Relocating young Africans

The other day I was searching for an image in my archive. I keep things in order so it wasn’t that difficult, but as it turned out, the image I was looking for shared some keywords with a set of images I hadn’t seen for a while. I took them seven years ago for a series of portraits that I did with Görrel, and that we are still very fond of.

They’re all from the time when we drove our Land Rover through Africa, northbound between Cape Town and Cairo (and onwards to Sweden from there). Along the way we interviewed young people in every African country we passed and the articles were published in a Swedish newspaper. The idea was simple and turned out to be brilliant: a picture and a short story where each youngster spoke about a day in his/her life, focusing mainly on studies and dreams for the future. It said a great deal about a lot of things and to this day I think it is the most read and appreciated series we have ever done.

Seven years is a long time when you are young and looking at the images, I realised that the boys and girls would be young adults now. Some might have moved on to pursue their dreams, some might be stuck with whatever future they dreaded when we met them. I also realised that with advancing technology many of them would probably only be a few Facebook clicks away. I sat down with a cup of coffee to try and locate as many as possible, using a combination of social media and other search tools. It was easier than I had anticipated and judging from pictures and posts many seem to be doing rather well.

Khalid in Sudan was a very cool guy already at 12. He seems to be just as cool today. He’s at university in Khartoum and he’s quite clearly very interested in art and photography, something which he wasn’t when we met him. Rose in Botswana has joined Jehova’s Witnesses. She’s got a degree from a local high school and going by her profile picture she’s got some form of office work. I wonder if she still wants to travel to see snow. That was on top of her list seven years ago.

Costina in Malawi, who despite eight years in an English-speaking school struggled with our very basic questions back then, is married to a kind looking guy. When we met her, she told us that she spent four hours every day walking to school and back. During exams she did that twice a day. Her dream was to become a nurse. I remember that after the article was published a Swedish nurse got in touch with us, moved by Costina’s story, and wanted to help her. At the time we didn’t have much information to give her, but I believe she got a number to someone who might know someone etcetera. I guess the odds weren’t that great.

Michael in Egypt is now 21. His favourite author is William Shakespeare. Tsigereda in Ethiopia was a very dedicated young student at 11. She’s now about to start university to study English. I remember her telling us that they were 68 students in her class then and she was more into science than language. As for young Pitalis in Kenya I’m not entirely sure I’ve got the right guy. His profile picture is of a pretty girl who might be his girlfriend. Geography and interests match though, so I think it’s him.

As for Senate in Lesotho, she doesn’t seem to be on any social media. And I’m not the only one looking for her. On several forums I find desperate messages from a guy named Lebohang who is trying to locate Senate. Sounds like another love story, although perhaps not an entirely happy one.

I didn’t manage to find all of them though, one being the young girl I was most looking forward to follow up on. Koko in Tanzania was struggling quite a bit when we met her (main picture above). She had had to quit school because her family couldn’t afford it. Her father was ill and all money went to his treatment so Koko’s future was very uncertain. Her dream was to become a teacher. From memory I know exactly where in Tanzania her tiny village is and if I ever find myself in that area again I will try to find her.

For now, I have sent messages to everyone I did find and you might hear more about them at some stage. I haven’t met any of them since the initial interviews, but I have very warm memories from every single meeting. Together they represent the young Africa, the struggling, hopeful and ambitious generation that is looking forward rather than backward. They are indeed the future of this continent.


Andreas Karlsson

Journalist, author, photographer and safari guide. Read more about Andreas here.