Why we travel: Ade Adepitan on seeing Africa beyond the headlines

Reflecting on his latest BBC TV series, Africa with Ade Adepitan, the Nigerian-born British TV presenter looks back on his transcontinental journey, from Cape Verde to Somalia.

Thursday, July 2, 2020,
By Ade Adepitan
Ade Adepitan's transcontinental journey began in Cape Verde, and travelled through Senegal, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Somalia.

Ade Adepitan's transcontinental journey began in Cape Verde, and travelled through Senegal, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Somalia.

Photograph by Getty Images

How did you come up with the idea for your TV series, Africa with Ade Adepitan?

It’s something I’d wanted to do for decades. As a child watching the news in the UK, all the images I ever saw of the African continent were of war, corruption or poverty. I wanted to change that. So, for the four-part BBC Two series, I travelled through what, as we aimed to show, is such a fun, exciting, diverse continent — not one homogenous place. It was part travel, part current affairs. I also wanted to do a homecoming story of sorts, as I moved from Nigeria to London when I was three years old.

Ade Adepitan MBE is a TV presenter and wheelchair basketball player.

Photograph by Ade Adepitan

Where did you travel to?

We wanted to make a transcontinental journey, starting from Cape Verde in the west, travelling east but we were led somewhat by what was feasible politically. Sudan, for example was difficult to travel through at the time, with war and insurgent activities. Our mission was to find people to talk to, great characters, and give them enough time to tell their unique stories. It’s the people who take you on a journey, as much as the place. We met young footballers in the Ivory Coast, which has become a football factory — exploiting its young talent, building unscrupulous academies where teens are trained, then sold off to highest-bidding European teams. Similarly, in Nigeria — the coding capital of the world — we met tech workers whose coding genius is being outsourced to the US and beyond. 

What made the biggest impact on you?

Cape Verde was really interesting. When we visited, it was at a key stage of switching away from fossil fuels to being a country totally reliant on natural energy. Cape Verde was a main stop-off port between Europe and the Americas, where all the ships would refuel and restock. It’s a country built on the slave trade, long exploited for its resources. And now, with little left to extract, things can change. You can’t take away wind and sun. Cape Verde can become self-reliant with these resources. I wanted to tell that story.

Discover the landscapes of Cape Verde in our photo story

When we travelled from Cape Verde to Senegal, we followed the story of the slave trade, seeing the places where slaves were kept, in unfathomable conditions. Some of the most sought-after slaves came from the Uraba tribe in Nigeria, where I was born. It was a shocking realisation for me. 

“To see someone like me, with a disability, in a place synonymous with flak jackets and tanks: it’s not what the world expects”

by Ade Adepitan

Where challenged your perceptions the most?

Mogadishu, Somalia. To go to a place that’s so notorious for death and destruction was significant. To see someone like me, with a disability, in a place synonymous with flak jackets and tanks: it’s not what the world expects. We had security with us around the clock, undercover guards and such a short time in which to get the stories of these incredible characters. 

There were women playing basketball who leave home for the court without saying anything to their families. Once they were behind closed doors, off came the burkas and on went the tracksuits. They knew that if they were caught they risked being stoned to death, but they wanted to change the world for other women. As an athlete, I’ve never risked death to play ball.

Ade Adepitan MBE is a TV presenter and wheelchair basketball player. Africa with Ade Adepitan was broadcast on BBC Two last year. adeadepitan.com

Read more tales from our Why We Travel cover story

Published in the Jul/Aug 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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