Africa Matters is a blog that follows the news and offers analysis of African affairs. Our aim is to delve deeper into the issues of African politics and development. We don’t presume to be experts, and we don’t presume to have all the answers—we are just trying to ask the right questions.

Monday, March 5

Welcome to Africa Matters

Last August The New York Times Magazine ran a cover story on the recent wave of Western fascination with the world’s poorest continent—Africa has always been hot, but apparently now it’s trendy too. But, for all this newfound interest, Western perspectives on Africa tend to remain one-dimensional. Throughout the month of August, for instance, The Times ran three articles and five teasers on its front page having to do with Africa; none was positive. Africa, it seems, has an image problem.

Unfortunately, every time someone like Jessica Simpson or Lindsay Lohan travels to a refugee camp or speaks out about the AIDS pandemic, not only does she raise money for a charity and awareness of a cause, she also broadcasts an image of a cursed and feeble continent. It’s great that Africa and its problems are receiving so much attention, but we owe Africans more than this—we owe them respect and understanding.

Africa, first of all, isn’t monolithic; its 54 countries, in fact, comprise more genetic human diversity than on any other continent, and its myriad cultures, customs, and ideals reflect this. Moreover, while many African nations face serious troubles, neither are these the extent of the African experience, nor are they insurmountable.

We must come to understand that the problems plaguing the continent are diverse and complex and don’t lend themselves to grand, sweeping, simplistic solutions; that despite the magnitude and severity of these problems, Africa is a land of unmatched beauty and wonder—from Cape Town to Cairo—and it has so many happy and hopeful stories that often go untold; and that we, as citizens of wealthy countries, are not now, nor will we ever be, Africa’s saviors. Paul Theroux charged in an op-ed in December 2005, “The impression that Africa is fatally troubled and can be saved only by outside help—not to mention celebrities and charity concerts—is a destructive and misleading conceit.”

For the last 60 years, however, rather than cultivating problem-solving capacity and individual industry in Africa, the development enterprise has become an industry unto itself. While the agencies charged with this work should be, paradoxically, in the business of putting themselves out of business, they instead seem to feed a fire that perpetually justifies their existence. The U.S. government spends nearly $23 billion on assistance to Africa each year—and some advocates suggest it should spend much more—but to what end does it give this aid if not to prepare countries for aid’s end?

Today, countries like Ghana, Mozambique, and Uganda receive enough foreign aid to support half of their total government expenditures. But assistance of this type, which often comes with stringent conditions, doesn’t signify confidence in African economies or the abilities of Africans to solve their own problems, but instead hints at an underlying suspicion that the project of African autonomy is ultimately quixotic.

There is no denying that the conflict, corruption, disease, and poverty in Africa are moral challenges of the highest order—they cannot be ignored. But the only long-term and sustainable solutions will come from Africans themselves. Ever notice that the faces of change in Africa are almost always white? Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, and Bono steal the headlines when it comes to saving Africa from its underdevelopment. In the end, though, Africans don’t need our Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, and Bono—they need their own.

Africa Matters, then, aims to delve deeper into the issues of African development. We don’t presume to be experts, and we don’t presume to have the answers—we are just trying to ask the right questions. Who knows what we’ll end up writing or where this will eventually lead, but, for now, we hope to look beyond the African fad and find the substance.

So this is our blog. Welcome!


Katine Chronicles said...

You have an amazing blog and are doing an awesome job asking questions about the nature of development and the future of Africa.
We at the Guardian Newspaper in London have the same intentions with our Katine website that works to report as honestly and transparently as possible and and allow for comment on the progress of our joint development initiative in Uganda .
We are intending to start featuring Blogs we like and would appreciate it if you visited our site ( and added the blog to your favourites.