The image of Africa often projected by the western world is one that many consider misleading. While poverty and misconduct can be found in all continents, the western narrative of Africa being a place filled with famine, disease and economic corruption is harmful and continues to paint a monolithic picture of the continent that can impact those born within it.
“As a child in Nigeria, life was so sweet and free. There was a strong sense of community as my parents often left me with various aunties, where I’d play out all day with local children. Africa was paradise to me back then,” says Nigerian-born blogger Adeola Adeshina.
Born in Lagos, Adeola moved to the UK at 7-years-old, where her fond memories of Nigeria were tainted by western ideals which began to affect her own perception of her homeland.
“When I moved to England, I was fed a different narrative about the continent. Africa, I was told, was an impoverished, war-torn continent. I internalised a lot of these messages and I couldn’t tell if I dreamed of the life I had in Nigeria or not.”
This narrative, which is pushed heavily in the west, affected Adeola at a pivotal time in her life. As a young girl from a proud Nigerian family, she found herself in a space where she struggled with her identity and it began to take its toll.
“I remember in primary school, other children would make fun of me for my Nigerian accent or my use of Yoruba words when I didn’t know the English words. I learned to quickly change this about myself,” she says.
“I created two versions of myself; my public watered-down persona and my authentic home persona which I carried into later life.”
This is something that many Black Brits can relate to and for Adeola, this continued to fester as she grew older and internalised much of the anti-Blackness she was surrounded by.
“As a teenager, it’s hard enough trying to figure out who you are – but for Black teenage girls, we have extra hurdles to jump over,” says Adeola.
“During my time in secondary school, I really started to notice these extra hurdles such as Black hair politics, colourism, featurism and the hypersexualisation of our bodies.
“This was a tough time for me as I hated nearly everything about myself from my name to my features. I internalised self-hate and distanced myself from being associated with Africa.”
As someone who grew up loving all aspects of her culture – from her favourite meals like Asaro and Ayamase to traditional Yoruba music – this was soon replaced with things that were deemed more acceptable in mainstream media as the internalised self-hate continued to eat away at Adeola.
“I really struggled a lot growing up as I didn’t see any representation of myself in western media. I began to internalise and perpetuate certain behaviours and I’m ashamed to say that I have been colourist, xenophobic and ignorant to so many things in the past,” she admits.
“But in a weird way, I believe that’s what pushes me to share the information I do now. To help young Black women, in particular, realise their beauty and sense of heritage in this world.”
While studying at university, Adeola’s love for travel began to open her eyes to the internalised struggles she was dealing with.
“At university, I decided to learn Portuguese which sparked my passion for language learning and I ended up learning two extra languages afterwards,” she recalls.
“After that, I entered a competition and won funding to travel to a country that spoke the language I was learning so I decided to travel solo to South America.”
Adeola spent three months in Peru, Argentina and Brazil – a life-changing trip which not only opened her eyes up to the global opportunities out there but also, exploring Africa and changing the perception that was previously surrounding it.
“After researching my own history, I wanted to experience as many different African cultures as possible and share this with the world.
“In 2019 I decided to travel around Africa. I went to nine countries: Morocco, Cape Verde, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Gambia, Tanzania and Tunisia.”
This trip provided Adeola with the opportunity to feel at home and embrace a side of herself that had long been hidden.
“My perception of the continent drastically changed. I saw unimaginably beauty in the people, cultures and history I learnt about. Africa is the most diverse continent I’ve ever been to and I’m ashamed that I was ever embarrassed to be from this continent.”
While travelling across the continent allowed Adeola to see Africa from a renewed perspective, it also created a connection that was missing from her life.
“My favourite thing about travelling across Africa is the feeling of being at home. It’s hard to describe but no matter the African country I went to, I was always welcomed,” says Adeola.
“People saw me as their sister and I felt very safe knowing there was a community of locals who were happy to see a fellow African explore their country.”
Following her trip across the continent and life in lockdown amidst COVID-19, Adeola decided to launch her own platform AdeAfrica, inspired by her travels and desire to educate others.
“AdeAfrica began as a creative outlet to share my stories across the continent. I also wanted people to travel and experience the continent the way I did during my time there and what better way to get to know the real Africa than a whole website dedicated to knowledge about the continent.”
The site features a breakdown of the countries Adeola has visited and her experiences in each one. She also plans to launch AdeAfrica Support, in a bid to support African business owners.
“AdeAfrica Support is a programme that I intend to start by 2021 working with local Africans selling their products on my platform,” Adeola reveals.
“African talent and art are often overlooked and I intend to put their products – from paintings and accessories, pottery and more – on my website to sell.”
While the perception of Africa continues to evolve as many see the continent for its technological advancements, inspiring creatives and much much more, it’s important to continue to challenge narratives which have been documented and fed to the global audience for decades.
“There’s no other way of changing the western media’s perception but for us all to go for ourselves and to record and share our images online. Everyone knows that Black people are trendsetters so let’s make visiting Africa a trend that never dies out.”
To find out more about Adeola, visit www.adeafrica.com