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What We’re Reading: “Ten Biggest Positive Africa Stories of 2011,” The New Yorker

By Emily Riemer

“…Yes, there is tragedy in Africa, and you will always find it there, and we must take those tragedies seriously, but there is also extraordinary opportunity. And if you see this continent as the continent of the future, it sort of reframes it. This is a continent that, by 2050, will be the largest and the youngest continent in the world…” – U2′s Bono, July 2011, The David Letterman Show

As we close out 2011 and consider the momentous year it was for Africa–from the Arab Spring uprisings in north Africa, to the ongoing famine in the Horn of Africa, to the recent violence around the president elections in the DR Congo–it’s refreshing to remember the positive stories that also have emerged from the continent. So when one of my colleagues forwarded me this article, “Ten Biggest Positive Africa Stories of 2011,” in The New Yorker, I wanted to take this opportunity to celebrate these good news stories from Africa. As author Alexis Okeowo writes, “There are always caveats to any good news, but, for now, the good is outweighing the bad. Africa is a place that is impossible to reduce to any generalities, except maybe this one: it has an enormous amount of potential.”

Among the good news items lauded by Okeowo…

  • Africa is experiencing an economic boom. Okeowo cites that Africa is predicted to have the largest economic growth of any continent over the next decade. “As domestic industries, entrepreneurs, and foreign investors prepare to take advantage of this growth, the economies of at least a dozen countries have expanded by more than six per cent a year for six or more years.” That’s a key statistic not only for Africa’s wealthy and middle class, but also for the impoverished families working hard for economic survival. At Opportunity, we offer microfinance loans and other financial tools to economically marginalized families to help them bridge the gap between economic subsistence and stability. An inflow of capital to a local economy trickles down to help vulnerable people break the cycle of poverty.
  • South Sudan gained its independence after two decades of civil war. Though the world watched nervously as the independence referendum unfurled, and tensions are still high, a tenuous détente has prevailed.
  • Two Liberian women won the Nobel Peace Prize. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia’s first female leader, and the activist Leymah Gbowee were among the three female Nobel Peace Prize laureates. They were the first women to be awarded the prize since the late Professor Wangari Maathai won in 2004.
  • Cell phones continue to change how Africans live. Okeowo cites mobile healthcare tracking in Rwanda, and Kenya‘s cell phone banking system, “called the world’s most innovative,” which lets Kenyans “pay bills, send remittances, purchase goods and airtime, move funds among accounts, and even take out and pay back loans for entrepreneurial ventures.” Those are just two examples of the almost endless possibilities for accessing Africans with services via their mobile phones. MicroEnsure piloted a mobile phone life insurance program with Tigo Ghana, and the program was so successful that it’s now testing it with Tigo Bima in Tanzania. MicroEnsure expects to double the number of Ghanaian clients with life insurance by the end of 2011.

To read all ten of Okeowo’s good news stories from Africa, read her piece on newyorker.com.

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