Africa: Overview

Nairobi City Hall

Nairobi City Hall


From the Caravan Journals: Nairobi 2007. Stopping in a government plaza where some of our small group wanted to feed the pied crows, the conversation narrowed to the undercurrent of issues in Kenya today. Our guide, looking sad, said “our greatest problem in Africa is tribalism.” The hope he saw for a way out of this situation lay in language. The majority tribal group in Sub-Saharan Africa, he said, was the Bantu, who spoke Swahili. Slowly, slowly, he said, this language was being adopted by other groups and creating a sense of national unification. On the other hand, I would hazard a guess that if tribal people were asked to define the core problem for Africa today, they would say, the lingering effects of colonialism.

Several trips to Africa have taken me to five distinct regions, each of which highlights a key area on the map of “the homeland of the human race.” These locations (at right) serve as jumping off places for explorations of human habitation that span the better part of six million years. Africa was not the first of my overseas trips, but it felt like the best place to start this collection of journal entries on the difference between history and the movies.

There is no movie I can find that captures the grandeur of Africa from the beginnings of the human journey to the recent struggles for independent identity. Trying to wrap my arms around all of this, my first impression was that the great challenge for Africa is to balance modern aspirations with preservation of the deep traditions of the past.

A trip to the midsection of Africa is an immersion in a world where humans and animals share their place on Earth more equally than anywhere else. Still, it is true that humans generally have the upper hand, and this is reflected in movies about human and animal encounters in Africa.

Intensive European colonization of Africa began in the late 1800s. By the time of World War I, 90 per cent of the continent was under colonial control. Most of the major Western European powers had strong and often oppresive presences. Hollywood, however, pictures the colonial period primarily through the eyes of the British. There are only a few movies that account directly for the indigenous African point of view.

In my travels, it was a revelation to see that the places experiencing most difficulty with self rule were those that had been most dominated by others in earlier times. Its not that it took so long for me to figure this out, but it took this long for me to see it for myself.

More recently, there have been movies that deal with the clashes that came in the aftermath of the independence movements of the 1950s and 60s. The resulting turmoil has lasted into the present day as the quest for self-determination continues. The incidents of violence in modern tribal Africa are tragic and the healing efforts made by people of good will are heroic.

Featured Movies

For each of the twelve Destinations on this site, I have picked the Top Twelve movies. They are not judged for their entertainment value or box office performance, but for the extent to which they reflect the history and culture of their settings. Full reviews and commentaries for these films can be found under Go To the Movies (above) .


Out of Africa  (1985)

Something Of Value  (1957)

Masai: The Rain Warriors (2005)

 Serengeti: Migrations

The Gods Must Be Crazy  (1981)

King Solomon’s Mines  (1950)

Central Africa

Heart of Darkness  (1993)

Hotel Rwanda  (2004)

Sarafina! (1992)

 South Africa

Mandela & De Klerk (1997)

Tsotsi  (2005)

The Wind and the Lion  (1975)

North Africa

The Sheltering Sky  (1990)


For movies about animal encounters, see Serengeti: Migrations

For other movies on North Africa, see Egypt and The Realm of Islam.

For a full list of movies viewed for this website, go to Movie Archive, at top.