An African Odyssey

I’ve just come back from a week’s filming in Zimbabwe for The History of Africa documentary series with Zeinab Badawi (due to be transmitted on BBC World TV in May). We’ve been to 11 countries in three years and it’s completely changed my outlook on all things African.

This was the last trip of the series and we will now be head down editing in post production. You don’t realise how much the news agenda of disaster, war, famine, poverty, disease and corruption seeps in to your mind and shapes your thinking by reinforcing the old dark continent concept of Africa as a place to be frightened of, until you spend time travelling around it meeting people. Yes there’s poverty, disease and corruption and Africa has had more than its fair share of disasters, war and famine, but they’re not uppermost in the minds of the majority of the people as they just get on with living their lives. We’ve met African archaeologists and academics, hunters, fisherman, farmers, artists, religionists, people driving camels across the Sahara, wedding parties, game wardens, shop keepers, people from all walks of life. Mostly they’re cheerful, optimistic, open and very pleased that someone is taking an interest in their history.

The last night we spent in Zimbabwe we had dinner with the crew and their partners. The black couple: the cameraman and his wife who is a radiologist working at the desperately under-resourced children’s hospital in Harare while doing her PhD part time in London. The white couple: the sound man whose family were booted off their farm in 2000 without compensation and his wife who is descended from colonialist administrators. Both couples had spent time abroad and could live in the UK or the US if they chose. The cameraman was selected for President Obama’s Young African Leadership programme and has been offered an internship with Warner Brothers in LA. The soundman and his wife spent eight years in London where she worked in the City as a high flying accountant and he built up a successful production company. They chose to come back to Zimbabwe to raise their children.

Cameraman and sound man choose to stay in Zimbabwe and work together, where they are leading the way in the country’s fledgling film industry, because they see hope for the future. What I take away from this is that Africa’s future is not all bleak, it is on the rise and its young professionals are doing their best to improve the quality of life in their own country. Contrary to popular opinion, not everyone wants to move to the UK.