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New York Times Column Downplays Africa’s Renaissance

A provocative column in the New York Times this week argues that despite all the “media hype” surrounding a renaissance occurring on the African continent, the good news is exaggerated and the continent is actually doing worse on some measures, such as the number of people living in poverty.

The writer, Ioannis Gatsiounis, a white journalist and author from New York who currently lives in Uganda, does acknowledge that there has been considerable progress in areas like gender equality, healthcare, marketable skills and technology—he says technology provides the means for many Africans to move forward rapidly. But he says the hype obscures the continent’s monumental problems.

“In fact, this hopeful, marketable portrait represents a fraction of the real Africa, and conflating the two works to obscure the backward slide taking place across much of the continent,” Gatsiounis writes.


To make his case, the writer leans on the state of government in Africa, the education system and the rise of poverty. He says the number of democracies on the continent has fallen over the last seven years from 24 to 19—and many of those 19 are democracies in name only, with leaders still using public office as a means to stuff their pockets.

As for education, Gatsiounis says the quality has not improved and educators are notoriously unreliable, with absentee rates of 25 percent in some countries (a recent story on ABS discussed the horrendous teacher absentee rate in South Africa). He said the systems in most countries have a difficult time producing graduates with the skills to meet market demands—leading to unemployment rates as high as 80 percent in Uganda where the writer lives.

Poverty is where the picture is bleakest, according to Gatsiounis, who quotes World Bank stats revealing that the number of people in poverty has grown from 292 million in 1981 to 555 million in 2005, including a doubling of poverty to 112 million over the last five years in Nigeria—which is supposed to be one of the continent’s biggest success stories.

Finally the writer, who previously lived in Malaysia, concludes that while it is admirable and important to chronicle the continent’s progress, nobody is served when the story is overhyped and the problems are ignored.


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