The New Africa – A book which portrays the journey of a mighty continent towards prosperity
The New Africa is a comprehensive and all-embracing must-read for everyone who sympathizes with this mighty continent, and is willing to broaden his/her perspective on Africa and its diverse people across the continent.
Learn more below, by reading the interview with author Erika Bjerström, complemented by a short book review. Or get your copy through the link above.
An interview with Swedish correspondent and Africa-journalist Erika Bjerström
Africa is the new Asia, according to Erika Bjerström. She is one of Sweden’s best-known journalists and correspondents who thoroughly traveled around Africa over the last three decades, covering the many stories the amazing continent has to offer. Since 1997 she works for Swedish national television and has already covered the news from a whopping 23 African countries. During her journalistic missions, she mainly focusses on topics concerning migration, development aid and climate change. Despite a short detour as a correspondent in the United States (US) and a significant interest for the functioning of the European Union (EU), sub-Saharan Africa has always continued to intrigue her. Erika’s passion for the continent becomes clearly visible in her book, The New Africa, which recently appeared in English.
For The Bright Continent I spoke at length with Erika, about her book, her experiences in various African countries and her motivation to advocate for a different approach of sub-Saharan Africa. Find out more about our conversation and her book below.
What made you decide to adopt a different position on Africa and write your book, The New Africa?
Ever since the eighties, I mainly cover saddening stories deriving from the African region beneath the Sahara. Among other things, I reported about the agricultural sector and farmers in Kenya, for which I frequently visited the country in order to cover newly emerging problems. However, each time I set foot on Kenyan soil, I noticed little improvements in the daily lives of the farmers and their families. Each visit, people seemed healthier, were dressed more properly, and an increasing number of children was able to attend school. To observe these positive developments, was confronting. It opened my eyes, and as I became fairly dispirited by the continuous negative coverage of the continent, I decided to radically change my perspective on the continent and seek for general improvements and constructive changes instead. I sincerely think we owe this to the diverse African population. Therefore, assisted by statistics and reports of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, I soon found out about the extraordinary development of numerous African countries in recent years. Eventually, these confronting experiences, developments and statistics made me decide to write The New Africa.
What is it you hope to achieve with the publication of this book?
In my opinion, Europe must drastically change its perspective on sub-Saharan Africa, if it still wants to fulfil a significant role on ‘the continent of the future.’ European companies are missing out and an increasing number of trade deals are initiated between African countries and emerging economies in Asia and South-America, who are taking the lead in new trade relations. It seems like European countries are not aware of the fact that the African economy is growing exponentially and will continue to do so in the years to come. To clarify; currently the region beneath the Sahara is home to seven out of ten of the fastest growing economies worldwide. Countries like China and Turkey are increasingly aware of these developments, while Europe falls behind. By means of The New Africa, I hope to arouse the European trade sector, and emphasize that the continent has a lot more to offer, besides hunger, poverty, dictators and violence.
Vice versa, I hope my book will be widely spread and extensively read in sub-Saharan Africa. These days, an increasing feeling of discontent is noticeable among the African population, due to Europe’s one-eyed negative coverage of their continent. This is the result of an improved access to the worldwide web. Currently, an estimated 340 million Africans have access to the internet and are able to read Western stories about their country through social media. You can imagine that the vast majority of Africa’s population disagrees with this negative and shortsighted approach, describing Africa as ‘dangerous’ or ‘victim.’ The continent and its population deserve better and by writing this book I hope to slightly compensate the negative coverage of this mighty continent.
Book review – The New Africa
Substantiated by excessive research and unraveled statistics, Erika’s book – The New Africa – explains the road of ‘the dark continent’ towards stability and prosperity. Assisted by her many personal experiences, obtained over the last three decades, Erika has been able to provide us with a comprehensive and all-embracing perspective on ‘the new Africa,’ showing the bigger picture of the diverse sub-Saharan region. Increasingly frustrated by the focus on negative news by most media, together with the one-eyed, biased approach of Africa as a ‘victim’ or as ‘dangerous’ she hopes to contribute to a more honest and better understanding of a continent on the rise.
‘When it comes to Africa, it is my firm belief that we have committed a historic blunder.’
The book starts by underlining how Western media have failed to cover a decade of extraordinary development in sub-Saharan Africa. The traditional news criteria are to blame according to Erika, only focusing on the conflicts and crises, failing to report on the bright side of Africa: “When it comes to Africa, it is my firm belief that we have committed a historic blunder […] As non-Africans, we have been unable to see that tragedy is able to walk side by side with rapid, unforeseen progress.”
She continues by emphasizing the prosperous and promising future of the continent, expressing her hope that, in ten years, ‘Made in Africa’ will become a trade mark of quality and innovation and that Africa’s agricultural potential will be recognized as the stronghold of the global food supply. In order to substantiate her position on this matter, she analyzed numerous reports from different countries and organizations like the World bank, the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund, all showing the staggering economic development of most African countries. Over the past fifteen years, economic growth was on a solid average of five percent, and seven out of ten of the world’s fastest growing economies are to be found in the region underneath the Sahara. Whereas in 1990 an estimated 600 million Africans lived in severe poverty, today ‘only’ 390 million people are forced to make ends meet with 1.25 USD a day.
Erika’s often economic and numerical approach of Africa’s admirable development, is pleasantly alternated by her experiences in the field and the personal history of the African individual, making her explanations and statements ‘tangible.’ Further, the degree of economic development is frequently linked to the political sector of several countries, exposing the connection between economic growth and undemocratic governments. A complex ethical issue, wherein the book balances between the positive and negative effects of both sides, forcing the reader to ponder about what is right or wrong.
“Why do you keep on giving aid? Is it because it makes you feel good?”
This automatically leads us to the next chapters wherein China’s interference in numerous African countries – often led by an authoritative regime – is extensively described, as well as the fall behind of Europe in trade relations with the promising African continent. Further, the nowadays increasingly asked ‘trade-or-aid question’ is dealt with through eye-opening anecdotes of the numerous men and women, student or farmer, Erika has met on her journeys. It is striking how frequently Africans seem to ask why the West is giving aid, as it has a rather destructive effect. Also, researchers assume that “aid is the biggest threat to continued growth of the continent, as it generates conditioned helplessness.” These personal stories and research driven statements, enable the reader to better imagine and understand the effects of development aid on the functioning of African countries.
Besides the admirable economic growth of numerous African countries, international trade and Western development aid, the book describes the vast upswing of mobile phones on the continent, providing Africans with access to information and the ability to use a bank account. As a result, the informational distance and communication barrier between Africa and the rest of the world is increasingly declining.
‘In a single stroke people living in rural areas – and those without bank accounts – have been granted to bank services.’
In the concluding chapters, The New Africa discusses the promising future of Africa’s agricultural sector, presumably becoming world’s biggest food supplier. However, the promising predictions for Africa’s future, are accompanied by several warnings. These cautions are not only underlined for the agricultural sector, wherein many competitors are emerging on the horizon. Also, the increasing Islamic radicalization of regions around the Sahara, the unequal division of wealth, and climate change are mentioned as new threats to Africa’s bright future. Therefore, as Erika describes it in her book: “Although it is easy to be impressed by the fact that all the arrows seem to be pointing in the right direction, it is important not to jump rashly from one-eyed Afro-pessimism to an equally one-eyed Afro-optimism.”
Altogether, The New Africa helps us to lose our blinkers, and accommodate our view to the incredible developments of a continent on the move. Therefore, Erika’s book is a comprehensive and all-embracing must-read for everyone who sympathizes with this mighty continent, and is willing to broaden his/her perspective on Africa and its diverse people across the continent.