Four years ago I embarked on a life-changing journey to Senegal, to live and study there. I remember before leaving that none of my friends or family in the UK could tell me the location of one of West Africa’s 16 countries, let alone tell me the name of one of its hundreds of tribes, or tell me about the climate in a particular region. Nor had they ever heard of Amadou & Mariam, Tinariwen or Ali Farka Toure, now big names in most of the major European summer music festivals.

Thanks to increased media coverage such as articles in the Guardian and the Independant, covering a range of topics from politics to travel and music coming out of West Africa reaching out to the millions at big UK festivals. Documentaries on the National Geographic and Discovery channels introducing us to different tribal systems and natural wonders and various exhibitions displaying the region’s rich cultural heritage. West Africa is coming out of the ‘black hole’ – as someone described the region to me at last year’s WTM Trade Show - to become a region of the world that inspires, intrigues, mystifies and excites the Western cultural scene.

Why is it only now that we are really discovering a region of the world which is only five hours away by plane? What has made the eyes of the West’s popular culture scene turn towards the likes of Senegal and Sierra Leone, Mali and Cameroon?

West Africa has been off the media map in terms of positive stories for a long time - the only stories that had come out of the region were tales of bloody civil wars, gold and diamond mining, corrupt leaders, disease and famine - but now that is changing; and we are learning a lot more about the deeper aspects of the rich heritage of West Africa.


Musically, West Africa produces some of the most talented acts in/on the so-called ‘World Music’ scene and has included some of the most famous musicians to come out of Africa. Festival organisers such as Glastonbury Festival and WOMAD are now queuing up to get the likes of Tinariwen (Mali), Ismael Lo (Senegal), Baka Beyond (Cameroon) and the Sierra Leone Refugee all stars, booked for the main stages. But also small events such as the Fringe festival in Brighton display musical and dancing acts from West Africa in their Africa Unite II event this year.


Culturally, there are many documentaries being shown on TV which have introduced us to the different tribes of West Africa. The Ashanti from Ghana, the Igbo from Nigeria and the Dogon from Mali are the most well known of them, and have sparked curiosity and stimulated the hearts and minds of those who have watched these programs. Maybe this is because we lack the social values that they have, we are seeking to re-learn something lost or because we find that our lives of too much work and no play need some sort of escape route.

Proof of the ever increasing popularity of West Africa’s traditional cultures is demonstrated by the 'Kingdom of Ife' exhibition (which we will cover in next week’s blog) now showing at the British museum and is already being hailed as ‘Potentially the exhibition of the year’ by the Telegraph newspaper.

Sport is also a big influence on popular interests. Football, for example, has a lot of role models within the most supported teams in the UK who come from West Africa or have an affiliation with the region. Didier Drogba who hails from Côte d’Ivoire and plays for Chelsea is an example and is well known for his skills on the pitch; however it has also come to light that he is a big charity supporter having donated millions to build and sustain hospitals in his home country.

Another player who has created a media buzz about West Africa is Craig Bellamy (Man City) whose foundation has contributed towards setting up sports academies in Sierra Leone.


West Africa’s natural heritage has also come to our TV sets through programmes such as the BBC’s Autumn Watch which has covered Senegal, showing that West Africa has been on the migration path of many species of birds for millennia.

In terms of Tourism, the Guardian and Times travel sections have regularly published articles describing West Africa as an alternate, exciting and new destination for travellers seeking new experiences full of educational opportunities, coupled with sea, sun and beaches (see our previous blog on the potential for West Africa as a Responsible Tourism destination). It also seems as though tourism to the geographical region of West Africa is set to increase. The latest Brussels Airlines' news stating that the airline is now flying directly to Ghana, Benin, Togo and Burkina-Faso from European destinations can only be a sign that the shores of West Africa are worthwhile touristic destinations to fly to.

All the above factors have contributed to the UK’s increasing interest in West Africa and that interest is only set to grow even stronger because of the sheer diversity of cultural, natural and historical heritage still to be discovered.


But instead of waiting for more news, start your own discovery by visiting our web portal (www.westafricadiscovery.co.uk) , joining us on Facebook or following us on Twitter. We look forward to welcoming you!

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