘Africa’ the WHO actually meant Black Africa, not all Africa – a typical distortion.

2.  Europe’s consumption is 12.18 and the Americas 8.67.

3.  The Time article was particularly critical of South Africa and Kenya being heavy drinking nations.  Actually South Africa ranks 55th and Kenya 118th in the world.  Between 2003 and 2005, according to the 2011 WHO report, South Africa’s adult per capita alcohol consumption was 9.5 litres a year – much less than Europe’s - and Kenya’s was 4.1 litres a year. Moreover, in 2003, data showed that 65.2% of South Africans were lifetime abstainers and 72.9% had not consumed alcohol in the last 12 months; 74.4% of Kenyans were lifetime abstainers and 85.4% had not consumed alcohol in the last 12 months.

4. The WHO estimated that in 2004, 57.3% of the "Africa region" (not counting the Mediterranean Islamic countries) were lifetime abstainers, and 70.8% reported not consuming alcohol in a year. By comparison, only 18.9% of Europeans and 17.7% of the United States population were lifetime abstainers.

5.  Of course all data can be interpreted in many ways, so it is possible that episodic or binge drinking many be high in some African countries, but to paint the continent as having alcoholism on the rise is patently both wrong and damaging to the perception of the continent by western Time readers.  In fact, based on the data, it would have been (marginally) more accurate to title the original article Africa: Continent of Teetotalers!

Both my thumbs are down to the Time article.

The second item I have for you this week is a follow up of my quiz a few weeks ago about what readers knew of Africa.  The few reported results weren’t stellar!

To put Africa in perspective, I offer the following graphic of the size of the continent in relation to other countries.  I believe this came from an episode of the West Wing television series.  You can click on the image to enlarge it.

You are probably surprised.

Stan - Thursday

1 comment:

  1. I think the Time reporters confused Africa with Albany...particularly the Albany Hilton's bar last week.

    Yes, I am surprised. It's amazing how generations of American school children were/are misled by textbook and classroom maps failing to accurately display the size of Africa relative to the US.