South Africa’s constitution, Botswana’s economy and Nigeria’s role in Africa all make Uzodinma Iweala’s list.
Question: What are the models of success in Africa?
Uzodinma Iweala: You’re getting into areas that I don’t . . . I’m not as well-versed. I mean I think I can . . . You know I think the person to ask would be somebody who has really, really studied this. I’ve read, but I’m not an expert. And so anything I say needs to be taken with that in mind. I think one of the most obvious success examples is South Africa, right? With its constitution that is supremely inclusive; you know with . . . You know it’s not . . . it’s a country that’s not perfect, right? But I think that when they . . . when they tried to create a form of government after apartheid, they really strove to include everyone in that . . . include everyone in the process of creating that democracy, and I think it shows. I mean I think South Africa would be in a lot worse position had you not had visionaries like the Mandelas, or the Oliver Tambo's, or the people there who came together after . . . both during apartheid and afterwards to create and structure their society. I think it would be a very different situation, but I think that’s an . . . that’s an obvious example. Maybe not all around, because obviously the money . . . the economic situation in South Africa isn’t that great for a lot of people. But I think that the way they govern that country, and the way that things are put together, I think, is pretty remarkable. I mean you only have to go to the . . . to the constitutional court in South Africa in Johannesburg to see . . . you know to see exactly what that sort of vision creates in term of a system of justice. And you only have to read their constitution to . . . to look at . . . to look at . . . to look at how beautiful, you know, it can be when you really do take the time to sit and think about and have a dialogue about these things. I mean I think economically everybody always looks at Botswana as a remarkable success story because they managed to . . . You know they’re a country that’s heavily resourced . . . You know it’s a resource-based economy – I guess off of diamonds and whatnot. But they’ve also managed to not succumb to, you know . . . to the same pitfalls that many resourced . . . heavily resource-based economies, you know, have succumbed to. So I mean Botswana’s another example. And then Ghana in recent years has been on the upswing. And you know I’ll go to Nigeria, which Nigeria for . . . has been . . . I mean I don’t think people acknowledge how much has changed in Nigeria. Is it a . . . Is it . . . Do we have a . . . We have a long way to go in Nigeria. No one is going to sit back and tell you that’s not the case. There’s a lot to be done; but I think, you know, eight years of democracy, it just came . . . people . . . when you go through 20-odd years of military dictatorship, people . . . it takes time for people to understand what choice is. It takes time for people to understand how to hold leaders accountable. It takes time for people to understand how, as an individual, I can have an impact on the way that society works. But I think what you see . . . What you’ve seen in the last eight years, and hopefully what you’ll see more of now, however flawed our last election was, is exactly that. And I think you just can’t underestimate that. And I think that that is . . . I think people overlook that all the time, right? I think that people overlook that all the time. But the fact of the matter is you look at where Nigeria was before and you look at where it is now; and you look at what people are doing; and how people are living; and how, you know, businesses are coming up; how there are more opportunities, it’s not at all perfect, and I . . . you know I don’t want to paint a super-rosy picture because that would be idiotic. But the bottom line is things are changing, and things are moving in Nigeria and other societies. And I think the more that people experience democracy, the more that people experience what it means to participate in government – in their own governments . . . governance – the faster these changes will happen. I think also what has been overlooked is the role that African countries have played in each other’s lives. I mean I think, you know, you look at Liberia and Sierra Leone, and people don’t really talk about how much of a role Nigeria played in stabilizing those countries. Was it ugly? Yeah it was ugly. I interviewed a bunch of Nigerian soldiers who had been part of stabilization forces or peacekeeping missions in Liberia and Sierra Leone. And the stories they tell will shock you. But at the same time they were there. They were there trying to make sure that they could get the situation resolved, you know? I don’t think people acknowledge how much that happens. You know people haven’t really talked about how much of a role . . . Excuse me. People haven’t really talked about how much of a role Nigeria and Rwanda and other countries have played in Sudan. Has it been effective? Maybe not so much. But the idea is there, right? And I think the fact that the idea is there needs to be put out to suggest to the world, look, we do care about each other. We do care about improving the situation of the continent as a whole. We are doing something.
Recorded on: 10/7/07