How to Write about Africa

This study guide will help you analyse the text “How to Write about Africa” by Binyavanga Wainaina. We will show you examples of elements in the text that will be relevant for your analysis. In these notes, we will focus on summary, topic, writer, reader, language, modes of persuasion, circumstances, and intention.

Presentation of the text

Title: “How to Write about Africa”
Writer: Binyavanga Wainaina
Genre: Satirical essay
Publication date: 19th of January, 2006
Context: Western literature on Africa

Binyavanga Wainaina (b. 1971) is a writer and journalist from Kenya. He is considered one of the 100 most influential people in the world, according to Time Magazine. He started his career as a food and travel writer.

The essay “How to Write about Africa” was originally published in Granta Magazine and attracted a lot of media attention.


Below, you can read an excerpt from our study guide: 

Choice of words

Binyavanga Wainaina uses various descriptive words that make the essay more appealing. There are numerous words that convey negative images and are meant to convey the writer’s critique of how others portray Africa: “prominent ribs, naked breasts”, “tall, thin people”; “hot and dusty”, “hot and steamy”, “female genital mutilation”, “pitied, worshipped or dominated”, “corrupt politicians, inept polygamous travel-guides”, “rotting naked dead bodies”, etc.

There are also a few phrases with positive meanings, but most of them are satirical: “romantic and evocative and unparticular”, “warm virgin forests”, “ancient wise men living in hermitic splendour”, “noble tribe”, “pragmatic and good-hearted expats”, “beautiful, tragic international celebrity/aristocrat”, etc.

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How to Write about Africa

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