In Africa, unique cultural heritages and enterprising people come together to create some of the most interesting jobs on Earth.
Where skills and talents meet societal needs, there is a job to be had. On farms, in cities, and along waterways from Egypt to Uganda, many Africans have found work in unique fields. Here is a selection of nine cultural, agricultural, and purely urban jobs special to the mother continent.
Fantasy coffin maker: Swords, lions, chickens, cars, and even a Coke bottle—in Ghana, many want to be buried in a coffin that fits them, or at least encapsulates their interests. The artists who design these coffins are well-respected, often showing their work in museums and galleries.
Teff farmer: A staple in the Horn of Africa, teff is grown in Eritrea, and by 6.5 million farmers in Ethiopia alone. To be fair, teff also being farmed in diaspora communities abroad now—but it all started on the mother continent. The protein-packed grain is used to make injera, the special bread used to scoop up Ethiopian food.
Car guard: The New York Times calls this role “part valet, part hustler.” In South Africa, self-employed car guards sport official-looking neon vests. They wave cars into public parking spots and promise to keep watch over the vehicles. Then, when the drivers return, the car guards collect a voluntary fee.
Safari guide: It’s a classic for good reason. On no other continent do expert wildlife spotters barrel Land Rovers across the bush in search of lions, leopards, rhino, elephants, and Cape buffalo.
Pinotage winemaker: Vintners are found on every continent, but since pinotage is from South Africa, pinotage makers are from here, too. In 1925, Stellenbosch University professor Abraham Perold cross-fertilised cinsaut with pinot noir, resulting in deep red pinotage. For the country’s winemakers, the rest is history.
Dahabiyyah captain: For centuries, flat-bottomed wooden boats have plied the Nile. In the 1920s, dahabiyyah — traditional sailed wooden houseboats — experienced a renaissance, with posh cabins and room for servants. Now, as luxury ships cruise the river, too, many seek out the old-fashioned wooden dahabiyyah experience.
Akadina player: Many types of xylophones and marimbas are played across Africa, and among the most impressive is the akadina. This tremendous instrument can accommodate up to six players, who face each other across the instrument and play impressively interlocking patterns. The akadina is particularly popular in Uganda but is played throughout central Africa.
Bus tout: If you’ve walked down a major African street and been hooted at, chances are you’ve heard these guys. You weren’t being harrassed—you were being sought as a potential passenger for a privately owned, publicly available minibus. Bus touts call in passengers, then collect the fare and sometimes small tips.
Rooibos tea grower: Red or bush teas have long been popular across the continent. South African farmers have had success taking caffeine-free rooibos (Afrikaans for “red bush”) tea to the world mainstream. They cultivate bushes—or just harvest the wild ones—then chop, ferment, and dry the tea. And their job has become a force in the $23 billion global tea market.