Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and founder of the Green Belt Movement, offers a refreshingly unique perspective on the challenges facing Africa, even as she calls for a moral revolution among Africans themselves, who, she argues, are culturally deracinated, adrift between worlds.
The troubles of Africa today are severe and wide-ranging. Yet what we see of them in the media, more often than not, are tableaux vivantes connoting poverty, dependence, and desperation. Wangari Maathai presents a different vision, informed by her three decades as an environmental activist and campaigner for democracy. She illuminates the complex and dynamic nature of the continent, and offers "hardheaded hope" and "realistic options" for change and improvement. With clarity of expression, Maathai analyzes the most egregious "bottlenecks to development in Africa," occurring at the international, national, and individual levels-cultural upheaval and enduring poverty among them-and deftly describes what Africans can and need to do for themselves, stressing all the while responsibility and accountability.
Impassioned and empathetic, The Challenge for Africa is a book of immense importance.
Africa's moral and cultural dysfunctions loom as large as its material problems in this wide-ranging jeremiad. Maathai (Unbowed), a Kenyan biologist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for organizing the tree-planting Green Belt Movement, surveys Africa's struggle with poverty and disease, political violence, climate change, the legacy of colonialism and a global economy that's stacked against it. But the deeper problem she sees is the selfishness, opportunism and shortsightedness of Africans themselves, from leaders who exploit their countrymen and loot their nations' resources to poor farmers who ruin the land for short-term gain. Maathai means this as an empowering message aimed at a mindset of dependency that would rather "wait for someone to magically make development happen"; she urges Africans to recover indigenous traditions of community solidarity and self-help, along with the virtues of honesty, fairness and hard work. Maathai shrewdly analyzes the links between environmental degradation and underdevelopment, and floats intriguing proposals, like banning plastic bags as a malaria-abatement measure. But the challenges she addresses are vast and intractable-and sadly, many of the development and environmental initiatives she extols seem to have already fizzled. (Apr.)
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April 05, 2009
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