The North American land mass totals 9.3 million square miles. Africa is bigger, with 11.7 million square miles. I confess that when I first saw the graphic below, it blew my mind.
(Click on image for sharper view)
Found equally eye opening “The Real Map of Africa,” by Pierre Englebert in today’s Browser (love this web site: The Browser).
The map of Africa below, from Englebert’s article, shows out-of-control areas, i.e., where there are no respected borders, colored gray. Areas colored white reflect relative stability along with comparatively solid state control.
Zimbabwe, for example, despite its problems, is shown in white thanks to clear borders and a government, while corrupt and heavy-handed, that nevertheless is in control, including strong control of its borders. (Additionally Zimbabwe has modern infrastructure, albeit it’s frayed around the edges, plus gold, diamonds and fertile farmland. Never mind fantastic natural beauty and a literacy rate higher than the U. S. rate.)
Englebert estimates 34 percent of Africa lacks effective state control. That’s 4 million contiguous square miles of general insecurity and widespread danger. Using comparison for the sake of perspective, the continental U. S. is 3.8 million square miles, thus smaller than the most chaotic section of Africa. And naturally things get more complicated from there.
If you could slowly, steadily increase your focus on the gray-and-white map above — not in the southern third, but in much of the northwest coast, parts of the northeast coast and a lot of the turf in between — you’d be watching nominally solid white areas giving way to gray.
Englebert draws rational, if provocative, conclusions about what makes for progress or lack of same in Northeast-, Northwest- and North-Central Africa. It’s hard to debate his conclusion, when looking at this through a “Western” lens, concerning the profoundly negative influence of Islamist/jihadist extremism.
Another conclusion — in view of the apparent correlation between weak borders and weak development — is that successful post-conflict reconstruction, like sustaining a pattern of positive development, requires the stabilization of internal dynamics by locals, i.e., independent of outside influence.
Englebert makes his case in part by pointing to Rwanda and Uganda, where following years of horrific ethnic strife these nations now — thanks significantly, he contends, to recognizable and generally respected borders along with a healthy dose of self reliance — are among the strongest on the continent. Englebert observes that while there are success stories, it’s been one step up and two steps back in far too many places.
Basically I agree with Englebert’s conclusions, though we may disagree on the utility of what I’d call “smart” foreign aid, which I believe is in our enlightened self interest, also in the interests of our major trading partners, and a moral imperative as well. In any case, “smart” means we stop spending so much to prop up corrupt authoritarians who eventually, predictably, get overthrown, putting us in a pickle. “Smart” means we spend more to encourage where we can — to leverage, where something’s working — organically grown investments and programs that plainly are positive in spirit, popular with the public and that prove to be sound in practice.
American mainstream media offer a generally limited perspective. Not merely “Western;” also “Northern.” Increasingly my starting point when thinking of Africa, or for that matter South America, is that I know very little and understand less than half of it. Color me a typical American.
Hard to imagine that not so long ago I imagined Africa so much smaller than it is. Makes me think again of two of my favorite Mark Twain quotes. (1) “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you do read the newspaper you’re misinformed.” (2) “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.”
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Stop, Go, Murder