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Africa's moment?

Opinion: Hints of light in a not-so-dark continent

A new generation of Africans argues what has been clear for decades: Money alone is no answer. Badly conceived aid, like bribery, stanches initiative and feeds kleptocracy.

During his reign, Mobutu Sese Seko looted at least $7 billion in the Congo — more than G8 nations gave all of Africa in the last four years. And look at the place.

But Africa today has more democracies than ever, with growing respect for human rights. The internet and mobile phones link dissidents and allow entrepreneurs to thrive.

President Barack Obama, expected to visit Africa soon, will likely demand more power to the people. The old guard can hardly dismiss him as racist or ignorant of reality.

Keith Richburg of the Washington Post, whose book, “Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa,” showed how human potential is thwarted from the top, sees new hope.

A new edition soon to appear, 10 years later, amounts to a handbook on how outsiders can help Africans without badly targeted aid and insulting paternalism.

“It may not happen in a straight line, with setbacks here and there, but it is happening,” he told me. Charles Taylor of Liberia, for instance, is a case in point.

“Taylor was hauled into international court, and the big men saw that they can no longer get away with terrorizing their people,” he said.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, elected in 2006, quickly brought Liberia back from 14 years of atrocious serial civil war.

With next year’s multiple 50-year independence celebrations, and World Cup soccer in South Africa, a lot of people will come take a good look for themselves.

Americans once knew Botswana as the place where, in a popular movie, Bushmen worshipped a coke bottle dropped from a plane. They thought it came from loony deities.

Now, thanks to a sympathetic Scottish author and his lady detective, many more see the deep currents of humanity and tradition that make the not-so-dark continent rich.

This may, finally, be Africa’s moment. Then again, the gods might still be crazy.

Mort Rosenblum, editor of the quarterly dispatches, was senior foreign correspondent for the Associated Press from 1981 to 2004. He is a former editor of the International Herald Tribune. His 13 books include "Escaping Plato's Cave" and "Who Stole the News?" He lives in France.

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