Obioma Nnaemeka returns to the controversy generated by the remark of Ayittey on the Ambassador's positive view on Africa. Dr. Nnaemeka is Professor of French, Women's Studies and African/African Diaspora Studies and the Director of the Women's Studies Program at Indiana University, Indianapolis. She is the President of the Association of African Women Scholars.
I am not surprised to read the intervention of George Ayittey, author of "Africa in Chaos" and high priest of Afro-pessimism. While Ambassador Goransso focuses on the emergence of Rwanda from a genocide a decade ago to participate in peacekeeping efforts in Darfur (Sudan) in 2004, Ayittey is stuck with World Bank statistics of "249 million [African] without safe
drinking water in 1990-95"! Although I am not in complete agreement with the Ambassador-for starters, the title of his contribution is a bit of a stretch--I respect his multi-perspective and fairly balanced assessment of the situation on the ground. His linking of competence and democratization is illuminating, although I am troubled by his limiting the issue of democratization to elections without mentioning the institutions and structures that are vital to a true democracy. Elections do not a democracy make. The Ambassador is right in insisting that the application of a linear notion of "progress" to the continent is counterproductive and
distorts a workable assessment of the reality on the ground.
For the past decade or so, I have had the privilege of working with non governmental organizations based in several African countries. I am amazed at how much they are able to do in difficult circumstances to transform their environment for the better. I am full of admiration for the everyday heroic acts of humanity unfolding in places I have visited. A few years after the Rwandan genocide, I went on a peace mission to Rwanda. I saw a people broken by the horrible event that swept through their land but they were determined to put in place and maintain a functioning society-and they were largely successful. Richard Wright once said that perspective is that spot from which a writer sees his universe; if he stands too close, he will have a blurred vision; if he stands too far away, he will lose sight of important details. The problem with some of us Africans living abroad is that we stay away too long and stand too far away from our homeland that we lose sight of important details. These ever emerging details may not draw decipherable straight lines. But they are there nonetheless--faint maybe, crooked maybe, but there all the same.
I am struck by the fact that Ambassador Goransso is from Sweden. I am aware of the enormous investment made by the Nordic countries, Sweden in particular, in building civil society in Africa. Sweden comes to mind when one contemplates the crucial issues raised in Joseph Nye's excellent book ("Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics") and cautionary note
against the over reliance on hard (military) power in international relations. Countries like Sweden have achieved more in Africa through the use of soft power than the US has achieved through hard power in Asia and the Middle East in the past four years.