Is Africa screwed?

I have been closely following African affairs for just about five years now.

Last night – in a conversation with a Chinese chap over a bottle of Rioja, which lasted well into the early hours (the conversation, that is, not the Rioja) – I was encouraged to ponder upon how I now felt about Africa. And the insight that I had, after most of the bottle had gone, was quite… well… interesting.

I guess that I’ve always been interested in Africa, on a certain level. But when I first began following it seriously, with my first tentative visit to Ghana, I discovered a continent that so many others like me have discovered. A beautiful, enchanting continent with beautiful and enchanting people. A continent steeped in mystery, the last remaining corner of the globe where one might truly be called an explorer. Where things just don’t function as they do in many other societies. Where the frustrating of travelling quickly turns into the pleasure of discovering. The pull of Africa is strong for any who really open their eyes.

Even the wars, the fighting, the violence, the poverty, the deseparation, the corruption… lend to the country’s endless fascination. When we went to live in Sudan, I chose the country because it was such a fascinating, intrinsically complicated place. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Of course, people back home would mutter “oh, Africa…”, as though that one utterance said it all, summing up all the desperation and shattered dreams of the continent.

And, of course, for the person that is discovering Africa for the first time, there is some truth in that. But it is a truth hidden behind the magic and the intrigue and the discovery. But, basically, you don’t need to meet all that many war victims whose arms have been hacked off (at the time of my stay, it was easy in Ghana to find legacies of Charles Taylor’s Liberia) or kids with gruesomely distended bellies to think that Africa, whilst enchanting, is a pretty forlorn place.

But then, as one gets to know the continent, one starts to see a glimmer of hope in the continent. One realises that Africa is a place that embodies both the very worst and the very best of humanity. And, in the early part of this century, one started to see that perhaps things were improving for the better. Nigeria’s military government gave way to civillian rule. Fighting in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo started to ease. Uganda’s Yowri Musseveni finally got to grips with the rebels in the north and put an end to their butchering of civillians. Even Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir seemed to want to be a nicer person. Kenya’s Daniel arap Moi stepped down in what at first appeared to be an amicable transfer of power. Things seemed to be improving.

But the trouble with covering anywhere as a journalist for any length of time is that, eventually, your naive hope starts to give way to brutally real understanding, and you started to once again to realise what a forlorn place Africa really is. This is not an experience that just I alone have had. Others who have also written about the continent, and fallen in love with it, have passed through a similar phase, where one starts to see the same stories of bloodshed, violence and corruption emerging again and again.

This week, I was trawling through the archives of IWPR – stories that I have edited over the past year, stories that I have written – I was disheartened to see how the same tales of woe and suffering kept appearing time and time again.

I know that the innate instinct of any journalist is always to focus on the grimmer aspects of a place or a story. But, even so. Knowing Africa as I do, one can’t help but, after five years, sigh a longing sigh and mutter beneathe one’s breath: no, I was wrong, Africa is screwed after all.

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2 Responses to “Is Africa screwed?”

  1. Emmalovely Says:

    I guess it depends which part of Africa you’re talking about.

    • blakerig Says:

      A very good point. Inevitably, as a journalist, I’ve always tended to be drawn to those countries that are in a somewhat worse state. But, of course, there are countries that are doing a lot better. Just sometimes I find it so depressing…

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