Welcome to Africa UP Close!By Steve McDonald // Monday, September 10, 2012
We are excited to be officially launching “Africa UP Close” the new blog of the Africa Program and the Project on Leadership and Building State Capacity (LEAD) of the Wilson Center in Washington, DC, two programs that I have been Director of since 2009. I have over 40 years of experience with Africa – living there, working on its issues in both government and Non-Governmental organizations – and have become, over those years, an advocate for Africa, but also a hard realist about its strengths and weaknesses, foibles and features, potential and pitfalls. With that said, my years of experience with and on the continent have also given me a deep respect and love for the people of Africa, not only because my wife is African and my two sons were born there, but because I know of no more vibrant, creative, innovative and personable people on this earth. Through my professional and private associations, I have come to know that Africans have much to offer the world in terms of experience and depth of knowledge on issues of common interest to us all.
This blog hopes to capture that innovation, creativity, problem solving, and experience that is inherent in the people of Africa. Whether it is thoughtful analysis of policy issues, on-the-spot reporting of current developments, sharing of fact-based, empirical research and findings on global problems, field experience and lessons learned in conflict and post-conflict settings, or just “slice of life” reflections of Africa, we will try to cover it all. The unique angle that we will bring to the blogosphere, we hope, will be that most of our input will be coming from our network of African colleagues and friends with whom we have been working over the last few decades. Too seldom are African voices heard on the issues with which we all have to deal.
Since I come from a pre-ITC revolution generation, I really wondered what the usefulness of a blog. While I have a lot of experience, and often some insightful things to say, I resisted the idea of another “expert” on Africa imparting his/her wisdom to the world through a blog. But, the wonderful – and young, which is important in this context – staff in my office, Mame Khady Diouf, Aly Lyons, and Derek Langford, prevailed on me, not just about the role of modern social media today, but pointing out how this could become a platform for our valuable and expansive network of Africans who live these issues, circumstances, and impacts day-to-day. This was, therefore, their initiative, and they have taken the lead in designing and creating the Africa UP Close blog, albeit with the help of some very talented interns, particularly Roberta Kleekpo and Elise Barry.
The Africa Program and Leadership Project will rely on this broad network of African scholars and practitioners, as well as others who have vast experience working in Africa, as contributors to the blog. These invaluable connections were born of our work since 2002 in post-conflict resolution and peace building in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Liberia, and more recently incorporated Southern Voices Network of research and policy institutes from Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana, South Africa and Senegal. We will provide links to our African partner institutions so you, the reader, can broaden your resource base.
We will be featuring weekly coverage of news events and roundups, a regular monthly feature on “Lessons From the Field,” a monthly message from our African colleagues, a “bulletin” board for exchanging views and sharing opportunities, occasional feature stories, and the musings of my staff and me from time-to-time. We will seek to focus on larger issues like conflict, conflict resolution and prevention, transitional justice, food security, trade and development, infrastructure development , environmental and climate change issues, the diaspora and “brain drain,” governance, women and their role in leadership, public health, security, and social dimensions like sports, music, theater, and dance. However, subject matter will not be limited and we will also welcome stories of the human experience and day-to-day life and struggle. While “Africa UP Close” will probe the academic, research, science, and technology dimensions of the continent’s contribution to global advancement, we will have no advocacy or political agenda. However, those who do will be encouraged to write for us. Beyond the politics and policy, “Africa UP Close” will also reflect what Africa is today and how Africans think and view the world from their perspective. We believe that in this way, “Africa UP Close” can offer something truly unique. We hope you will find it of as much interest to read, as we will to produce.
One last note is to say that what we are embarking on with this blog is very much in the legacy of those who have gone before us in the Africa Program and LEAD Project here at the Wilson Center. Gilbert Khadiagala was the first Director of the Africa Program, who is currently the Jan Smuts Professor of International Relations and Head of the Department of International Relations at the University of Witswatersrand in Johannesburg. Gilbert remains very involved and hopefully will be an occasional contributor. The second Director and mentor was former Congressman and Ambassador Howard Wolpe. He led us in expanding the horizons of what was possible, launched our work in post-conflict resolution, reconciliation, and peace-building, and created the LEAD Project. He was a visionary and advocate for Africa who is unparalleled today. He passed away in 2011, but remains our inspiration today. We dedicate this blog to both Howard and Gilbert for their pioneering leadership.Welcome to “Africa UP Close.”