Africa Memoir tells the incredible lifetime story of Mark G. Wentling, a boy from Kansas who grew up to travel, work, and visit all 54 African countries. Derived from over a half century spent working and living on the African continent, Wentling devotes a chapter to each country describing his firsthand experiences, eye-opening impressions, and views on future prospects. Here is an exclusive excerpt from the book.
It is a daunting challenge to write a book about the huge and highly complex continent of Africa. My audience for this book is both people who know something about Africa and those who know little, if anything, about the continent. I assume both of these groups have in common a desire to know more about Africa. If the latter is true, this book is intended to be a good investment and an engrossing read.
I know most Americans know little about Africa. Since returning to the U.S. in 2015, I have not seen in the local newspapers any articles on events in Africa. It is also rare to see anything on TV about Africa. If Americans have some awareness of Africa, it is because of some dramatic headline in the news. For example, when I tell people I have been in Africa, their first reaction is ‘Ebola.’ It is as if the entire continent is defined by an outbreak of a disease which occurred in three small coastal countries in West Africa and isolated areas of Eastern Congo.
It is true that many of the news stories about Africa are negative because bad news sells better than good news and there is a very limited market for stories about Africa. I am sure the reader has seen occasionally media coverage of war, famine, terrorist attacks, HIV/AIDS, malaria and Ebola somewhere in Africa in recent years. Africa does have its share, actually more than its fair share, of these negative events. I do not want to diminish the importance of these negative developments, but I would also like there to be some recognition that good things are also happening on this troubled continent.
I try to keep Africa in perspective. It is a continent of fifty-four distinct independent countries, which is more than one-quarter of all members of the United Nations. Consequently, it is misleading to treat it as a single unit. Africa has an estimated total population of 1.2 billion people. This is more than three times the population of the U.S. Sub-Saharan Africa, but not North Africa, is experiencing the world’s highest urbanization and population growth rates. Africa also has a youthful population structure, with fifty percent of its people below the age of nineteen. Yet it generally has the oldest leaders in the world.
Given its high fertility rate and its failure to achieve a demographic transition, Africa’s population is projected to surpass that of China or India in 2022. This huge growth in Africa’s population will be achieved in spite of infant and child mortality rates which continue to be far too high. The most populated country in Africa, Nigeria, will have more people than the U.S. in 2050 when it will be the third most populated country in the world.
Africa is so large geographically that you can fit the United States, China, India, and all of Europe within its borders. It is three times the size of the continental U.S. Put another way, Africa is forty-three times the size of the U.S. State of Texas. Africa is also a complex mosaic of over 2,000 ethnic groups which speak a multitude of languages and dialects and practice a vast variety of customs.
Africa contains a large number of diverse ecological zones…deserts, savanna, dense jungles and the snows of the lofty 19,341-feet height of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain. It is the only continent which stretches from northern temperate to southern temperate climate zones. Perhaps, Africa is best known for its amazing variety of wildlife which cannot be seen anywhere else on the globe.
One should also keep in mind that the vast majority of African countries became independent in the late 1950s or early 1960s. The legacy of their previous colonial masters still has a large influence and European languages (English, French, Portuguese and Spanish) have become official languages for many countries. The artificial way the colonial powers created borders between countries is also a legacy that continues to be the cause of some tension. It is notable that most African countries have been independent for as long as the U.S. was independent before it experienced its Civil War. It may be said that after sixty years or more of independence, many African countries are still experiencing some growing pains and searching for a better way forward.
Except for oil, some minerals (chromium, cobalt, coltan, platinum, uranium) and the fight against terrorism, U.S. strategic interests in Africa are minimal. The U.S.’ main interest has traditionally been a humanitarian one and linked to the fact that over twelve percent of its population can trace its origins to Africa. The practice of slavery in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries has left a heavy legacy on the U.S. as well as on large swaths of Africa. Of course, the whole world is interested in Africa because it is considered to be the cradle of humankind.
Watch the official book trailer for Africa Memoir.