Africa Is a Coronavirus Success Story So Far, If Only the World Would Notice

Africa Is a Coronavirus Success Story So Far, If Only the World Would Notice
A billboard encouraging people to wear face masks is installed on an apartment building in Cape Town, South Africa, May 16, 2020 (AP photo by Nardus Engelbrecht).

From the moment the novel coronavirus burst out of China and began to spread around the world, many commentators quickly took for granted that Africa would become the pandemic’s biggest and deadliest target. Yet the continent has so far dodged those dire predictions.

In retrospect, few things were more predictable. For decades, the convention in Western media coverage has been to treat Africa with a casual scorn that plays up its problems—pretending wrongly, for example, that its wars are unusually brutal by the standards of our times, or that its politicians, sneeringly dismissed as “Big Men,” are uniquely power hungry or corrupt.

If this were all that was wrong about the way so much of the press speaks about Africa, it would be bad enough. But there is more. The flip side of this perennial pessimism is that Africa’s successes go seriously undercovered. For many years as a correspondent on the continent, I witnessed this in person; as a commentator, I’ve seen it ever since. A surge of democratization across the continent that began in the 1990s was treated as small beer by many editors—a secondary phenomenon never as sexy nor as noteworthy as the latest conflict somewhere. Ditto for the continent’s strong economic growth this century compared to many other parts of the world, or of the emergence of increasingly robust middle classes in many African countries.

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