Using Africa's Diversity

When we think of "Africa," what image arises? Many imagine a continent consumed by poverty, war, desperation, corruption and failure. Yet, Africa is Morocco, Sierra Leone, and South Africa; it is Mozambique and Mali, Nelson Mandela and Charles Taylor - the contrasts always seemingly greater than any similarities.

No matter how easy and convenient, it makes no sense to think of Africa as a single unit, not as an economic concept, nor as a political or cultural one. The differences between African countries are too huge. Even within countries, say Tanzania where the mainland and the island of Zanzibar are usually at loggerheads, there are often radical differences in opinion and approach.

In Africa, we can profitably speak of diversity, for in searching for solutions to the economic challenges facing Africa's countries, it is far more reasonable to think in terms of its diverse regions. Thankfully, this is already happening. Indeed, a number of interesting practical moves in this direction are underway, though not all of them pursue the original regional course set by their founders.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), for example, has unexpectedly demonstrated both the will and the capacity to raise a fighting force to intervene in regional conflicts, such as the awful civil war in Sierra Leone. Less spectacularly, but perhaps more important in the long run, ECOWAS is laying the groundwork for regional economic integration, with the creation of a single currency now a stated objective.