The Promota Magazine

Africa: the hopeful continent?

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In 2007, I was asked to write a poem for the UK’s Black History month. One of the couplets ran:   The time is ripe for us to show/The Africa that you and I know/ We’ll take this chance to share our views / That there’s more to Africa than you see on the news

In the last week of August 2012, I read something in The Observer newspaper that put me in mind of that couplet. However, before I get to that, let’s go back a few years.

In 2000, the international magazine The Economist carried a front page that said ‘Africa: The Hopeless Continent’. It is one of those magazine covers and the contents therein, that have gone down in modern folklore. What the cover dared to say was what many felt but did not have the nerve to say.

If one thinks back, this was a time when there were hopeful noises about the progress across the continent. Remember, this was the year the Organisation of African Union (OAU) morphed into the African Union (AU), with all the attendant optimism of ‘a new dawn’. It is true that some of that optimism has dissipated; nonetheless, it seems as if that ‘slap in the face’ was the wake-up call the continent needed. Of course, the truth is a lot more nuanced than that. After all, it’s not as if African nations decided en masse to respond to the magazine’ criticisms and get their houses in order.

For many Africans, the frustrations stemmed from a frustration, bordering on disgust that for many years the world outside of Africa only seemed intent on mentioning the worst there was to offer. Two years before the Newsweek cover story, Keith B Richburg, an African-American, who had served for four years in Rwanda, Somalia and South Africa as a correspondent for The Washington Post wrote ‘Out of America’. Richburg’s book angered many, especially shattering the illusion that African-Americans had some empathy (or sympathy) with their brethren of similar hue. Richburg made it plain he had neither. And, you read the book feeling he was almost grateful that slavery had put him at arm’s length from Africans.

The feelings of anger and frustration also reflected at Newsweek also reflected the fact that Africans have long been aware that we belong to a continent that has always suffered from lazy stereotyping; from the notion that we are all alike to the refusal to acknowledge the good things happening across the continent. And, most galling of all, being a respected organ, many were likely to take the Newsweek view as being correct. If nothing else, it saved on having to do one’s own research!

With all this baggage to contend with, imagine my surprise and delight to find the British newspaper the Observer devoting 26 pages of its 26 August edition to what it called ‘The New Africa’.  And, the paper did not try and hide behind criticising others; it stated “For years we’ve been telling the same old stories from the African continent. Poverty, disease, corruption, HIV and drought. But that script is starting to change. Welcome to the New Africa”

The paper is as good as its word. Across the ensuing pages, we see an Africa that will be much more recognisable to Africans; a continent that is doing its own re-branding without recourse to expensive advertising campaigns. The Africa of innovative mobile phone usage now copied around the world, of entrepreneurs, writers, musicians, scholars, bankers, corruption whistleblowers and so on. In short, that kind of Africa Africans have always known exists. Welcome world!

Ade Daramy

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