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The Continuing Need for Diverse Voices on Africa

By David Stevens

Sitting as I do in New York, it can become easy to tune in and out of the issues and affairs of Africa. Especially during our own volatile election season, news and opinion from around the world is often drowned out by the incessant coverage of the campaign.  As is sadly too often the case, coverage of Africa is usually the first to disappear from U.S. papers or broadcasts. When African news stories do break through the noise, they are usually concerned with examples of human suffering, and occasionally, how one country or another is an “up-and-coming” vacation spot. Even the uptick in coverage due to Africa’s newfound status as a business and investment destination has waned as the recent decline in price of oil—and political developments in Europe—have all but quashed such optimism.  

Importantly, when there is coverage, issues are rarely if ever placed into a meaningful, local context.

That is why I’m thankful for all of the wonderful contributors who have written for the African Angle—and who in doing so have provided a glimpse of the communities, countries, and regions that they live in. Sometimes these portrayals are stark, presenting problems that require immediate global attention. Sometimes they highlight the type of innovations that will allow us to move forward as a global community. But in each case, they bring to the reader a sense of the local dynamics at play and in doing so provide a desperately need corrective to current global coverage.   

Over the past year, we have been privileged to bring you amazing pieces and perspectives from across the continent. Among many other wonderful pieces, we’ve heard Amilcar Ryumkeo and Roland Rugero discussing the conflict in Burundi—reporting on and dissecting the nature of the suffering being inflicted on the population. We’ve had Ndumiso Ngidi and Faith Kiarie discussing the fight for an affordable university education in South Africa and the failure of the government to live up to the promises it made to the country’s youth. We have heard from Sethunya Tshepho Mosime on how the patriarchal culture of Botswana’s university system has done more to impede the progress of women in academia than the “traditional culture” often cited as a key barrier.

Crucially, in these pieces and many others, we have heard nuanced views that are not readily available in the global media. For example, in pointing out the barriers that university culture puts before female students and faculty, Professor Mosime highlights the various subtle—and not so subtle—ways that the social and professional environments hinder professional development for women.

In their discussions of the #feesmustfall movement, both Ngidi and Kiarie put the movement in its various historical contexts. For Ngidi the movement recalls the 1976 Soweto uprisings and ties the Black Consciousness and Pan-Africanist movements to current events. Kiarie places #feesmustfall in the context of the failure of South Africa’s post-apartheid government to live up to its previous commitments toward not only education, but also the reduction of inequality more generally. By presenting such context, both writers have not only provided insight to the education issue in South Africa, but have also given those of us outside of the country a lens through which we might begin to understand other crucial issues in South Africa, as well as points of connection with issues that we face in our home countries.

As we move forward with the African Angle and the larger Program for African Thought here at World Policy, we will continue to place nuanced, locally-informed views at the center of our work. This will be reflected not only in the articles posted, but in new initiatives as well. In the coming weeks and months we will be rolling out a suite of new services for scholars and writers around the continent and in the diaspora—all with the aim of bringing African research and African voices to the forefront of global debate. We hope that you will join us, not only as readers, but also as contributors, bringing your experiences and expertise to the telling of Africa’s stories.

If you would like to stay up to date on developments with the program, I would encourage you to sign up for our newsletter where you will receive information about the PATH, our new releases, research, and programs as well as information about how you can be involved.

My sincere thanks to those who have contributed, to those who might do so in the future, and to those who read the blog with a sincere interest in hearing African stories told by those who live them.

*****

*****

David Stevens is the director of the Program for African Thought at the World Policy Institute.

 [Photo courtesy of Discott]

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