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December's Last Word


By Steve McDonald

When I wrote my first "Last Word" column, I promised that Africa Up Close would not become "a personal outlet for my perceived insights on Africa," nor, I think I said, would it become a platform for pundits from the U.S. and other Western viewpoints to pontificate on all things African.  I said this because it reflects my deep belief that the African "voice" has been left out of most policy debates that occur around the capital cities of Washington, DC, London, Paris and elsewhere.   Our effort to form the Southern Voices Network – further information can be found in this blog or at – was in recognition of this fact.

I think I can successfully report that these first four months of operation have seen us featuring articles on diverse subjects important to the continent, and all from Africans or non-African individuals who have worked and lived in Africa for years, bringing some very Afro-centric views to the table.

Since our formal introduction, the blog has been able to feature a diverse and extensive expanse of "voices" on subjects critical to the continent, both in terms of Americans and other Westerners understanding the issues and realizing the difference in perspectives that drive African policy formulation and thinking.   My favorite section is the "Lessons from the Field" where we feature writers who have worked with us in post-conflict reconciliation and peace building efforts, and on other issues like climate change adaptation. These contributors bring their experience and expertise from the field, as they are actual practitioners and are not just speaking theoretically.  And, for all our contributors, it is heartening to know that we are being read.   In the first two months, before we upgraded the blog, we had around 596 page views.  But, since we have switched to the new blog, in just over a month, we have had 860 visits from countries across the world, including many in Africa, such as Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, and Cote d'Ivoire.  Not yet covering the entire continent, but still making quite a significant outreach.

So, I am going to declare our opening calendar year a success.  This has been the time to launch, get the bugs out, and experiment with format and content.  With that period behind us, we will now go into 2013 with much on our plate, including a second-term President and a different, if not entirely new Congress, but with clear indications that Africa may, indeed, be climbing higher on the agenda of U.S. foreign policy priorities.   At the same time, it is the 50th anniversary of the Africa Union (previously the OAU), with new continental leadership under the Chair of the AU Commission, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, and the new Chair of the AU, who has not yet been announced to my knowledge.  Excitement builds around Africa's remarkable economic performance – which has been addressed by several contributors to this blog – and the growing democratic transitions sweeping the continent.  Successful presidential elections in Ghana, Senegal, Somalia, Angola, Guinea Bissau, and Sierra Leone, as well as a peaceful transition in Malawi (and the second female president in Africa, HE Joyce Banda), augur well in this regard.   Last year's elections in the DRC were not satisfactory, and many observers fear the coming contest in Kenya might result in violence and unrest, as could those in Guinea. So, democracy still faces its challenges, but the trends are positive.

Let's all hope for peace and goodwill, and growing prosperity, as the New Year comes our way.  Our circle of friends only continues to widen, and we hope for a busy and productive 2013. On that note, all of our readers should be aware that the blog will be taking a short break for the holidays, beginning on December 24th. Be sure to look for new posts and insight in the New Year, beginning January 2nd.

I would end by again thanking those who really make this blog possible:  Mame Khady Diouf, Program Associate for the Africa Program at the Wilson Center;  Aly Lyons, Program Assistant for the Project on Leadership and Building State Capacity; Derek Langford, Program Assistant for the Africa Program; and Elise Barry, intern for Leadership and consultant for Africa Up Close.

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Africa Program

The Africa Program works to address the most critical issues facing Africa and US-Africa relations, build mutually beneficial US-Africa relations, and enhance knowledge and understanding about Africa in the United States. The Program achieves its mission through in-depth research and analyses, public discussion, working groups, and briefings that bring together policymakers, practitioners, and subject matter experts to analyze and offer practical options for tackling key challenges in Africa and in US-Africa relations.    Read more