The Other Side of Africa


| May-June 2009

An international tourist could be forgiven, observes Sojourners (Dec. 2008), if she were to visit Sierra Leone and be astonished to find a country functioning in harmony, having executed a democratic election in 2007 that defied “both historical legacies and pundits’ low expectations.” The media trumpet tragic stories from Africa, and films like Blood Diamond and Lord of War saturate the imagination with images of conflict and suffering.

Consequently, many international observers are afflicted with an immobilizing case of Afro-pessimism, envisioning the continent as a hopeless place of famine, disorder, and disease. Yes, there are countries—Sudan, Somalia, Congo—trapped in serious conflict. There are also countries that tell a story of hope and transformation. Sierra Leone is one of them, and so is Liberia, which in 2005 elected the continent’s first female head of state, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and has since demobilized more than 100,000 soldiers.

We need to pay more attention to these unfolding hopeful stories, Sojourners counsels, and develop a multifaceted vision of Africa: “Examples such as Sierra Leone and Liberia demonstrate that there are solutions to seemingly intractable problems.” From them we can reap hope—the essential ingredient for engaging with conflicts like the one in Darfur and not letting pessimism dampen the effort.