Loneliness in Africa: Does Africa experience loneliness differently?
The other day, one of my friends told me I was 'distant'. Immediately, my defences were up. I thought to myself, this can't be true — I may be selective when making friends, but definitely not distant. My friend followed this up by telling me that loneliness was inevitable for someone like me, with such a ‘Western’ attitude toward making friends. I live in Kenya, and my fast-paced, tech-savvy lifestyle of working remotely didn't seem to mesh well with my surrounding community. In my friend's mind, choosing a few, genuine friendships meant I was doomed for eternal loneliness. I began wondering where my own continent falls in the debate on loneliness. Do people in Africa, like in the West, experience the same types of loneliness?
African countries do suffer from loneliness, in fact South Africa has been ranked 8th loneliest country in the world and Kenya, my own country, has been ranked 9th! But what I found next was even more surprising; according to data by the Statistic Brain Research Institute, the majority of the African population does not actually acknowledge that loneliness exists.
And why is that?
Well, most people cite our ‘African community values’ as the main reason for why they believe other Africans could never experience loneliness. I must admit, this greatly disappointed me, knowing that no one is immune to loneliness and that pretending loneliness can’t possibly exist in Africa is probably what landed my country so high up on the list in the first place!
I began asking my friends their own thoughts on loneliness, and the answers were more divided than expected. There was unanimous agreement that we are all susceptible to loneliness and that loneliness is increasingly more common, especially in urban African areas and amongst the aging population. However, there were diverging perspectives on to what extent loneliness truly was it an African problem.
In my experience, growing up in Africa conditions us to avoid talking about our feelings, therefore no one ever has the opportunity to admit to feeling lonely. Secondly, despite your parents not wanting you to have too many friends, especially friends who get you into trouble, it’s always assumed that that you have them anyway. For example, though my parents were very strict about my friendships, every so often they would want to catch up on who was in my life to try to assess if I should continue a friendship with that person. Since friendships are so expected, African parents are rarely on the lookout for signs of loneliness in their children.
My take away from all this is that, as the world changes, we each have to find a balance that’s right for ourselves. Do we want to fit in so much that we lose out on the benefits of true connections and face-to-face friendships that the older generations still very much value? Or can we take something from the older generations’ experiences and possibly find a middle ground where a combination of technology and real human connection can prevent loneliness but still provide a modern tech-inclusive way of existing in this world? One thing I now know, is that Africans too experience loneliness, and if we continue to ignore this fact, we might just end up at the top of that list.
Trusila, Cross-Cultural Friend
Live, Learn, Love, Laugh.