Happiness in Africa: Nourishing Roots in Land and People

Africa has shedloads of problems, but the media tell us little about the millions of people across the continent who are living happily despite the many pressures. I’m basing my views on my own recent visits to East Africa, doing free consultancy for a UK charity, Farm Africa, and also on many other contacts, such as Global Eco village Network.

I’m thinking of the millions of smallholders, peasant farmers who still form most of the population in much of Africa. There’s always a risk that a Western observer has an idealised or simplified view, but Farm Africa specialise in working with smallholders, so this is based on real life meetings.

Smallholders remain deeply rooted in their land, and in the cycles of the day and the seasons. I still recall meeting a young people’s vegetable co-operative in Kenya, and realising that this grounded steadiness of working with the land is still passing down through the generations, at least to some extent.

Alan with a youth co-operative in eastern Kenya

Alan with a youth co-operative in eastern Kenya

Connections between people are the other big source of roots I see in Africa. They have a different, slower, deeper way of meeting people than we do in the West: wherever I met someone new, they would shake me slowly by the hand, meet my eyes for a long while, and ask “how are you?” with real meaning. Meeting someone new takes a while, because you share the stories of your families, but that gives the new connection genuine roots.


My most recent visit to Africa was a trip for Farm Africa to Ethiopia, which included a return to the Bale Mountains, an area I regard to the world’s most beautiful forest. You can read more about what makes the area special, and why eco-tourism can help, in the feature I wrote for Permaculture Magazine. The article is not available online: you can subscribe to the magazine through this link: www.permaculture.co.uk