In the Dark About Africa
There is always something new out of Africa.
-- Pliny the Elder ( 23-79 A.D.)
The only thing dark about the African continent is our understanding of it.
In journalism's efforts to explain the world to the American public, no region presents more of a challenge than does sub-Saharan Africa. As a kind of case study, I consider how well this virtual terra incognita has been reported. First, some background.
It was only 110 years ago that great powers of Europe -- Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Italy, and Spain -- met in Berlin to carve up Africa, launching the modern colonial era. Without any Africans present, the European diplomats drew illogical boundaries that still frustrate African nations today. In the century that followed, Africa experienced 75 years of European colonial rule, and, since about 1960, over 40 years of political independence and self-determination.
The final years of colonialism, accelerated by dynamic nationalist and independence movements, were convulsive but hopeful times. Beginning with Ghana in 1957, more than 40 new African nations appeared. Observers expected that with self-rule, Africa would develop stable and prosperous nations. This has not happened. Instead came economic false starts and failures, frequent coups d'etat, persistent political instability, and usually one-party or military authoritarianism. During the first 25 years of independence, more than 70 leaders in 29 nations were deposed by