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Return to: Home > Comments > Editor's letter: “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills…”

Editor's letter: “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills…”

Almost a decade ago, UK literary magazine Granta published an essay by Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina in which the author gave some sarcastic tips on how to write about Africa.

He strongly advised that any good piece on Africa should have the words "darkness" or "safari" in its title, whereas words such as "Zulu", "drum" and "Masai" should be used in the subtitle.

The copy should treat the whole continent just as one massive hot country full of dust, rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals, Wainaina continued.

He advised also not to get bogged down with precise descriptions: just keep them romantic and evocative. At the end of the day, Wainaina wryly wrote, Africa is heavily populated with "people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating". They won't read your piece.

Vincent Huck reports on Africa this month not only for The Accountant but also for our sister magazine the International Accounting Bulletin.

Almost an African himself, having been raised, lived and travelled across many countries of the continent, I doubt he's followed Wainaina's advice.

Quite the contrary, Vincent's report is intertwined with words such as "GDP growth", "compliance" and "external audit", which reflect more accurately the reality and ambitions of the African countries.

Coinciding with the twentieth anniversary of the genocide that burned Rwanda to ashes, the country's transformation from scratch offers a great example of the rebirth of a nation.

In just 20 years the wounds of the conflict have healed and Rwanda's economy is ready to flourish with the help of a young accounting profession.

When it comes to pictures, Wainaina also offered his advice: "a well-adjusted African" should be avoided unless such an African has won the Nobel Prize. Instead, he advised, pictures of people featuring "an AK-47, prominent ribs or naked breast" are much preferred.

I might have disappointed Wainaina in this respect too. Although not a Nobel Laureate, on page 13 there is a photograph of Vickson Ncube, chief executive of the Pan African Federation of Accountants (PAFA).

Ncube told us how the African accounting profession is becoming more and more united under PAFA's auspices and promoting cross-border mobility of accountants with the long-term vision of achieving a genuine Pan-African profession.

Wainaina, however, would be happy to know that we have used in our cover the title "Out of Africa", reminiscent of its colonial past and the title of the popular Sydney Pollack film starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep.

The film is based on the homonymous memoir of Danish author Karen Blixen, in which she gives an account of her life as a European colonist in the early 20th century's British East Africa.

"I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills," says Mary Streep in one of the well-known voice-overs of the film. I'd like to think that the owner of that farm today is an African citizen.

Carlos Martin Tornero

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