Silverlining Africa – From Images Of Doom And Gloom To Glimmers Of Hope

1. Changing images of the Dark Continent

Inaugural address
At a recent African Studies Association conference in San Francisco, I presented a paper on the  findings of a research project that I was involved in over the last few years on Ghanaians in Amsterdam and their ‘good work back home’.[i]

The theme of the conference was ‘African Diaspora and Diasporas in Africa’ and our panel was entitled ‘Development from Abroad’. Panel members presented numerous success stories from many parts of the continent and the general reaction at the conference was one of surprise at the many positive stories coming out of Africa. One of the participants in my panel talked about ‘silverlining Africa’ – stories that challenge past images of doom and gloom.[ii]

Just before going to the US, I chaired a session at the annual meeting of the Netherlands-African Business Council in a beautiful conference centre in Wassenaar where close to two hundred Dutch entrepreneurs shared enthusiastic accounts of their activities in Africa. The overall impression was that Africa is taking off and is the newest group of emerging economies to be knocking on the door of the global market. There is a political and business confidence in Africa today that reminds older observers of the euphoria during Africa’s Independence Era fifty years ago. Africa is now the place to be and certainly not a place to avoid. The organizer of the event[iii]more or less suggested that Dutch entrepreneurs would be crazy not to invest in and trade with Africa. Discussing the changes in the current Dutch development landscape, there was an almost triumphant attitude among the participants: ‘now it is our turn to eat’.[iv] But they also tried to be honest and straightforward: the new business opportunities need to be used in socially responsible, fair and sustainable ways. For some, Africa may appear to be a place where quick and dirty money can be made. For most entrepreneurs, the idea is that there are major opportunities here but that these can only be harvested with long-term commitment and involvement.

A month earlier when I was in China giving a lecture, my hosts arranged for me to visit the EXPO grounds in Shanghai.[v] I was particularly interested in the way Africa presented itself there. With a few exceptions,[vi] the African countries were housed under one roof in a huge exotic building bustling with chaotic activity. The sensual African dances and the loud drumming attracted many Chinese visitors, who were amazed by so much public indecency. The African market stalls were popular although there were Chinese-language banners strictly warning customers not to buy illegal fare and English-language signs with warnings about not taking pictures. EXPO’s title was ‘Better City, Better Life’, but a Chinese advisor who had been involved in the early support for the African pavilion told me that the Africans were not very keen on sticking to the general theme. Many of the African pavilion organizers had instead decided to show rural Africa as a paradise for tourists and investors with traditional scenes of Africa’s exotic nature and people, and as a continent full of resources to exploit. It was amusing to see that the Chinese positioned Africa as ‘the hottest place under sunlight’, even suggesting that this was the origin of the name ‘Africa’.[vii]
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ASCL Country Portal ~ Information About African Countries ~ News, Statistics, Maps, Images And More

The ASC country portal provides a list of free internet resources and other information on Africa. It was initially set up for the general public but those with greater in-depth knowledge of Africa will also find some of the resources valuable. The ASC country portal aims to present  information on each African country at a glance. The internet resources have been selected by staff at the African Studies Centre library.

Corrections and suggestions are very welcome. Please contact:

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YouTube Channel African Studies Centre Leiden

The African Studies Centre Leiden is the only multidisciplinary academic knowledge institute in the Netherlands devoted entirely to the study of Africa. It has an extensive library that is open to the general public. The ASCL is an interfaculty institute of Leiden University. The institute is located in the Pieter de la Court Building of the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Leiden, Netherlands.

YouTube channel:

Published on May 19, 2015
Film about the workshop ‘Governance and Connections in Africa’s Contemporary Conflicts’ (19 March 2015) and public lecture ‘Globalised Conflict Situations – Nigeria’s Boko Haram in Perspective’ by Egosha E. Osaghae, Professor of Comparative Politics and Vice Chancellor of Igbinedion University, Okada, Nigeria (20 March 2015). Organized by the African Studies Centre in Leiden.

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The African Studies Centre Leiden (ASCL)

The African Studies Centre Leiden, founded in 1947, is the only knowledge institute in the Netherlands devoted entirely to the study of Africa. It undertakes research and is involved in teaching about Africa and aims to promote a better understanding of African societies. The Centre is part of Leiden University and participates in the LeidenGlobal network. The ASCL’s work is not only of importance to researchers but also to policymakers, journalists, NGOs, businesses and other organizations.

The ASCL’s research programme lasts for a period of five years. Projects are multidisciplinary, empirical in nature and are carried out in cooperation with African colleagues and institutions by the Centre’s researchers and PhD and Research Masters students.

The ASCL organizes a one-year and a two-year Masters in African Studies in cooperation with Leiden University’s Faculty of Humanities. The two-year (Research) Masters prepares for a research career.

The ASCL’s Library, Documentation and Information Department has the most extensive and specialized collection on Africa in the Netherlands in the fields of the social sciences (including law and economics) and the humanities. The library, which is open to the general public, has more than 80,000 books, 1500 documentaries and feature films from and about Africa, and subscribes to nearly 750 periodicals. African Studies Abstracts Online offers some 10,000 abstracts and journal articles, and web dossiers provide background information on specific topical events and themes.

ASCL researchers publish in many different journals and with well-known publishing houses. The Centre also has several publication series of its own: Africa Yearbook, Afrika-Studiecentrum Series, African Dynamics, African Studies Collection, Langaa Series, ASC Infosheets and ASC thematic maps.

Regular seminars are held at the ASCL on Thursday afternoons on a wide range of topics. These are given by prominent local and international Africanists and are open to the general public.

Visiting Fellows
Between six and nine African academics are invited to Leiden every year on three-month fellowships to promote an effective academic dialogue between Africa and the North. These scholars use their stay in Leiden for data analysis and writing, and present a seminar.

Africa Thesis Award
A prize is awarded annually for the best Masters thesis on Africa by a student at a university in the Netherlands or in Africa. The winning thesis is published in the African Studies Collection series.

ASCL Community
The ASCL Community includes (honorary) fellows, affiliates, artists and associates of the Centre, and people with a professional interest in Africa who are working in business, policymaking, NGOs and in media circles.

We would like to welcome you as a partner in the ASCL Community!

African Studies Centre Leiden
Pieter la Court Building
Wassenaarseweg 52
Postbus 9555
2300 RB Leiden

T: +31 71 527 3372

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