September 10, 2001 12:00 PM

PBS (Sundays, 8 p.m. ET)

The Sept. 9 premiere of this eight-week documentary series points out that Africa is more than three times the size of the United States. Wow, that’s vast—almost as vast as many Americans’ ignorance about the continent where humanity was born.

As a member of the uninformed majority, I learned from this coproduction of National Geographic Television and Thirteen/WNET New York. But the gorgeous photography and skillfully developed story lines give Africa considerable entertainment value as well.

Whoever said life is a journey must have had Africa in mind. The opener deals in part with the annual mass migration of wildebeest—some 2 million animals on a 2,000-mile round-trip. In the second episode, an engaging 9-year-old boy named Adam joins 15 men and 150 camels—laden with materials for trade—in a Sahara desert trek covering 1,500 miles. (The caravan may seem a grand adventure, but Adam’s uncle says candidly, “If I had the money, I would get a truck. Then we wouldn’t suffer so much.”) The Oct. 7 program follows 16-year-old Errou and his fellow herders as they walk their grazing cattle hundreds of miles through the parched Sahel region. At home in the Niger delta waits Errou’s 14-year-old girlfriend Aissa, whose smile would refresh even the weariest traveler.

Our regard for the characters in Africa grows along with our awe at the landscape they inhabit. Complementing the series’ eye appeal is the well-modulated voice of actor Joe Morton, who delivers the narration with authority but no pomposity.

And here’s another opportunity for education about Africa: Starting Friday, Sept. 7, at 11:35 p.m. ET, ABC’s Nightline presents a five-part report on the horrific conflict in Congo, which has taken an estimated 2.5 million lives since 1998.

Bottom Line: Widen your horizons

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