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Charlayne Hunter-Gault

Her new book says our views of Africa are outdated.

Reporter Charlayne Hunter-Gault, who was one of the first African-American students to attend the University of Georgia, in 1961, has just published her second book, New News Out of Africa.

What's the new news?

People in America aren't being provided with even the basics of what's going on in Africa, a continent with 54 countries and over 800 million people. A new group of leaders has been instrumental in establishing new principles of good governance, good fiscal and economic management, respect for human rights, empowerment for women. There's a peer-review process where prominent Africans go into a country and evaluate its performance in those areas. That's unheard of in the post-colonial period.

What role should the West play in Africa?

A lot of the problems that Africa now faces were perpetuated by the West. So there is a debt that needs to be paid. And then there's the U.S. national interest. Look at the crisis now in the Middle East—America needs other sources of oil. Africa has that oil. Equally important in the post-9/11 world is that poverty creates a ready market for terrorists to exploit. Africa stood as a bulwark against Communism, but it could also stand as a bulwark against terrorism, as opposed to being a breeding ground for it.

You reported from Johannesburg during apartheid, and you've lived there since 1997. how has it changed?

It's beginning to develop a rich cultural life, with artists and writers and poets and designers. It's just wonderful seeing a country reborn. When I went there in 1985, it was a very oppressive place, and now the same place is dynamic. It has a buzz to it.

How would you compare the civil rights movement in the United States with that of South Africa?

In South Africa today you have a black majority and a black-majority government. So government policies are more likely to reflect the aspirations of the people and result in more substantial change. There's certainly a lot more constructive debate that goes on in South Africa on race relations than there is here in the United States. Look how long it took us to challenge "separate but equal"—it wasn’t until 1954 that it was overturned. I don't ever caution young people who are frustrated with the pace of change to be more patient. You have to continuously agitate. Democracy isn't perfect, it's a moving thing, and you have to be vigilant to keep it true to its promises.

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About Amy Crawford
Amy Crawford

Amy Crawford is a Boston-based freelance journalist writing about government, education and ideas. Her writing has appeared in Smithsonian, Slate, Boston Magazine and the Boston Globe.

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