The current Afro-optimism – A realistic image of Africa?
This chapter raises the question whether the current Afro-optimism can be considered a construction of a realistic image (situational) and a narrative (process) of Africa. It does so primarily by analyzing the 180 degree turn-around of the prestigious and influential magazine, The Economist, on Africa within the time span of a decade. In May 2000 the magazine claimed that Africa was a continent without hope, whereas in December 2011, Africa, according to The Economist, could be considered a continent of hopeful economies – where “the sun shines bright.” The chapter identifies and analyses the key editions of The Economist with reference to this complete turn-around on Africa. Three major pillars are identified in the analysis of The Economist in relation to the changes in Africa, (i) the economic pillar (economic growth, investments and trade), (ii) demographic change and (iii) conflict, governance and democratization. Within each pillar a presentation of The Economist’s description and analysis is put forward to be followed by critical reflections by the author. The presentations and reflections also have reference to the analysis/empirical studies on Africa by key research institutions.
In the concluding reflections of the chapter, the importance of culture for the understanding of African change - only mentioned in passing by The Economist - is put forward through concrete examples. The findings are that the Afro-optimist images/narrative put forward by The Economist and others do not hold together even if analysed from within its own frame. The analysis of The Economist and the Afro-optimist narrative also shows that it becomes fragile when confronted with an understanding of Africa that integrates cultural perspectives. The Afro-optimist narrative of The Economist has been constructed within a limited knowledge and timeframe that has restricted a deeper understanding of Africa. The conclusion of the chapter is that the way The Economist has constructed its arguments for Africa-optimism has helped create a narrative that aims at legitimising the continued exploitation of Africa.