When Africa has come to the attention of other countries, it has usually been for the wrong reasons – disaster, civil strife, war, accidents and almost never for reasons that could be considered positive or forward looking. Racial stereotyping of African migrants has led to dreadful events such as the Rwandan genocide; a people and a continent with no hope in the eyes of the nations that ruthlessly exploit the vast mineral resources. It has almost been like the media have wanted to present the African continent as one with no future, or one with continual troubles.
But away from the media attention, away from the spotlight of the major non-Governmental organisations around the world, a surprisingly diverse array of African countries are reforming themselves. According to the World Banks “Women, Business and Law” report with little song or dance, the Congo, Mauritius, Sao Tome and Principe, Malawi, Zambia and Guinea were the biggest movers on the WBL index (p. 11) for how women are faring in terms of career and ownership. In an index where 100 is a perfect score, which only 6 nations have achieved, Congo has jumped 25 points from 45 to 70; Mauritius has overtaken New Zealand (91.25) to sit at 91.88.
The Congo, whose border with Rwanda is awash with automatic weapons, might seem like one of the last places to expect such spectacular progress. This is especially so when one considers that several million people have died in a quiet low intensity in the 24 years since the Rwandan genocide. Quite staggering it is to think that these numbers are on par with the death toll of World War 1. But neighbouring Rwanda is also experiencing economic growth. Although its President Paul Kagame has been linked to genocide related crimes, and appears to have small regard for western law, Rwanda’s development has been noted by notable magazines such as Forbes.
Like other nations, New Zealand needs to respect Africa for what it is and take less of a domineering “I know best” attitude and more of a “okay, how can we help you improve”. The former attitude is consistent with that of former colonial powers such as France, Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy, all of whom had colonies in Africa, and all of whom were found wanting in their treatment of the people in those places.
It is not that I believe New Zealand can offer nothing. We can offer quite a bit. We have things many African nationalities can only dream of – a transparent government; competent authorities; clean (compared to them)environment; high literacy and life expectancy rates.
So, I think we need to learn to show Africa some respect. It has clearly made some progress. Although countries like Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Zimbabwe and Kenya appear to be sliding backwards, given stereotyping like that seen in “Hotel Rwanda” where the U.N. commander says “You’re not even black, you’re African!” writes off a whole continent, many were probably not expecting anything positive at all.