Paul Theroux said all news out of Africa is bad. Indeed, the well-known narrative of Africa tells of a place that is regressing & riddled with corruption, disease & blight. But Ngozi Okonjo Iweala has identified reasons to hope.
Iweala, the Minister of Finance in Nigeria, speaks with authority & certainty. With no visual aids, nothing distracted from her powerful story of an Africa many believe cannot exist. An Africa where the tolerance for corruption & government mismanagement is coming to an end. An Africa that is a viable market for international investors & private enterprise. (view speech here) She was unflappable. Her strength concealed how fragile the vision is... whisper a breath on it & it dissolves.
It was compelling and radical. It runs counter to everything that's being said about the continent. It's the kind of vision I love. Optimistic. Looking at an utterly hopeless situation... yet finding a kernel of hope.
Dambisa Moyo from Zambia has said much the same. A best selling author and one of Time Magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World", Moyo says it's time to stop focusing on the old story because Africans are ready for change. Don't focus so much on the negative. There is a vibrant young population coming up who are eager to participate in the global economy & will do what it takes so their countries can sustain itself.
I was eager to share what I learned from Iweala's speech with the African I know best. Unfortunately, my husband (a Nigerian like Iweala) could not resist the impulse to crush the evidence that change is possible & already underway. He said "She is a politician. She's lying."
He has good reason to distrust Nigerian politicians. Nigeria sets the bar when it comes to corruption. He, like many, has become so cynical he can barely tolerate the words "hope", "justice" and "Nigeria" in the same sentence.
But his cynicism frustrates me (& pisses me off). I demanded: if you believe in your heart of hearts Nigeria is beyond redemption why do you want to live there? why do you pour money into constructing oversized homes there? why do you waste your time & money? (Actually, I wasn't that nice... I said he might as well take his money, wipe his rear end with it, & flush it down the toilet... that'd make as much sense as building homes in a country he wants to see crumble).
After I fussed at him & he had a good laugh at my expense (after 18 years we know how to push each others buttons), he backtracked & tried to offer his own examples that Nigeria still has potential.
Too late. Out of the heart, the mouth speaketh. Your thoughts become words, your words become actions.
No wonder people have such a hard time seeing Africa as anything other than a lost cause. Africans themselves are often so polluted by the endless examples of disorder & dishonesty, the default response to encouraging news is denial. The very idea that change is achievable is rarely uttered & so it gets aborted before the promise can form in people's hearts & minds.
Bill Clinton said “Pessimism is an excuse for not trying and a guarantee to a personal failure.”
Maybe if I'd used the words of this White man my husband admires rather than the words of 2 African women, he would have had a more open mind. An irony which is not lost on me one bit...