Africa has a wonderful store of wisdom that sprawls across many cultures, and a diversity of languages that number anywhere up to 3,000. Here we share sayings and quotations that has caught our eye. Many of these come to us passed down over countless generations, but we also draw from the writers and thinkers of our time. We hope that you will enjoy them and share them as widely as you can.
Kofi Atta Annan (born 8 April 1938) is a Ghanaian diplomat who served as the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations from January 1997 to December 2006. Annan and the United Nations were the co-recipients of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize “for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world.” He is the founder and the Chairman of the Kofi Annan Foundation, as well as being the chairman of The Elders, a group founded by Nelson Mandela. More …
Chief Albert John Lutuli became Africa’s first Nobel Peace Prize Laureate in 1960. He was President-General of the African National Congress (ANC) from December 1952 until his death in 1967. Lutuli was the most widely known and respected African leader of his era.
Dr Ian Player We have lost a great human being when Dr Ian Player died. (see ‘A great tree has fallen’). Without doubt he was one of the world’s most outstanding conservationists and environmental statesmen. Born in South Africa in 1927, he ‘earned his stripes’ in the transitional era during which Africa’s protected areas were being created and tested. With his team, he pioneered the saving of the white rhino from extinction through Operation Rhino. After leaving government wildlife service, Ian founded the Wilderness Leadership School, the first organisation in Africa dedicated to providing a pure wilderness experience for people of all backgrounds, races and nationalities. Started during the troubled days of apartheid, this multi-racial education and experiential programme spawned a global network of conservationists from all sectors of life who are committed to saving wilderness and wildlife. In 1974, together with a group of American colleagues, Ian established The WILD Foundation, and also created or inspired its sister organisations in The Wilderness Network. Ian’s approach to conservation highlighted the importance of the spiritual as well as the scientific side of environmental impact. He maintained that people and culture are a vital element in the environmental equation. Our hearts go out to all who loved and respected him, but especially to his family. Hamba kahle Ian.
Internationally renowned education academic, Professor Jonathan David Jansen, is one of South Africa’s leading intellectual experts. He has a solid academic grounding, is a captivating speaker, a master story teller and is known for his insightful and forthright comments on education issues… but it is in his more recent leadership roles at Universities that his true wisdom and leadership colours shine through with compassion, humility and deep understanding.
The quotation given here is from an essay Jansen wrote in 2011 entitled My South Africa. It is well worth a read – not once, but often. When you feel that things are going wrong in the land Jansen reminds you of the good things.
The late Nobel laureate Wangari Muta Maathai certainly planted her fair share of trees. She was born in Nyeri, a rural area of Kenya (Africa), in 1940. She obtained a degree in Biological Sciences from Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchison, Kansas (1964), a Master of Science degree from the University of Pittsburgh (1966), and pursued doctoral studies in Germany and the University of Nairobi, before obtaining a Ph.D. (1971) from the University of Nairobi, where she also taught veterinary anatomy. The first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, Professor Maathai became chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and an associate professor in 1976 and 1977 respectively. In both cases, she was the first woman to attain those positions in the region.In this beautifully animated clip from Dirt! The Movie, Wangari Maathai tells an inspiring tale of doing the best you can under seemingly interminable odds.
Professor Maathai was active in the National Council of Women of Kenya (1976–1987) and was its chairman (1981–1987). In 1976, while she was serving in the National Council of Women, Professor Maathai introduced the idea of community-based tree planting. She continued to develop this idea into a broad-based grassroots organisation, the Green Belt Movement (GBM), whose main focus is poverty reduction and environmental conservation through tree planting. Find out more …
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian writer of huge talent. She has been called ‘the most prominent’ of a ‘procession of critically acclaimed young anglophone authors [that]is succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature.’
Adichie was born in Nigeria in 1977. She is the author of three novels, Purple Hibiscus(2003), Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), and Americanah (2013), of a short story collection, The Thing around Your Neck (2009). She has received numerous awards and distinctions, including the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction (2007) and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (2008).
This wonderful quote is often attributed to Mark Twain but it is known in African cultures too. Which came first? I don’t know, and don’t think it really matters. The important thing is that any expression of kindness is a good thing. I remember waiting to board a flight once and witnessing flustered parents trying to still a fractious, obviously overtired baby. The parents were embarrassed and the rest of us were set-lipped, repressing our collective irritation. In walks a little fellow in jeans and a sailors cap. He takes one look, grabs the kid from startled parents and starts waltzing around the departure lounge. Within seconds the child was stilled and the bundle of happy gurgles was returned to its parents. ‘There you are – isn’t wonderful what a little kindness from a stranger can do.’ Who was the magic child-minder – none other than Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. What a mensch. Everyone within earshot laughed and clapped.
This Nigerian proverb calls to mind Henry Kissinger’s famous aphorism: the prerogative of the victor is the re-writing of history. With Africa’s lions in the throes of their very real struggle for survival (only 30,000 remain in the wild, down from 200,000 a century ago) it is unlikely that they will emerge victorious. Sadly the best outcome is likely to be a few reasonable populations within the confines of a few game reserves and national parks. If lions did indeed have scribes amongst their kind who could write down their story, I have little doubt that their worldview would be very different from ours.
Dr Ian Player is one of the world’s most outstanding conservationists and environmental statesmen. Born in South Africa in 1927, he ‘earned his stripes’ in the transitional era during which Africa’s protected areas were being created and tested. With his team, he pioneered the saving of the white rhino from extinction through Operation Rhino. After leaving government wildlife service, Ian founded the Wilderness Leadership School, the first organisation in Africa dedicated to providing a pure wilderness experience for people of all backgrounds, races and nationalities. Started during the troubled days of apartheid, this multi-racial education and experiential programme spawned a global network of conservationists from all sectors of life who are committed to saving wilderness and wildlife. In 1974, together with a group of American colleagues, Ian established The WILD Foundation, and also created or inspired its sister organisations in The Wilderness Network. Ian’s approach to conservation highlights the importance of the spiritual as well as the scientific side of environmental impact. He maintains that people and culture are a vital element in the environmental equation.
Poet and novelist Ben Okri was born in 1959 in Minna, northern Nigeria, to an Igbo mother and Urhobo father. He grew up in London before returning to Nigeria with his family in 1968. Much of his early fiction explores the political violence that he witnessed at first hand during the civil war in Nigeria. He left the country when a grant from the Nigerian government enabled him to read Comparative Literature at Essex University in England. Okri is considered one of the foremost African authors in the post-modern and post-colonial traditions and has been compared favourably to authors such as Salman Rushdie and Gabriel García Márquez. Find out more about Ben Okri and his writings.
As with many proverbs there are a number of subtle variations in the interpretation of this one, but basically the message is clear: people who sit around talking about things achieve little unless they get off their backsides and do something about it. Something of which politicians around the world should take note. Despite being one of Africa’s smaller countries Uganda is one of the more populous with over 35 million people living across the rolling tropical landscape. Cultural and ethic diversity is wide: the Buganda people form the largest group, but more than 30 other languages and dialects are spoken. English and Swahili, however, are the two official languages. For more information on Uganda, there is no better source than the Bradt Guide to the country by Philip Briggs.
I find more than a touch of poignancy in this proverb as the troubled vastness of northern and southern Sudan certainly needs someone to make a difference. Northern Sudan is dominated by Islam, but the people do not form a unified bloc. Some, especially in the urban centres, are strictly orthodox, while in rural areas people are more attracted to Sufism. The Sudanese of the south are of African origin and the people are mostly followers of traditional religions and of Christianity. The differences between north and south have usually engendered hostility, a clash of cultures that in the last 150 years has led to seemingly endless violence. The strong regional and cultural differences have inhibited nation building and have caused the civil war in the south that has raged virtually since independence. The cost of war has drained valuable national resources at the expense of health, education, and welfare in both regions. Find out more about Sudanese history and culture.
This proverb is attributed to the Akan people who form the largest ethnic group (about 20 million people) living across the republics of Ghana and the Ivory Coast in West Africa. Prominent Akan personalities include politicians Kofi Annan and Kwame Nkrumah, actor Idris Alba and footballer Jeremy Baoteng. Find out more about Akan culture and history.