Based in Dakar, Senegal, I report from all over Africa, south of the Sahara. I've been covering the continent for almost 30 years.

I'm just back from assignment in northern Nigeria. I've spent a lot of time in South Africa this year -- on Mandela watch. Mali is another recent destination. But ask me anything -- and I'll do my best to answer!

Some of my recent work:


Edit: So sorry I couldn't get to all your questions. There were so very many. This has been a really good experience. Thank you so much for so many insightful comments, opinions and questions and look forward to our next chat. Pls do keep listening to and reading NPR's output. Best, OQA

Comments: 274 • Responses: 35  • Date: 

helveticaman257 karma

I love the way you say "Dakar" on the radio!

Ofeibea177 karma

Dieure dieuf! Thank you in Wolof, Senegal's lingua franca. Dakarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

dohtem140 karma

We hear a lot of sad and miserable stories about Africa when it is reported on in the news. So let's get positive. What gives you hope? What are the lesser known good things happening all over Africa that you think more people should know about?

Thanks for the AMA.

Edit: whoa! Thanks for the gold, anonymous benefactor!

Ofeibea143 karma

Hey -- that's my kind of question! Yes, the arts, culture, literature and creativity of Africa are my passion. And there is so much going on that needs to be shared worldwide. I'm just back from Nigeria and that giant of West Africa is brimming with talent -- writers, musicians, you name it. Love is Power - or Something Like That, the new book by A Igoni Barrett is a good place to start. Good luck and enjoy.

telebision30 karma

doesn't a huge part of Africa watch movies from Nigeria? like its their hollywood but with evil parents and witchdoctors trying to keep lovers apart?

Ofeibea72 karma

You are so right -- Nollywood, some call it, though many just like to call it the Nigerian film industry. And I think it's many of the themes that strike in chord with so many viewers all over the continent. But it's not just good and evil -- although those are basic themes. What really attracts other Africans to Nigerian cinema is that they relate to it. Often, I'm told -- why do I have to watch American soapies (as the South Africans call soap operas) when I can watch Nigerian movies!? And, everywhere I go on the continent, people will say "Chineke" which means God as in "goodness, God save us" (a vital part of every film) in the Igbo language.

echo_xtra7 karma

As an aspiring filmmaker, I'm going to have to look into this, as I had not heard of it. Thanks for the tip.

bpicmc14 karma

If you are interested in traveling and experience African cinema in person, there is a Pan-African film festival in the capital of Burkina Faso every two years called FESPACO (

Ofeibea12 karma

I really recommend FESPACO -- going to Ouaga(dougou) every other year for the pan-African film festival is an experience of a lifetime.

charmingasaneel54 karma

In all of your African Travels, which country has your favorite cuisine? And what's your favorite dish?

Ofeibea84 karma

May I be partial?! I come from Ghana and my favourite home dish is gari foto -- made by my dearest Auntie Ruth "Rubsio".

Gari is a cassava-based staple and is such a useful item to carry about when you travel. Add hot or cold water -- depending on what you're eating it with -- mix and you're away!

Don't start me on this subject!

Dishes from other countries -- do we have ten hours? Africa is an incredible continent for its varieties of foods. Thiebou dieun (rice, fish and vegetables) in Senegal. Mooi mooi and efo in Nigeria. Almost any fish dish in Cameroon. Denin fleis in South Africa.

DirtpipeDan3 karma

Tilapia and Ugali in Kisumu! Nyama Choma (spelling?) too

Ofeibea4 karma

Yes to Tilapia! Thumbs down to ugali!

Nyama choma or braai vleis, grilled meat, good for the carnivores among us!

Gravy-Leg__50 karma

With 30 years of experience, you must have a pretty good idea of the big picture of Africa. My question is: with so many natural resources and abundant population, why can't Africa break out of the cycle of poverty and corruption? Is there anything that can be done to turn it around?

Ofeibea71 karma

Easier said than done. When everyone's after your natural resources -- those across your borders and those beyond -- then believe me, you ask yourself whether it's not better to be poor than to have an abundance of natural riches and resources. But of course, that does not excuse poor leadership and, sadly, there is an abundance of that too in Africa. But there are also many leaders who are governing their countries well, who know what the priorities are and who are making Africa tick.
The problem is that the countries that are prone to conflict are the ones that get most attention -- take DRCongo and Nigeria for example. But they are two extraordinary countries, with extraordinary people and let's hope that their natural good fortune will better benefit the people.

fishingthesky41 karma

Is the 'peace' between Sudan and South Sudan sustainable, or will border dispute spill into the rest of the country? Do you think South Sudan has a chance, economically, to come out from the shadow of Khartoum?

Ofeibea60 karma

That's a question so many are asking. After 50 years of conflict -- the longest-running civil war in Africa -- can there be peace between the two neighbours. I was in SSudan for independence in July 2011 and I have to say it was extraordinary. But what I noticed among all SSudanese was that they were absolutely determined to be "rid" of Sudan as they put it, because they said they would never be second class citizens again. But the two have to live side by side, cheek-by-jowl. Yes, SSudan has most of the oil in its half of the newly-independent country, but they have to use pipelines running through Sudan to export that petroleum? So, there has to be cooperation, there has to be entente, otherwise the two countries will forever be at each other's throats. And many Sudanese will tell you that they are saddened that they were not able to come to an agreement with the South Sudanese so that they could remain one country -- that they feel they failed in some way. I am sure they will overcome. BTW -- SSudan has incredibly fertile land, so yes, fishingthesky, you're quite right that it must diversify its exports and agriculture is the way forward.

dtaylor8828 karma

What's your view of matriarchal power in Africa? We've seen that in ancient history it was the women of Africa who held positions of authority, and we've seen recently the stronghold of women whether it be efforts like Leymah Gbowee or Wangari Maathai making progressive strides on the continent. Is it more prevalent in certain regions, and do you see a great shift towards a hugely matriarchal society in the near future. Great piece on the Lady Mechanics!

Ofeibea54 karma

Weren't the Lady Mechanics a blast -- so dynamic! I am a woman. I am an African woman -- and I believe that, even quietly and behind the scenes, the power of Africa's women is formidable.

Yes, go back to the era of Yaa Asantewaa, the warrior queen of the Asante, Sarraounia, Queen Pokou you, name her -- there are so many extraordinary women who have helped and continue to make Africa prosper and develop.

I come from a matrilineal line myself -- an Akan. And we know how powerful and influential the women of our line are. I look to our own inimitable grandmother, our mother, our aunts and others.

They may not end up being "leaders" in the the formal sense, but women certainly are.

They just don't make a big fuss about it, they get on with doing what needs doing.

Thank you for reminding me.

mchschrm24 karma

What does racism look like in Africa?

Also, I'm familiar with Edward Said's work, "Orientalism." Is there any similar work done concerning Africa?


Ofeibea44 karma

Depends where you are.

Many South Africans will tell you that racism still rules in their country, 19 years post-apartheid and despite huge advances to end the scourge of white minority rule.

In other countries, such as Mauritania -- those who come from the black "slave" cast will tell you that there is racism against them by the white "Moorish" class.

In other parts of the continent, that are all black so race as such is not an issue, you'll hear the word "tribalism". And that is rampant in many parts of Africa and has led to war and conflict.

So, that's what "racism" looks like in Africa today -- it remains prevalent.

Having said all the above, let me add that there is reverse racism in Africa too. Black Africans can also be rather uncomplimentary about their compatriots of lighter shades and vice versa.

A rather complicated business all in all, but if we stick to the premise that we are all human beings and we all have red blood that keeps us ticking, regardless of our skin colour, beliefs, religion and whatever else, then we all stand a better chance of living in unity.

Mwkoopsen23 karma

It's pretty obvious that the West has a pretty biased, monolithic image of Africa. As a teacher, it is very difficult for me (and dangerous of me) to stop myself from saying phrases like, "there are staving kids in Africa" or "imagine a poor place, like Africa." How do you see that image of Africa changing and what can we do to understand the diversity of Africa in the same way we see the diversity of Europe?

Note: I teach ESL in Korea and just being here has helped me breakdown the type of monolithic image I once had of Asia.

Ofeibea34 karma

By being broadminded. It's too easy to think of Africa as a "place". It is not -- it is a hugely diverse continent, with diverse peoples, languages, cultures and much more. Yes, of course there are children starving in Africa, but believe me, there are children going hungry in the US and in European countries, only that is hidden. In Africa, starving children continue to make headlines and images that would not be allowed, I believe, of Western children in newspapers or on websites are freely depicted when it comes to Africa. But there is much more to this continent. Open your mind, look for the "other Africa" as I sometimes call it and you will find much of that on NPR.
There are links at the top of the page to a couple of these stories -- try to take the time to have a listen/read please and you will see that there is a lot more happening that you may be aware of.

ScotticusUNC22 karma

If you were to predict which African city would reach property values and quality of life standards comparable with, say, London or New York in 30 years time, which would it be and why?

Ofeibea41 karma

Hey -- we're already there when it comes to property values. Look up the price of property in Lagos, Abuja or Accra.

I agree that quality of life and standard of living may not quite match Manhattan or London, but if you flip the coin, you'll find that many expatriate Africans are heading home to give their children a far better "quality" of life than they find in the West. So the brain drain has become the brain gain, with Africans deciding to back up and head home.

bishopalex22 karma

Two questions.

What is the Malian government doing to rebuild? What goes on to pick up after the wreckage caused by the rebels? How much of that threat still exists?

Similar for Kenya, has the feelings of safety for the average people changed since the mall attack?

Ofeibea46 karma

Let me stick to Mali -- because my colleague Gregory Warner is based in Nairobi and covered the Westgate Mall tragedy.

Yes, Mali's new govt is trying very hard, but the legacy of the past 18+ months is huge and was destructive. And the problems continue -- especially in the north. You will have heard that two French colleagues from Radio France International were abducted and killed last weekend in Kidal in the north. Now that's the region that was occupied by Malian Tuareg rebels and by jihaddis for a year, until the French military intervention. So, there is still insecurity, there are still sporadic, but deadly attacks and the north is not completely safe. Add to that the problem with soldiers in the south, in the capital, Bamako -- and remember that it was the army that staged a coup d'etat in March 2012.
Mali has a long way to go. We were all -- including me -- under the impression that it's 20 years of "democracy" had built a nation, but clearly that was not the case as we have seen, with Mali crumbling so dramatically. But there is hope. Malians believe in their country and want it to succeed.

darktask20 karma

2 questions actually:

Having been on the ground for so long, do you think foreign aid is actually effective? And do you have any suggestions to improve it?

How is foreign investment, particularly by the Chinese, changing Africa? I'm curious about whether the influence is positive of negative.


Ofeibea25 karma

I'll point you to Howard French here -- he's an Associate Professor at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, a dear old friend, a veteran former foreign correspondent in Africa and China -- among other regions and countries -- and someone who has deeply investigated how China is changing Africa. He's coming out with a new book soon. com Follow him on Twitter @hofrench

China is certainly certainly changing Africa. And it depends who you speak to whether you think the influence is negative or positive. China does not pontificate as the former European colonial powers and America have done in Africa. It has done its home work and knows what it wants from Africa. Africa needs to catch up and know what it requires from China. But it's not doing so as a unified force, as one zone; it's all happening bilaterally and I'm not sure that's a good thing for Africa at all.

Trade vs aid seems to be the argument these days and many of the business people I speak to in Africa will tell you that that's the way to go.

Of course, foreign aid can help -- but it's not a cure-all.

chiggers19 karma

Have you ever been been on an assignment where you feared for your life? What's the scariest situation you have been in?

Ofeibea45 karma

Sadly yes, but I don't go on assignment fearing for my life -- if you see what I mean. I head off on a reporting assignment so that I can relate what people tell me to you. That's my focus and that's my priority. But I cover conflict and war zones and have done for the past 25+ years -- from coups d'etat to, say, my first "war" -- the civil war in Liberia. But things have changed so much. In the old days, we would just go -- now we have conflict-awareness and hostile environments training. We go off with flak jackets and helmets. But I've never been a boom-boom journalist. I don't seek out trouble, though sometimes you cannot avoid it. And, always remember -- you need to live to be able to tell the tale. But, as we saw with our two French journalist colleagues over the weekend, you never know when it'll be your turn. I am quite sure that Claude Verlon and Ghislaine Dupont has no idea it was their final hour. May they rest in peace. They were simply doing their job.

mandu8617 karma

Given you've been there for almost 30 years, have you picked up few different languages / dialects? If so, which if your favourite sounding one or most enjoyable to speak.

Ofeibea45 karma

You know, I love languages and am quite good at picking them up, but my one regret is that often I don't stay in any given place or country long enough to really learn local languages well. So I have a smattering of Wolof, of Zulu, of Lingala, of Swahili, of Hausa, of Yoruba -- and I always learn how to meet and greet and thank -- but I really wish I could spend time to really understand these and other languages (Arabic for instance), because when you have a language, you often better understand the people and the culture.
I am pretty good with European languages -- French, Spanish, Italian and I get by in Portuguese. That's helpful for Africa, because so many of the countries were colonised by European powers, so a European language is often the "official" language -- but I really want to do better with the local African languages! Hey, am I waffling -- that's because I know I could have done better!

Skivvs16 karma

What was the biggest surprise you've encountered when working on a story?

Ofeibea42 karma

How quiet the Congo River is -- it is huge, expansive, all consuming, but sometimes you could barely hear a ripple!

QuentinRosewater13 karma

In your opinion, what is the most beautiful place in West Africa?

Ofeibea18 karma

Well, unbiased as I am, what about my own country -- Ghana?! No, only kidding.

There are just so many extraordinary places within West Africa -- and the continent -- from the desert to the forested parts of Liberia.

Spoilt for choice -- really!

helveticaman12 karma

In your experience, what is the secret to good story-telling?

Ofeibea31 karma

Listening to the person you're talking to with every ounce of concentration you've got. Usually their stories are compelling and you know you've just got to get that across to the listeners and web users.

skucera11 karma

Is there enough political will/political power in Sub-Saharan Africa to reign in poaching?

Many large mammals are in extreme danger of disappearing forever, and I feel that only strong government intervention can stop this from happening.

Ofeibea22 karma

Conservation and anti-poaching mechanisms are growing apace, but poaching is so flipping sophisticated these days, that poaching gangs have state of the art helicopters and equipment that rangers in Africa -- take South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya as examples -- don't have. I believe there is so much more awareness now than, say, even 20 years ago. Governments are realising that the very wildlife that would attract tourists to their country is being depleted by rampant poaching. But there also has to be awareness at the other end -- those who feel that rhino horn and elephant tusks (and that's mostly in the East) and so on will enhance their manhood or lengthen their lives must realise that they are prepares contributing to the extinction of species. And those who run these rackets must be prosecuted. Full stop.

Zebezian10 karma

Hi! NPR is the bee's knees, and I always love tuning in.

That being said, I don't have a terribly serious question. How often do people misspell your name?

Ofeibea26 karma

Don't start me off!

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton -- Miss Twist, O-phobia, you name it, I'm called it and spelled it. Obeibea is a regular.

But my favourite is O'Fabulous -- which some of my dear NPR colleagues sometimes call me when I've done something they like!!!

But I'm sure this is one of the most-oft misspelled and mispronounced names!!

I'm very quick to correct misprons and misspellings!

p_j_z9 karma

If you were leading a tour through Africa, what place(s) would be on the 'must go' list? Or the 'must avoid' list?

Ofeibea16 karma

How long have you got for the tour?! There are 50+ nations in Africa -- and that's just south of the Sahara, so I would say make sure you touch every region. The Maghreb -- West Africa (Sahel) West Africa (Equatorial) -- East Africa and the Horn. Of course the heart of Africa -- central Africa -- and then head down south, southern Africa is different again. This continent is vast, varied and will welcome you.

zoesdare9 karma

I love, love, love your work, and want you to know you have a great radio voice. My question is how did you wind up at NPR? Did you always want to be in radio, or did you just wind up working in radio?

Ofeibea4 karma

I thought I might be a diplomat and I also considered a career as an interpreter. As the children of Ghanaian expats, we were reared on the BBC World Service, so I've always had the radio in my ear, so-to-speak. But I hadn't really considered being a broadcaster, but when the opportunity came my way to join the BBC, I did. I got to listen to NPR in the 1980s and first visited, was it in 1987, when Steve Munro kindly took me round Morning Edition. I believe I sat and listened to an edition being aired live. In the 90s, when I became a foreign correspondent for the BBC, NPR would sometimes call me up for a Q&A (or a 2way as we call it in journalese). And I remember our despatches, news spots, we would SOC (standard out cue, ie OQA NPR NEWS DAKAR) out for NPR as well as BBC and CBC if we were somewhere they didn't have a reporter. And then in 2004, I joined NPR. So, it's been quite a long on-off romance, n'est-ce pas?!

diehardargyle9 karma

I lived in Dakar for a couple years myself, and had many friends who were journalists. My question is: in the context of such informal networks, how do you go about finding stories to report on? And when you're reporting on government officials, do these informal networks and chains of command make the task more difficult?

I always admired my friends who were patient enough to be kept waiting at the Ministry of the Interior's office for 3 hours just so they could get a 15-minute interview.

Bonus, less-serious question: What's your favorite restaurant in Dakar??

Ofeibea13 karma

Chez Adja Ba. She's my "petite soeur" my little Senegalese sister and the dishes that come out of Adja's kitchen are absolutely my number one "restaurant"!

pandalin7 karma

In your opinion, what is the most hopeful thing happening in Africa right now? Conversely, what is the most disheartening?

Ofeibea12 karma

The people of Africa. Unbelievable -- resilient, welcoming and full of hope.

helenaaok5 karma

Do you see Africa as a "dark continent" as many news organizations and journalists do? Furthermore, what are the challenges you face in reporting on the continent?

Furthermore, what is the biggest thing that journalists can do to not being ignorant towards covering issues within the African continent?

For example, I've noticed that in many media landscapes we refer to Africa as a country, not a continent.

Ofeibea7 karma

This dark continent business that goes back to Conrad's literature, Heart of Darkness etc, on Africa -- well in the 21st century, Africa is the happening continent. Be sure of that.

To fight ignorance -- read and read and read and read and keep learning.

It's a great pity when Africa is reduced to a country! It is a mighty, mighty continent.

And, to be fair, there are plenty of journalists who are giving a more comprehensive pictures of Africa, warts and all -- and that includes the treasures too, of which there are plenty!

ahend3524 karma

What are your thoughts on the current progress in the DRC? Do you think it'll help to have Sen. Feingold there as a special envoy?

Ofeibea6 karma

Progress -- that's a word Congo really needs. The fact that there is one less, or should that be fewer?, rebel group (and here I'm talking about recent developments with M23) is a good thing. But what about the legion others who are terrorising the population? Congo, as they say, is made up of a wealth of natural resources, this is a country where everyone -- I mean e-v-e-r-y-one should be potentially wealthy. But when you have everyone else -- from across Congo's borders and beyond -- also after its mineral resources and people prepared to go to war of these, then it's tough on the ordinary eastern Congolese. The largest UN peacekeeping force was despatched to the DRC, yet 20 odd years later, there are still problems. Everyone has to sit down and decide to put Congo first -- DRC itself, its direct neighbours, including Rwanda and Uganda and its so-called Western partners as well as the African Union. Good luck to Russ Feingold and other special envoys from the continent and beyond. DRC cannot be an intractable problem any more, there must be a solution. In the era of Mobutu, Zaire was a problem, Congo changed its name and it still has troubles. Let us all resolve to find a way to end them. We, journalists, by continuing to report.

Spin7373 karma

I've learned more about Africa from your reports than any other media. A question: Does working for NPR, as opposed to other new agencies, change how you are received at your assignments?

Ofeibea3 karma

In Africa, NPR is getting more of an audience, but people may not recognise it as readily as say the BBC or RFI (Radio France Internationale) which have FM stations in most countries, so are readily available on a radio -- I mean the old wireless. But with new technology, NPR is definitely finding new audiences and I find more and more people I meet in Africa who recognise N-P-R, either at the end of my mic(rophone) or wherever else it may be written, on my business cards etc.

gardenofeedz3 karma

I am involved with several NGOs working in Africa, and I care deeply about the development of the region. However, not everyone shares my sentiments. What do you suggest as an explanation to westerners who don't really care about Africa, don't think what happens over there has anything to do with their lives, etc.?

Ofeibea3 karma

Keep trying -- and give them a full picture of Africa. There must be people you've met and things you have done that have really showcased the positive. Tell the nay-sayers those stories -- and stay positive. Good luck.

Phann3 karma

How do you feel about how much work you have to do as an "Africa" correspondent instead of working with only a regional focus? How are you able to tackle the difficulties of such regional complexity--in contrast to a European correspondent who might report mostly on, say, Germany?

Ofeibea4 karma

This is one question I didn't get to -- You know, I'm so passionate about Africa and I know it's a mighty continent and I know that that we can't possibly report about everything and everyone, but it's such a privilege to be able to tackle the complexities, as you put it, of Africa. And I've often been a regional or multi-something reporter, so I'm not sure quite how it would feel covering just one country. I'm sure I'd adapt -- but imagine reporting on China. That's like a continent on it's own!

uberlad2 karma


Ofeibea3 karma

Be loyal. Be honest. Be compassionate and kind. And listen.

Hombre_Sin_Nombre2 karma

Does NPR give you latitude on the stories that you wish to cover?

Ofeibea2 karma

That is the privilege of being a foreign correspondent on NPR's International Desk. We really do get time to report on a range of subjects and stories. The constraints of 24-hr news mean that sometimes I find colleagues are bogged down trying to "feed the beast" as they call it. We choose stories, in consultation with the desk, that we hope will really enlighten you, the listener and the web browser.

clever_unique_name1 karma

Africa is huge. And doesn't always have the best traveling infrastructure. How is it to travel the continent? Any specific challenges you want to share? Are you received well in certain countries and not in others?

Ofeibea2 karma

Travel can be a challenge. We spend much too much time at airports -- sometimes waiting for the plane to arrive, sometimes for it to take off! That can be frustrating and tiresome.

In response to the second part of your question -- do you mean by officials or by the general public?

The latter is usually welcoming. The authorities can be tetchy or touchy in some countries -- especially when you've got tough questions to ask. But I find most people are courteous and helpful -- even if they don't answer all the questions you'd like them to! Some are obstructive, of course, but that's the name of the game.