On the first day of the 2017 Conference on World Affairs, hundreds gathered in the UMC’s East Ballroom for an event titled “Africa: The Bright Continent.” This session sought to educate attendees on modern-day developments in the world’s second-largest continent. Moderator and CU faculty member Laura DeLuca introduced the session.
“So much of what we see in the media about Africa is biased in a negative way,” DeLuca said. “This is an exciting opportunity to focus on the positive.”
Panelist A. Ed Elmendorf, who served a 30-year career with the World Bank, offered some economic positives. Within the continent, economic growth between 2005 and 2010 reached 44 percent. Major macroeconomic reforms took place. Also, seven of the 10 fastest growing nations in the world were in Africa. Elmendorf also recognized “enormous improvement” in overall health and healthcare throughout the continent.
One topic that was addressed throughout the session was relations between African countries and countries on other continents. Panelist James Bell, who has worked with Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress, began by speaking to ignorance.
“I think that this notion of ignorance about Africa is a willful ignorance, which is a privilege for the elites,” Bell said. “When you’re a privileged elite, you actually can be ignorant of things and not engage in them. But this privilege of willful ignorance will not obtain as we go into 2040 and 2060.”
He continued to challenge the relationship between Africa and what he called the “global north.” He spoke to the ambiguity of the rule of law in the continent and its relation to tribal culture.
Bell compared the cultural and legal clashes between the LGBTQ community and the U.S. government to the clashes that exist in many African communities between tribal norms and the developing rule of law.
“How does one balance culture and democratic principles and how do we define them?” Bell said. “Can you legislate cultural norms? Where I live, in San Francisco, the queer community has established a cultural norm regardless of what the law allows.”
Another pressing issue addressed by the panel was the extreme corruption of many African states, as well as the other struggles these countries face. Panelist Vicki Huddleston, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Mali, accredited much of this to the continent’s legacy of colonialism. She offered her thoughts on a resolution.
“I think Africans are going to have to take increasing responsibility for their own destiny,” Huddleston said. “Some states will split up, and Europe, the United States and the U.N. don’t want this to happen because we’re so afraid it will lead to more split ups. How are these countries that aren’t working, like South Sudan, like Somalia, like Libya, like Congo, how can they actually become working countries that provide the best possible life for their people? In some of those cases, radical solutions will actually be used. The Africans have to decide.”
Contact CU Independent reporter Devlin Thieke at Devlin.firstname.lastname@example.org.