Yesterday I read a great blog post by Alexis Okeowo of the New Yorker: “The Ten Biggest Positive Africa Stories of 2011.” With drought and conflict affecting many of Africa’s fifty-plus countries, no one can say this has been an easy year. But “with all the gloom and doom,” writes Okeowo, “it’s easy to forget the strides the continent’s residents make every day in business, art, technology, and politics.” From the independence of South Sudan to Liberian women winning the Nobel Peace Prize, it’s refreshing to hear about some of Africa’s triumphs instead of its tragedies.
Inspired Okeowo’s blog, here are three more positive stories from Africa in 2011—worth a mention even if they’re not necessarily the kind that make headlines.
Ethiopian farmers embracing change. Hit hard by drought, 1,981 Ethiopian farmers in Tigray who bought weather insurance through an innovative program received a payout this November—the first in the project’s history. Launched by Oxfam America and a host of partners, the risk management initiative now has more than 13,000 participants and is set to expand into three new countries.
And in southern Ethiopia, where drought is making it difficult for herding families to earn a living from their livestock, some took a risk and tried a new approach: irrigated farming. As noted in the video below, true change takes time. But families now tapping the Dawa River for water are working hard to transform their lives for the long term:
Women leaders speaking up in Ghana. Already the site of a booming international gold mining industry, this West African country began pumping a billion dollars in oil at the end of 2010. As its leaders wrestled with how to avoid falling victim to the resource curse this year, Oxfam’s partner Wacam built a network of grassroots activists—many of them women—who are helping Ghanaian communities defend their rights and environmental resources. Some, like Joanna Manu, have been elected to public office. Others, like Philomena Addo, are trained village advocates who monitor projects and bring their concerns directly to companies. “Now they know if they want to work here they need to come and ask for our consent,” said Addo. “Now they recognize we know our rights, and that is why they are respecting us.”
Musicians defying genres and boundaries. Africa’s music is as varied as its cultures, but too often some amazing artists end up stuck with the marginal “world music” label just because of their countries of origin. This year, many African musicians seemed to transcend genre and connect with listeners in the US and beyond— whether it was British producers and Congolese musicians teaming up on the outstanding DRC Music album, or innovative artists like Spoek Mathambo and K’Naan earning acclaim from bloggers and fans alike.
What other positive stories have you heard from Africa this year? Add yours in the comments below.