It’s an exciting time to be studying, working in, thinking about, doing business in, traveling to, or simply living in Africa.
Soon after I started graduate school in 1994, one of my Ph.D. advisors conceded to me that he had turned to the study of South Africa because working on the rest of the continent had become too depressing. By contrast, after spending most of the first part of my career completely focused on South Africa and some other upper-middle income countries (such as Brazil and India), not only does contemporary Africa North of the Limpopo River appear increasingly more dynamic, but the analysis of African politics and development has become extraordinarily sophisticated and creative. I would venture to say that the most interesting work in my field (political science) is being conducted by scholars working on Africa.
To highlight these exciting trends is not to deny that poverty remains extreme, as does the persistence of violence in certain regions, especially against women, and that health care and health outcomes are too poor, etc., etc. But there is real variation to be explored – which is to say that we can ask, which new initiatives are actually improving people’s lives? Why are citizens in some countries able to play a meaningful role in the functioning of their governments?
As 2011 comes to an end, and I think about the year to come, I feel lucky to have the opportunity to learn more about how the shadow of history has shaped particular patterns of human development, and how people, armed with new ideas, resources, and technologies, are charting new courses in the face of such histories.
I hope 2012 will bring much health and happiness. Best wishes!