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True Africa, Part 2
The perception that Africa is beset with problems may in itself hinder its development. That and the simplistic notion that the continent can be seen as an individual entity when in fact it's a vast and varied place of more than 50 countries. Hilary Andersson has been reporting from Africa for almost two decades.
What if you lived out in the countryside, did a bit of farming on your land as your parents and grandparents had done for generations, when one day you went down to the village shop and heard gossip that killers were heading your way that were going to burn your entire village down. Imagine that you knew the government favoured these particular killers and wasn't going to do a thing to help you. One day at dawn government planes began to bomb your village. The killers moved in an hour later and burnt down all the houses. That's what it’s been like to live in Darfur lately.
Then there's the Congo were the war means you live in daily fear, where mutilation is rife, where your chances of children living beyond the age of 5 are not good at all. There's Rwanda, there's Burundi, there's northern Uganda where your children have to sleep in a nearby town in case they get kidnapped overnight by a brutal war lord... The horror seems as endless as it is familiar.
What on earth is going on? Is this what Africa is really like? Is it that hopeless? It may seem so but that's because the human disasters, the killings, the immediate news is so overwhelming that there is rarely time to talk about the good news.
The good news goes like this. In the last few years a horrific civil war that's killed an estimated million people has ended in Angola. Sudan's war in the south -- the worst in Africa -- has just ended too. You can travel the length and breadth of Africa and, in spite of the wars, see progress spreading at a phenomenal rate.
Countries like Mozambique, Botswana, and South Africa have solid healthy impressive economic growth rates. In Botswana villages that I visited in the late 80s that had roads of deep sand, mud huts lit by oil lamps at night and no communications at all -- now have electricity, and paved roads -- one town that I know like this now has a university, a shopping mall, a gym and even a yoga centre. Niger, where they still have slaves, has internet cafes.
Mozambique, a country you risked your life to drive into in the 80s due to the war, is now a short and easy hop from Johannesburg -- it's open and accessible. Two decades ago I remember seeing tracer bullets lace the sky as I ate an evening meal in Maputo the capital -- from that window now you can now see beaches, a city coming to life and a thriving tourist industry.
As G8 leaders meet to decide what they can do about Africa, their propelled by optimism that working hard at building democracies, fighting corruption, lifting the burden of 3rd world debt, can actually help to build on positive changes that are already underway in Africa.
One of the most depressing things about covering Africa as a journalist is that the scale of the human tragedies that unfold on this continent is so great and so compelling that Africans often end up looking like desperate helpless victim. When the sense you actually get about people on this continent is not like that at all -- in fact it’s quite the reverse.
When I first came to Africa in the 80s and went to a refugee camp for the first time, I met a Mozambican man and his wife who had virtually no possessions or food. They invited me into their hut made of plastic sheeting and offered me a meal.
In Rwanda during the genocide of the 90s I have a vivid memory of a man listing the dead in his family. He went on and on and on with the names. “My father, my uncle, my mother, my sister... “ He stood tall and did not shed a tear or show emotion in front of a stranger. The same happened in Darfur more recently.
There is immense dignity on this continent that strikes almost everyone who comes here. Its people are generous and resilient. Now at last with the G8 summit there seems to be real political will for rich nations to help build on changes that are already take place in Africa. History has proven that commitment and plain hard work on the part of determined politicians can change things for the better and this may be Africa's best chance.