CODESRIA Bulletin, Nos 3 & 4, 2010
Crisis and Innovation
Africa has been given different derogatory names by the West. It was at one time called the Dark Continent! In the year 2000, the Economist in a major article came out screaming “Hopeless Africa”. It had its own motivations and evidence: “At the start of the 19th century, Freetown was remote and malarial, but also a place of hope. This settlement for destitute Africans from England and former slaves from the Americas had become the main base in West Africa for enforcing the British Act that abolished the slave trade. At the onset of the 21st century, Freetown symbolises failure and despair. The capital of Sierra Leone may be less brutalised than some other parts of the country, but its people are nonetheless physically and psychologically scarred by years of warfare… Indeed, since the difficulties of helping Sierra Leone seemed so intractable, and since Sierra Leone seemed to epitomise so much of the rest of Africa, it began to look as though the world might just give up on the entire continent.”
Really? This was ‘afro-pessimism’ at its worst, when most reports on Africa published in the Western media were very gloomy, to say the least. These days, it is not unusual for one to read articles in leading European and North American newspapers and magazines, as Martin Hall has shown, that depict Africa as the continent of the future. The question as to how Africa ended up in what was said to be a “hopeless” situation a decade or two ago (with civil wars raging in several countries) is ignored. Yet that is one of the questions that CODESRIA has attempted to answer through its research programmes and its Policy Dialogue Series. In one such dialogue held in Abuja in October 2005, One of the main questions posed to participants was: “How did Africa divert itself from its noble ambitions and its societal projects of yesterday to arrive at a situation where more than half of Africans live amidst violence (physical, structural and symbolic) and poverty?… The list of actors and factors responsible for Africa’s misfortune is long, very long, and goes from imperialism that manifested itself recently in structural adjustment programme, to bad governance.”* The truth, however, is that Africa has been and still is a continent of hope.