'Don't go to the unfamiliar places'
As part of their Africa 3.0 project, Richard Poplak and Kevin Bloom explore 'Chocolate City', a bustling community of African traders in Guangzhou, China.
Africa 3.0 is here
We're Kevin Bloom and Richard Poplak, and for the last two years we've been traversing Africa, attempting to uncover the forces that are reshaping it.
Our starting proposition is now an acknowledged fact: during the first decade of the 21st century, while the West was engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, China was executing its plans for African expansion. The effect of this Chinese advance has been immense, on the one hand sparking interest from a range of economies – both emerging and developed – that do not want to miss out, and on the other driving growth rates that are amongst the highest in the world.
"Africa 3.0" is how we would describe the continent’s latest iteration, where Africa 1.0 was the era of European colonialism and Africa 2.0 the years of post-independence. Here, you are engaging with the online component of a three-medium approach to the telling of this epochal story.
Our book Whiteout: An Investigative Journey into Africa 3.0 is due for international release in 2013. A documentary series, Continental Shift, is in pre-production with Ochre Media. Our first-stage web presence can be accessed at Africa 3.0.
The video clip above serves as our inaugural post for our partnership with the Mail & Guardian Online where we’ll be delivering weekly updates that highlight aspects of our travels and investigations. These introductory visuals have been chosen mainly because they represent an interesting inverse on the China-in-Africa theme.
Six weeks ago, we were in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, conducting research into the African community that lives and trades in an area known as Xiaobei or, as it is referred to colloquially by local taxi drivers, “Chocolate City”. As China was the twelfth country and the first one outside Africa we’d visited, we were offered a perspective on our story that was both fresh and nuanced.
You’ll get from the scrolling banner in the hotel lobby that the Chinese attitude to its African visitors is anything but welcoming. Still, what these images show is a complex and rich demimonde that we believe reflects the spirit of Africa 3.0 – globalised, connected, plugged in.
Africa 3.0 is an online community, and we want to hear from you. Send us your ideas, movies, music, thesis papers, images – and perhaps we’ll post it up on Africa 3.0. If you want to argue, engage or stay updated, you can reach us on Facebook or Twitter.
Kevin Bloom is an author, editor and journalist. He has written for a wide array of South African and international publications, including Granta and the Guardian, and is an Honorary Writing Fellow at the University of Iowa, having completed the fall residency of the International Writing Program in 2011. Kevin’s first book, Ways of Staying, won the 2010 South African Literary Award for literary journalism and was shortlisted for the Alan Paton Award.
Richard Poplak has been working as a freelance writer for six years, perfecting the third person present and past tense, along with other useful techniques. His journalism has won South Africa’s Media24 Best Feature Writing Award and a National Magazine Award in Canada. Richard’s books, published internationally, include Ja, No, Man: Growing Up White in Apartheid-Era South Africa (2007), The Sheikh’s Batmobile: In Pursuit of American Pop Culture in the Muslim World (2010), and the experimental journalistic graphic novel Kenk: A Graphic Portrait (2010).