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Africa’s problems more complex

Letter to the Editor | Friday, October 13, 2006

An Oct. 4 op-ed piece in the International Herald Tribune by New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof was titled “Optimism and Africa.” In it Kristof highlights the changing situations in some countries on the African continent, with improvements in Governance, in the fight against corruption, in economic reform and in the investment climate. He gives examples of Tanzania, Ghana, Rwanda and Nigeria.

This pales in comparison to the rather negative tone that your report on Professor Naomi Chazan lecture on Africa conveyed. Particularly striking was the sentence, “she referred to the political breakdown of states due to ethnic fragmentation and conflict, famine and the AIDS epidemic.” Currently only Somalia (and maybe Sudan) are breaking apart because of ethnic fragmentation and conflict. Other states such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Angola and Liberia (and even Cote D’Ivoire) are still single units despite years of varying degrees of conflict.

The stereotypical image of Africa is changing and while the problems continue to be present, there are numerous positive changes. More than a continent of political breakdown, ethnic conflict famine and AIDS, Africa is a continent suffering from the collapse of infrastructure (particularly roads and power), very unequal and uneven distribution of wealth, the lack of opportunity for skilled labor, the lack of investment in technology, a continued backwardness in its primary economic activity of agriculture and a very slow growth in the institutionalization of politics and political activity in much of Africa. It is also a continent in which political pluralism in its own unique form is taking root with virtually every country holding regular multiparty elections and many countries experiencing smooth transitions from one party to another. My hope is that Professor Chazan touched on some of these more modern problems and issues and not just what has been the presentation of Africa over the past thirty years.

Rev. David Kashangaki, C.S.C

Jinja, Uganda

Oct. 11