Africa as muse, not mess

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on a two-week tour of Africa, raises the idea that the continent's progress on many fronts might offer solutions for some world problems. Is she right?

Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton laughs as South African jazz singer Judith Sephuma, left, invites her to dance to African music at a gala dinner in Pretoria, South Africa, Tuesday.

During a two-week tour of Africa, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has raised an intriguing idea, one that breaks a tired stereotype. Africa, she asserted in a speech Wednesday in Cape Town, has solutions for some of the world’s problems.

The continent certainly has enough problems – bad governance, civil war, and drought, to name only three. And solving any one of them might become a model for other nations. Africa, for example, has found exemplary ways to reduce child deaths.

As a region with an economy larger than India’s, its growth rate now surpasses that of the West, which is in a slump. Seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies are in Africa.

Compared with Asia and Latin America, Africa has shown unusual partnership among its more than 50 nations in tackling the continent’s worst conflicts, such as in Somalia. It has plenty to do. Most of the world’s failed states are in Africa.

With steady if uneven progress toward stable democracies, Africans are showing ways to achieve peaceful turnovers of power, such as in Ghana last month. Along its Arab north, Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya have led the Arab Spring. And with the end of Muammar Qaddafi’s rule in Libya, Africa no longer has someone using oil wealth to try to control the future of sub-Saharan Africa.

In a continent known for its strongmen, Malawi has a new female president, Joyce Banda, who joins Liberia’s Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in helping to raise the aspirations of African women. Last month, the African Union elected its first female leader, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

For Mrs. Clinton, however, South Africa is seen as the best hope for Africa. Per capita, South Africa’s wealth exceeds that of China or India. Last year, the mineral-rich nation, now 18 years free of white rule, was inducted last year into the global club of large, non-Western economies called BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa).

Clinton praises South Africa for voluntarily giving up nuclear weapons, for its civil-society activism, and for helping other African nations with security, agriculture, and minerals. She likes the leadership of President Jacob Zuma in pushing a Cairo-to-Cape Town highway that could be a north-south infrastructure artery for the continent.

Most of all she cites it as role model: “In South Africa, you achieved something that few countries have ever done. You proved that it doesn’t take an all-out civil war to bridge the divide between people who grew up learning to hate one another. You showed that the rights of minorities can be protected even in places where the majority spent decades and decades living in oppression. You reminded the world that the way forward is not revenge, but truth and reconciliation.”

By suggesting ways that Africa can assist the world, Clinton may help break negative impressions of its future. Or as she told her audience of young people, “The world needs you to contribute much because you already have accomplished much.”

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