NELSON INSTITUTE DIRECTOR’S REVIEW ESSAY ASKS: “WHAT HAPPENED TO AFRICA?”

November 3, 2008

HARRISONBURG—Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, tackles the general lack of sustained development in Africa in a review essay published in the current issue of Human Rights & Human Welfare.

Dr. Pham writes, “Why many of the hopes of half a century ago have come to end in bitterness and despair as nearly a billion people, far from advancing, are actually rather falling even farther behind the rest of humankind, and how the rest of the world responds stand out as one of the most critical questions of the twenty-first century.” To answer this question, he suggests a look back the continent’s recent history, taking as his point of departure Martin Meredith’s book, The Fate of Africa: From the Hopes of Freedom to the Heart of Despair—A History of Fifty Years of Independence.

Dr. Pham’s thirteen-page essay begins by reviewing—and refuting—some of the explanations often advanced to account for “the failure of African states not only to live up to the hopes of their citizens at independence, but also to respect their aspirations for basic dignity and human rights,” ending by agreeing with Meredith, a veteran journalist and researcher at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, that much of the responsibility lies with failures in leadership which former South African president Nelson Mandela challenged his peers to acknowledge: “We must face the matter squarely that where there is something wrong in how we govern ourselves, it must be said that the fault is not in our stars but in ourselves that we are ill-governed…We know that we have it in ourselves, as Africans, to change all this. We must assert our will to do so.”

Dr. Pham concludes by noting “some remarkable signs of progress, many indigenous efforts, which need to be recognized”—including continent-wide efforts like the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) peer-review mechanism, successful state turnarounds like Ghana after the restoration of constitutional democracy in the 1990s, and many largely unheralded local initiatives—and counseling:

Overall, for the foreseeable future, expectations need to be modest as Africa…slowly, but surely, breaks its own cycle of poor governance, poverty, and underdevelopment by unleashing the energy, talent, and enterprise long repressed by the regimes which are ultimately doomed to collapse under their own weight. Outsiders can only arm themselves with patience and knowledge…, seizing such small opportunities as may arise in order to reward progress and punish regress, and recognizing that dragging Africa out of the development doldrums is more than a generational undertaking for both Africans and their international partners .

Human Rights & Human Welfare is a peer-reviewed journal founded by human rights scholar Dr. Jack Donnelly and currently published by the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies in cooperation with the International Consortium of Human Rights Centers, a group consisting of the Human Rights Center at the University of California-Berkeley; the Human Rights Centre of the University of Essex; the Human Rights Program of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information; the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University; the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM) at the University of Utrecht Faculty of Law; and the Center for Development Research (ZEF) at the Rheinische-Friedrich-Wilhelms University of Bonn. Since 2004, Dr. Pham has been a member of the journal’s Editorial Review Board, an eclectic group of scholar-practitioners whose members include Dr. Larry Diamond of Stanford University; Dr. Richard Falk of the University of California-Santa Barbara; Dr. Jendayi Frazer, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs; Dr. Neil MacFarlane of Oxford University; Aryeh Neier, President of the Open Society Institute; and Dr. Bassam Tibi of the University of Göttingen.

Dr. Pham’s review essay, “What Happened to Africa?,” is available online by clicking here.