Yes. It seems to me that much of the on-line discussion on Africa is focused on economic development or the lack thereof, or on the latest humanitarian catastrophe that grabs the headlines, be it in eastern Congo, Sudan or Somalia. After a flurry over, say, al-Qaeda in the Sahel
or child soldiers or the Lord’s Resistance Army , ‘the dogs bark and the caravan moves on,’ as does our attention. In general, we pay little attention to the deeper context of political, security or social developments and easily slide into our habitually sunny view of the world that Africa is ‘getting better and better every day in every way.’ Or worse, sometimes there is the pessimistic view that the continent is hopeless.
Yet, even when we are not paying attention, sub-Saharan Africa’s influence on the United States is growing. Some examples:
• What happens in Africa directly impacts on our energy security as we import from it ever larger quantities of oil and natural gas.
• Infectious diseases that become epidemic in Africa can quickly become global.
• African weak governments and internal disputes create space for terrorism that can reach our shores and engage American citizens.
• Evangelical and Pentecostal leaders in Africa and the United States have reciprocal influence. The Anglican Primate of Nigeria encouraged conservatives to split from the Episcopal Church in the United States, while some American Pentecostals clergy legitimated the homophobia in Uganda that led to legislation to make homosexual acts a capital crime under some circumstances. (The legislation has not passed.)
• Politically, the 47 states of sub-Saharan Africa are a huge block in one-country, one-vote international organizations that we care about, such as the World Trade Organization or the UN General Assembly.
• Finally, over the past twenty years there has been substantial African immigration to the United States resulting in one of our most vibrant new communities. Americans born in Africa are likely increasingly to assert themselves on our political landscape.
Such issues are the grist for this blog. Africa is a continent, not a country. Generalizations –“Africa is at the point of economic breakthrough” – obscure more than they illuminate about a continent that includes states ranging from Angola to Zimbabwe. So, this blog aims at providing a forum for granularity, for participants to add nuance and to correct errors and misconceptions – not least, my own.
I was thirty-two years in the U.S. Foreign Service, and this blog also reflects the idiosyncratic way the State Department divides up the world. Africa north of the Sahara – Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt – is part of the Near East Bureau, not the Africa Bureau.
As such, I will make an effort to restrict my blogging to the countries and regions of sub-Saharan Africa. However, please don’t be too angered if I stray.
(Photo: George Esiri/courtesy Reuters)