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Curious children surround the Newburys. As of August, schools had not yet been set up at the refugee camp, and
the children had little to occupy their attention.
period, exports from the United States to
Africa declined from 2. 7 percent of total
U.S. eA-ports to 1. 4 percent. Excluding
petroleum, Africa's share of total world trade
dropped from about 9 percent in 1980 to
only 2 percent in 1990.
But this position ignores three elements.
First, it ignores the economic potential of
Africa. Is disinvestment a cause or a result
of poverty? Second, it ignores the nature of
these figures. Do they represent an indict-
ment of African producers or an indictment
of the disparities in global power? Third,
such an attitude reveals a short-tem1 calcu-
lation. Are the long-term costs of Africa's
continued immiseration, spawning hostile
political movements and requiring billions
in humanitarian relief, greater than the
costs of effective engagement today?
Some people believe that disarray, under-
development and corruption are so pervasive
on the continent that nothing we can do
will help. Because Africa's prospects are
bleak, they argue, there is no reason for the
United States to invest in helping Africans
create a better future. But such negativism
ignores the fact of social differences in Africa,
the fact that many of the most corrupt,
avaricious and brutal leaders maintain power
through active Western support and the
fact that many active grassroots movements
serve as alternatives.
The marginalization of Africa is abetted
by ignorance. Because Africa is large, diverse
and culturally different, many Americans
assume it is too complex to understand.
The challenges are real. The population of
sub-Saharan Africa (more than 500 million)
is distributed among 47 different countries,
many encompassing a variety of different
languages and cultural traditions.
Our media generally do a poor job of
covering events in Africa. So what Americans
know is either overly romanticized (the
Africa of game parks, happy peasants, quaint
rural landscapes) or stereotypically negative,
highlighting war, famine, disease (especially
AIDS) and corruption. When Americans
hear about Africa at all, they tend to hear
more about the problems than the potential.
Africa's potential lies in its natural
resources and its people. Across Africa, it is
the energy, versatility and social ingenuity
of people that stands out. Africans have
hopes and concerns that are like our own:
to live in political systems where justice is
respected, to gain a decent livelihood for
themselves and their fanUlies through their
work and to raise their children to be
responsible adults, with a future that offers
more hope than despair.
One of our Zairian friends remarked to
us at the end of the 1980s: "My wife and
I have lived our lives. If the state and
Ja11u ar yI Feb ru ar y 1 995