Are better times finally ahead for Africa?
Much of Africa needs to recover from the effects of not one, but two different kinds of lost generations, says Nontombi Naomi Tutu, the daughter of South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and a noted social crusader in her own right.
The first left unfilled leadership needs. The promise of the leaders who took their countries into independence, most of them about 50 years ago, rapidly gave way to "a preponderance of leaders who are intent on their own personal aggrandizement and enrichment, rather than truly the care of their countries and their people," Tutu told me in an interview. Thus, "My generation and my parents' generation had a number of leaders who carried on the colonial perception of 'The country is mine. My personal property.'"
Africa's second lost generation is even more tragic. "When you talk about HIV/AIDS on the continent, you are talking about a different kind of lost generation," Tutu said. "You are talking about people who have died."
Africa is a huge continent -much larger, more populous, and more culturally diverse than North America. So there's no simple, single vision of what comes next.
"On one hand we are talking about the [violence-racked] Democratic Republic of Congo and on the other hand places like Mozambique or Angola, which are in a truly transitional phase in terms of people's empowerment and life expectancy," she said.
Looking at the progress in those last two places - both of them recently enmeshed in brutal civil wars, but now both dramatically improving -gives her hope that when things start to turn around it can happen fast.
And looking at and talking to a younger generation of young Africans gives her hope that, in many places on the continent, things are indeed starting to turn around. "I still get very frustrated," she confided. "But then I meet a group of these young people, and listen to their discussions and debates amongst themselves. And I have to believe they are the change we have been waiting for. ...
"I think we are actually close to the tipping point, that we have a generation of young people who are basically saying, 'This is enough.' "They are saying, 'We are from one of the world's richest and most beautiful continents. And yet our continent is continually beset with wars and poverty. And we are a continent with some of the world's most amazing people, and yet we are a continent that is continually fighting oppression.' "When I see these young people I believe they are the ones who are the true inheritors of the movement for independence in Africa."
The younger generation holds similar promise for the continent to make progress in her own field, human rights, as well as against its other great scourge - HIV/AIDS which is believed to infect more than 22 million in sub-Saharan Africa. "In terms of health and life expectancy, and access to food and shelter, we are, on the whole, moving forward - if you take away AIDS. And even in the context of HIV and AIDS, we are seeing people active in talking about prevention, talking about access to medication, and talking about the responsibility of governments and health systems to take care of their citizens."
Life expectancy and human rights are intertwined, she said. A new generation of Africans is growing up aware of the problems they face and of basic things such as their right to government services that meet their needs and their right, especially for women, to safe sex.
"Not to try to to make out that African young people are all the saviours of the continent. There are young people I wouldn't want near any political, or any kind of power. But many, many of the young people I meet are very aware of the challenges of their communities and very aware of their rights. And they and the ones who come after them are going to live longer than their grandparents."