How to Behave Ethically in Africa

You may be planning to travel to Africa, but worry about how not to be exploitative from your position of privilege. Read on to learn how to be a conscientious, respectful traveler.


  1. 1
    Do your "homework". Before you go to Africa, it is important for you to educate yourself.
    • Africa is a vast, incredibly diverse continent. For instance, Morocco, Ethiopia, the Congo and South Africa are all completely, worlds-apart, different. If you are thinking of Africa as a singular whole you are already falling into a simplified, Western trap of thinking.
    • Focus your research on the country and region you will be visiting. Study its geography, different regional ethnicities, religions, cultures, and histories, and especially the legacy of colonialism.
    • Consult guide books for information on cultural practices, customs and taboos--there will always be cultural differences you can't anticipate, but with research you will go into the experience being as respectful and mindful as you can.
  2. 2
    Consider your own position of privilege. If you can afford to travel to a different continent, you have privilege!
    • Be aware of your privilege, but also do not let it go to your head; do not develop a "savior" complex, which is above all founded in a feeling of superiority and condescension. You are no better or worse than Africans; you just happened to be born elsewhere.
    • Be wary of falling into generalizing and stereotypes. The way that Africa is discussed, particularly in the West, is usually in grossly simplistic terms. Remember, wherever you visit will only be a miniscule portion of a vast, diverse continent, and whatever conclusions you draw will be unavoidably made from within your prism of privilege and outsider's perspective.
    • Be humble, and remember you are really seeing only very little.
  3. 3
    Be realistic about your motives and what your impact will be.
    • Many people come to Africa to do development work, thinking that they will "save Africa." Not only is it impossible for one person to "save" a continent, this is a very condescending attitude to hold.
    • Instead, seek to learn and understand, rather than teach and be understood. Your imposition of what you think Africa needs will certainly be unhelpful and only harmful.
    • Be realistic about what you will accomplish. Your work will probably not be sustainable after you are gone. It is important to understand that probably the most valuable thing that will come of your time in Africa, selfish though it may be, is your own broadened perspective. What you choose to do with that perspective is up to you, and the best way you can actually give back to Africa is choosing to learn from your experiences so that you actually can use your voice and talents to make a positive difference in the world.
  4. 4
    Be realistic about poverty without reducing everything to it.
    • It is not helpful to pretend that slums do not exist, nor is it helpful to feel pitying; no one needs your sympathy.
    • Take in poverty, as everything else, as realistically as you can while avoiding generalizing and forming sweeping conclusions.
    • Do not reduce Africa to poverty, and do not reduce people to poverty. They, and Africa, are so much more.
  5. 5
    Focus on people and building relationships above all else.
    • The most honest thing that may come out of your experience is the genuine bonds you make with others, which allow you to see people foremost as unique, complex individuals, rather than faceless "others."
    • People in Africa are, just like you, people. Treat them as such, and seek to learn from them.

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Categories: Africa | Social Interactions