When Americans and other Westerners think
about Africa, their first thoughts are often of poverty and war. But
the continent, while certainly facing problems, holds a great deal of
promise for its own future and for the rest of the planet.
That was the message delivered by Emira Woods, a foreign policy
expert with a special emphasis on Africa and the developing world, to an
audience in the University of Delaware’s Mitchell Hall on Wednesday,
Feb. 19. Her talk, “Africa in the 21st Century,” opened this spring’s Global Agenda speaker series, which will continue with five more events.
“Many people still don’t recognize that Africa is the cradle of
humanity,” said Woods, co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the
Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. “Africa is where things
began, and it’s where things are going.”
The world has always turned to Africa for resources, she said, from
the human resources taken in slavery to the natural resources so
important in today’s global economy—including oil deposits, vital
minerals and arable land.
While “this incredibly rich continent” holds such potential, it also
faces a continuing problem of losing its resources to other parts of the
world, Woods said. Multinational companies from Europe and the United
States — and, now, increasingly from China as well — have a history of
exploiting resources, she said, shipping them elsewhere and offering few
if any benefits to the people who live in Africa.
She cited recent
examples of this in oil exploration and in the growing incidence of
“land grabs,” where outside nations buy African farmland, often to raise
crops that are turned into biofuels. “So the land is being used to feed cars [in other parts of the world], when people nearby are going hungry,” she said.
Here are a few facts to which she
referred about Africa's key role in the world :
Africa’s $2 trillion economy is growing more rapidly than any
other continent’s. Of the world’s top-10 fast-growing economies, seven
are in African nations.
- The Democratic Republic of Congo has as much as 80 percent of the
global supply of coltan ore, essential for manufacturing such electronic
devices as cell phones and laptops.
- Significant oil and gas discoveries are being made in new parts of
the continent, including Kenya, Ghana and Uganda, which have the
potential to join such established oil-rich countries as Nigeria and
- Most of the potential farmland on Earth (60 percent) is in Africa.
- The continent is progressing politically. In the past three years,
22 African nations have experienced popular movements for change, and
women are increasingly represented in government. The highest rate of
women’s participation in national office in the world, for example, is
in Rwanda, where they make up 55 percent of the parliament; in South
Africa, the proportion is about 45 percent.
- African entrepreneurs are “leapfrogging” ahead in developing new
uses for technology, “building a stronger Africa and a stronger world,”
Woods expressed optimism for the future, giving much of the credit
for progress across the world to young people. She urged her audience at
UD, particularly students, to continue to be activists and to support
movements for change — the most effective way, she said, of dealing with
the global problem of inequality and the ever-increasing gap between
rich and poor, both within countries and between countries.
“I think the public discourse has shifted ... and it’s young people
who have changed the global agenda,” she said. “I think it’s young
people, and particularly young people in Africa, that are helping to
drive a different path forward.”
Global Agenda continues, with a schedule change
The Global Agenda series, whose theme this year is “Global Demands,
Regional Responses,” continues on Wednesday, March 5, with speaker
Richard Wike, director of the Global Attitudes Project with the Pew
A talk by Peter Westmacott, British ambassador to the U.S.,
previously scheduled for Wednesday, March 26, has been moved to Tuesday,
All the talks begin at 7:30 p.m. in Mitchell Hall and are free and open to the public.
This year’s series is directed and moderated by Julio Carrión,
director of the Center for Global and Area Studies and professor of
political science and international relations.