Editor’s Note: This is the second of a three-part series by Richard Joseph, who examines Africa’s “disaster narrative,” in which “political instability, state erosion, gross abuses of government power, and appalling human catastrophes” remain enduring issues across the continent. Read the first part.
It would require the skills of a master carver to capture the radically different faces of the African continent. Reports of political instability, state erosion, gross abuses of government power, and appalling human catastrophes appear alongside stories of remarkable economic advances. This has been the case for many years. In November 1993, for example, IMF director Michel Camdessus characterized the 20-year decline in Africa’s per capita growth rates as “the sinking of a continent.” Less than three years later, he stated that an economic recovery was underway—an analysis now confirmed. Camdessus warned, however, that the recovery would not occur in “countries ravaged by war, fratricidal conflicts, and serious political upheaval.”
Even African countries that appear to be doing well can suddenly spin into crisis. Consider Mali, one of the poster countries for democratic progress and political stability during the past two decades. Tuareg nomads recruited into the armed forces of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya, along with other migrants from west and equatorial Africa, returned to their native Mali in early 2012 lugging heavy weaponry. They quickly turned the tide in a rebellion that had waxed and waned for many years in the country’s vast northern lands.