African Voices Of Hope and Change: an introduction

Here are a few excerpts from the introduction of our new ebook, African Voices Of Hope and Change — enjoy!

At the start of the new millennium, it felt as though the African continent was essentially written off by the international community. The Economist magazine even ran a cover story in May 2000 dubbing Africa “The Hopeless Continent”. The bottom line was that given the difficulties the world saw in helping African nations overcome their conflicts and economic despair, we might as well just give up on the entire continent.

How quickly things have changed since then.

African Voices of Hope & Change

Recent statistics suggest that nine of the fastest-growing economies in the world are in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Economist acknowledged the turnaround in December 2011, featuring another cover story on Africa, this time calling it the “Rising” continent and with a far different tagline: “the continent’s impressive growth looks likely to continue”.

[…] Yet for all the optimism and growth potential, the road to sustainable prosperity is fraught with perilous cliffs and roadblocks. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Sub Saharan Africa’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew “by 5.5 per cent in 2011 and 5.8 per cent projected in 2012 (in real terms)”. However, the five countries with the highest income inequality in the world, based on the World Bank GINI coefficient, are all from the same region (Seychelles, Comoros, Namibia, South Africa and Namibia).

[…] Cultural, educational and social progress is also a big part of the shift, though again this can not be said of the entire continent. While many nations experience tremendous developments, others seem permanently marred by political and economic stalemate.

Examples of this uneven evolution can often be experienced within the same country. Take Uganda, where the first African Gay Pride event took place in August 2012 in Entebbe. Yet Uganda is also where politicians proposed introducing the death penalty for homosexuals in 2009 and where gay rights activist David Kato was assassinated in January 2011.

[…] While being acutely aware of the challenges ahead, African people are growing weary of a portrayal of a powerless continent, as in The Economist cover story mentioned above. There is a broader awareness for pursuing a fairer image of their countries, particularly by providing space and venues to actual African voices. Citizens are putting forward initiatives that showcase self-agency in solving local and regional issues. They specifically take exception of what they perceive as unfair or biased portrayal of the continent by outside observers. It is not by chance, then, that the campaign Kony2012 became an exemplary platform for African voices to take a stand in the ensuing debate.

[…] the impact of technology is not limited to financial and social empowerment. Many experts actually believe that its most lasting influence will be on a broadening field of education. For instance, in some French-speaking countries, Internet courses are being steadily integrated in civil servant training. And African youths with disability have also received training on social media skills – something that will ultimately prove crucial for integrating all classes of the society. Also important is the potential for leveraging technology towards a more general transparency and accountability, as shown by initiatives based on social and citizen media for monitoring local elections or making government data available on the Internet. Linking activities on the ground to such online tools and platforms is helping empower citizens to defend themselves against corporations and private interests, while also supporting the cultures and rights of native population.

The following collection of posts – hand-picked from the 2012 production of the Global Voices community, including many African netizens – will try to parse out such complex framework. Given the variety of issues and territories involved, this e-book is focused on Sub-Saharan countries, leaving Northern Africa nations to a future production devoted to the larger Middle East and North Africa region.

Aimed at providing a larger context and fostering the Global Voices mission, the focus here is on places and people that too often are “forgotten” by mainstream media or overlooked by Western sources, despite Africa’s diverse but promising growth in the upcoming years. These voices tell us about moving forward in hope and change, their accounts reveal a path infused with struggle and collaboration.

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