Friday, January 24, 2014

The Dark Continent

Most people believe the term, “The Dark Continent” is a racial reference to Africa.  That is actually a falsity. The first time Africa was called the Dark Continent was not when Joseph Conrad wrote Heart of Darkness.

In the 15th and 16th centuries when the world was still up for grabs and England, France, Portugal, Spain and a few other minor players were sailing the seven seas in efforts to increase their colonial holdings, cartographers were responsible for documenting new territorial finds.  Since most of this exploration began on the shore and worked inland, maps frequently had detailed coastlines.  However, the regions further away from the coast often remained unexplored until later.  The unexplored areas would be left dark on maps because no one actually knew what was in those locations.  Thus, the map of Africa was largely a blackened in outline of the continent as we know it today until my namesake, Dr. Livingstone, began his twenty-plus years of expeditions in 1851.

Though the 1899 novel Heart of Darkness did solidify the term Dark Continent as a reference to the black peoples living in Africa, there is now a slightly different meaning associated with the phrase.  Today Dark Continent indicates Africa’s lack of electricity compared to the rest of the world.  This map was a composite of multiple photos taken by NASA showing the world at night:
As you can see, the U.S., Europe, India and East Asia are using the most light and electricity.  Considering its landmass compared to the few spots of light, I would say Africa is using the least.

I know I’ve mentioned rolling blackouts here in Botswana before, but at this time of year they seem a little more unbearable than usual.  It is 100 degrees every day and well into the night.  I don’t have air-conditioning, in fact, I know very few people who do, but not having a fan because the electricity is out again can make falling asleep a chore.  Each afternoon when I walk home from work and see everyone driving past me with their windows rolled up I silently wish they were my friends and daydream someone will pull over and offer me a ride in their air-conditioned vehicle.  But I am told winter is coming in a few months, so I think I can make due until then.

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