This March, best friends Astrid Madimba and Chinny Ukata launched It’s a Continent; a podcast “passion project” exploring African history, with aims to dispel shallow perceptions of the continent and its people. Humble in their ambitions, neither woman imagined the podcast would gain as much traction as it has, in just seven months. “To even think we’ve managed to do two seasons is insane”, says Astrid, who birthed the idea of a historical podcast after a trip to the V&A. “We’d been wanting to do something together for some time and I went on a date to the museum and it was looking at art through African history… and then I remember going round to Chinny’s and I was like, I think there’s something there!” she said.
A self-confessed “modern history nerd”, Chinny didn’t take much convincing. Astrid is Congolese and Chinny Nigerian; having grown up in Devon and Essex respectively, both ladies had felt a desire to connect with African histories and cultures, they were underexposed to in their childhoods. Speaking with a jovial irony, Chinny said “I loved history in school but when it comes to African history, I wasn’t happy that we learned nothing… We learn about the industrial revolution but we don’t know how we got the cotton.”
That’s exactly the kind of context It’s a Continent gives to its listeners. In short episodes, we learn of the oppression, the revolutions, the heroes and the antagonists of Africa’s past, delivered with honesty and depth. Not historians by training, Astrid and Chinny speak of the joy of learning alongside their listeners: “It’s really helped me embrace my own identity a lot more.” Astrid told me. Their curiosity and enthusiasm for the subjects they tackle is palpable in the podcast and each episode is more like an illuminating conversation with friends, than a history lesson.
So far, they’ve covered a range of topics, from the ongoing fight for independence in Western Sahara to Robert Mugabe’s fall from grace. Some were easier to approach than others: “I was a bit nervous about the Libya episode” Chinny admits. Certain stories require extra sensitivity as narratives are still contested. This makes them all the more crucial to learn about and although “people got a bit heated in the comments” of the episode about Rwanda, overall responses to the podcast have been glowing.
“We love that we have interactions from people, not just in the UK but on the continent itself,” said Chinny. Their reach is only expanding as this month, they featured on Apple Podcasts’ front page- a huge win for two women running an indie podcast, whilst juggling full-time work. But their aspirations don’t stop here and the ladies told me of their future plans such as, “It’s a Continent goes abroad”, potential bonus episodes looking at the histories of Africans in the diaspora. There was also talk of bringing guests onto the show and (in a post-pandemic world) travelling to film “visual content” in the countries that they cover.
When asked the key thing that they’d like people to take away from the podcast, Chinny said, “Africa is not a monolith.” The legacy of colonialism feeds an agenda wherein Africa’s 54 nations are too-often conflated under the same prejudicial umbrella. This faux pas is most commonly made by non-Africans but as members of the diaspora, we also have a responsibility to acknowledge the individual plights of African countries other than our own. If the ongoing movement to #ENDSARS in Nigeria proves anything, it’s that understanding breeds unity and unity is power.