Africa is far from being without tragedy, but when you look past all the blaring news article headlines you will see that there are many reasons to be optimistic for the future of African and its people. Beyond the Western media’s fixation with the African tragedy there is so much hope and joy that gets pushed under the rug. Why? Is it because there is an othering and the problems and issues are over there? Is it because there is no hope on the ‘dark’ continent? Is it because the West would rather not admit that Africa is ‘developing’ and is really doing well? There are plenty of articles in the news that would deter even the staunchest optimist. Most of Africa lives in extreme and absolute poverty. Crises in Cote d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Uganda, and a few other countries are far from resolved. The conflict in the DRC has been inflamed by its recent free election results. Uganda is moving closer to a peaceful resolution of its conflict, but the rebels have backed out again. There is growing tension between Somalia and Ethiopia. And now Chadian rebels are storming across the country capturing major cities. The conflict in the western Darfur region of the Sudan is becoming further and further from resolution it seems. The African Union peacekeeping force’s mandate has been extended, but a UN force is still being rejected. All these armed conflicts are frightening, but then there is also many preventable diseases and basic essential needs that kill more people each year. HIV/AIDS is a growing problem and has yet to reach its peak in Africa.
The first great example of African hope is the amazing diversity of ideas and cultures. The people are shaping a better future for themselves and advancements are being made. African culture is thriving. Before we, who are not in Africa, can begin to understand how to assist Africa we have to first understand the intricate links between Africa’s people, culture, and wildlife. Africa’s middle class is growing, African entrepeneurs are becoming more prominent and have incredible ideas and solutions to problems that they know and live with.
On the continent the advances in medicine, technology, and science are taking hold. I remember when I was in Africa almost everyone had a cell phone and could easily stay connected. Advances in medicine are slow to be adopted mostly because of their costly nature, but there are growing efforts to provide services. We all need to remember that Africans are not just vulnerable people, but also solvers of problems. They may live in dire situations, but they still have the capacity to run a more effective program that pinpoints the real issue, which many times Western donors miss. The greatest innovation that I have seen developed so far has been the PlayPump. Discovered and designed by a man visiting South Africa. The pumps are set up to provide children a way to release their energy on a roundabout and also pump clean water for their community. There is a wealth of children’s energy, but a lack of means to use that energy. The water pumped through play is then stored in a 600 gallon container with billboards promoting HIV/AIDS education and other healthy messages. These billboards assist in paying for upkeep and maintenance of the pump. No worries children are not forced to play or pump, they just enjoy playing and that helps their community to have clean water. Water-related diseases are the leading cause of death in Africa and the ‘developing’ world. It is estimated that two out of every five Africans live without a clean water source. With the PlayPump children are able to stay in school instead of getting water. Women and children benefit from less injuries due to carrying heavy water containers over long distance. Women can focus more on their families and children with extra time not spent on water fetching. Some women have been able to start-up small businesses to provide an added income source and more food for their families.
Beyond the calls of corruption, falsified elections, and conflict between candidates, there is an increase in credible leaders in African countries. The first woman leader was elected last year. Leadership is growing as Africans step up to help one another and show their fellow citizens effective ways to improve life. There has also been a venture launched by an African millionaire to combat corruption within African governments. Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese multi-millionaire, is offering $5 million to African heads of state who deliver security, health, and economic development to its people. The Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership was launched on the 28th of November this year. This is obviously a very controversial idea and many have stated that African leaders that are oppressing and killing their people will continue to do just that. Mo Ibrahim has said, “The day we do not need any aid will be the most wonderful day in my life.” The award will be given out as $200,000 for 10 years after the leader is out of office, so that the African leaders will have a life after office. Secretary General Annan has thanked Ibrahim for offering such a generous prize, but many still remain skeptical. Keep a watch on this one, time will tell if it will be successful.
Along with all the innovation and advancement there is also a great opportunity fro those of us in the ‘developed’ Western world. Doing your research, finding a sustainable project to assist, and becoming personally involved in working for Africa provides so many opportunities for personal development and happiness. I can tell you working in Africa is a joy and an amazing way to self-actualize your potential to change the world. Don’t wait, jump in – each year that you wait is a missed opportunity, each day that you do not challenge yourself is a wasted day, each minute is a lost life.