This story is not about the Africa you think you know. The usual images are painted in the darkest colors. At the end of the 20th century, we are repeatedly reminded, Africa is a nightmarish world where chaos reigns. Nothing works. Poverty and corruption rule. War, famine and pestilence pay repeated calls. The land, air, water are raped, fouled, polluted. Chronic instability gives way to lifelong dictatorship. Every nation's hand is out, begging aid from distrustful donors. Endlessly disappointed, 740 million people sink into hopelessness.
That portrait is real, all right, in places like Nigeria, Somalia, Burundi, Sudan, Kenya. But it is no longer the whole picture. Academics, diplomats and bankers who do business there talk seriously these days about an African renaissance. A grand word, it turns out, for the slow, fragile, difficult changes that are giving the continent a second chance. But the description fits. Out of sight of our narrow focus on disaster, another Africa is rising, an Africa that works: the Africa of Mozambique and Mali and Eritrea and Ghana, of South Africa and Uganda, Benin and Botswana, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Tanzania.
What's new is how some nations are figuring out ways to harness their natural and human resources into working models of development, even while others cannot. What's new is the astonishing extent to which ordinary Africans are searching out their own paths to progress. What's new is how much of the still limited prosperity and security they have managed to acquire is homegrown--political and economic advances rooted in the soil of local culture. What's new is that the enduring example of Nelson Mandela has heartened all Africans with a fresh vision of leadership, how men of their own kind can be admired, respected, even emulated.
For so long the victim of historical circumstance, Africa is finally a beneficiary. The end of the cold war freed countries from 30-odd years of disastrous involvement in the superpowers' proxy conflicts. Old ideologies crumbled, taking with them the failed socialist methods of Marx and opening the way to capitalist reforms. The demise of apartheid gave the continent a huge psychological--and economic and political--boost. A generation of African leaders who grew up to despise the exploitation of postcolonial dictators and kleptocrats has begun to supplant them.
In recognition of all that, Bill Clinton set off last Sunday on the first extensive tour of Africa by a sitting U.S. President. His aim is to cast a high-wattage spotlight on the continent's emerging democracies, economic growth and social progress and to promote a new relationship with the U.S. Of course, the Administration also sees a largely untapped market and wants to encourage American businessmen to get there first. Africans hope Clinton will show them that the U.S. is ready to be a partner instead of patron.
The good news in Africa is less in such momentary gestures than in the small stories of steady progress made, the handiwork of hundreds and thousands of individuals laying foundations for a better future. Two TIME correspondents recently spent a month traveling in four countries to look at the many ways in which Africa actually works.
Let's first stipulate some common truths. By any Western standard, Mozambique, Eritrea, Mali and Ghana are countries in awful straits. Their statistics still show an abysmal record of poverty, illiteracy, early mortality. While all four have achieved a dose of national economic success, with higher growth rates, lower inflation and more stable currencies that flow from obedience to stringent International Monetary Fund reform programs, they have yet to see their growing wealth trickle down very far. For ordinary citizens, daily hardships are intense: few jobs, few schools, few hospitals, poor diets, rising prices, no money. For the majorities of these populations that are ill fed, ill clothed, illiterate and just plain ill, what Mozambicans dubbed the "years of cabbage" are not over.
Let us also acknowledge that for every optimistic tale we tell, even these countries can tell 10 times as many despairing ones. Nevertheless, each of these countries is moving ahead, and what we discovered was the reasons--some unique, some replicable--they are doing so.
What are the eyes of a child soldier supposed to look like? Felfiel Manhica's are downcast and blank in a face that rarely smiles. He is 22 now, still undersize and boyish, but he was just 13 when rebel Renamo soldiers crept into the hamlet of Taninga before dawn in 1988 to steal food and took him too. They threatened to execute him, armed him with an AK-47 assault rifle and turned him into a pitiless killing machine aimed at his family, friends and neighbors on the government side of Mozambique's civil war. "They told me I must fight in order to eat," he stutters, loath to recall those years. "I killed people. I saw their faces when I hurt them." He cannot look a questioner in the eyes. "Now," says this boy-man who subsists by cutting bamboo, "life is good, because I don't have the heavy heart of a fighter."
Not long before the ruling Frelimo government signed a peace accord with Renamo in October 1992, Felfiel escaped and walked for three days back to Taninga. The village allowed him to undergo the forgiving rites of traditional cleansing. Felfiel's mother went to the spiritual guardian for a muti, a physical and psychological purgative. It took three days for Felfiel to vomit up the "bad things" he had done and earn atonement. After the cleansing, Felfiel stopped having nightmares, and his neighbors embraced him once again.
Call it witchcraft if you like, but such rural healing is a major reason that nearly 95,000 demobilized soldiers and 5 million refugees have been absorbed back into society. In less than five years, Mozambique (pop. 18 million) has forged cohesion out of the animosities that tore it apart. The revered practices of communal tradition have succeeded, better than any modern forms of psychotherapy, in restoring a sense of unity to Mozambique's deeply riven clans. "National reconciliation started in the communities themselves," says Roberto Chavez, the World Bank director in Mozambique. "They were the main factor in bringing the country back together."
The Frelimo government was smart enough to help too. Anxious about the potential for trouble from 90,000 unemployed guys with guns, it contracted with the United Nations to develop a plan that would rapidly resettle soldiers and refugees in their home villages. In 1994 the government and donor countries scraped together $20 million to pay all demobbed soldiers a minimum salary for two years to help them rebuild their shambas (farms) and restock their corrals. "We wanted to get them out of the military and make them civilians right away," explains Sam Barnes, a program administrator. "We wanted the soldiers to be part of rebuilding the country from the ground up."
Recovery from the ravages of war is the baseline against which Mozambique's progress must be measured. Almost from the day the former Portuguese colony won independence in 1975, it was dragged into a vicious struggle between its new rulers, the Marxist Mozambique Liberation Front, known as Frelimo, and a rebel movement called Renamo that was trained, armed and supplied mostly from sources in South Africa. Sixteen years of guerrilla warfare devastated the country. A million men, women and children died. Two million people fled across the borders; 3 million more moved off their farms into safer urban enclaves. When hostilities ceased, some 2 million unmapped mines laid waste the nation's arable lands.
That is where more rural magic comes into play. The newest local healer lumbers into the countryside on 17 tons of armor plate and giant steel wheels. The Frelimo government has invested its scarce cash to bring in a fleet of Casspir demining vehicles, operated by a private subsidiary of the South African army, to get rid of the mines that keep farmers and herders off the country's lush lands.
As fast as the vehicles roll over the acres around Sabie, west of the capital of Maputo, destroying the mines, the farmers stream in behind, planting corn and squash, grazing goats and cows. Francisco Mucavele is one of them. For 10 years he was confined within the perimeter of the little settlement of Chavane, bounded by fear of the minefields. "We felt like prisoners in the village," he says. "Now I can go anywhere I want."
Standing among corn shoots already knee high, Francisco waves toward other fields where the telltale puffs of black smoke show mines detonating beneath the Casspir's wheels and talks of planting there too. Then he can not only feed his family of seven children but also sell for a profit. "As we get our land back, we can cultivate more and graze more cows. Then maybe we can get roads, and trucks will come to take our food to market. And then the stores and clinics will come back," he says. Already his younger children can go to school again, and a midwife has moved into the village.
The essential first step for African nations is the step back from the edge of famine. The Mozambicans are doing other things right too. Theirs is a people's peace, driven by popular refusal to continue the conflict and a fierce determination to live a normal life. Today political stability--though not much democracy--has been achieved through the government's policy of "no victor, no vanquished." Four years ago, Renamo elected impressive numbers to the national assembly; now it has a stake in running the country, and hostilities find voice mainly as parliamentary debate. Frelimo jettisoned its socialist economic credo by 1989 and decided not only to adopt market-based capitalism but to take the bitter IMF-ordered medicine required for international investment.
What really fuels Mozambique's climb, though, is the energy of individuals tackling problems from the bottom up. Take the "Italian roads." Instead of paying foreign companies for expensive foreign-built, high-maintenance asphalt roads, local authorities are copying a cheap labor-intensive, low-tech alternative pioneered in Italy: roads constructed of small, handmade stone or concrete pavers that can be laid directly on the sandy soil and individually replaced when rains wash them out.
Or take the little restaurant on the beach at Xia Xia, a great sweep of sand running for miles north of Maputo. Nuno Fonseca and his second wife Paola spent the war years in Maputo but came back to her largely destroyed hometown in early 1994. Once there were swank hotels along the strand for tourists. "When we got here there was nothing, nothing," says Nuno.
He "saw opportunity in abundance" and told the government he wanted to set up a campground on the beach, maybe a little restaurant. He brought in water and electric lines, put up a concrete toilet-shower building, then opened for business. Now he owns a caravan park, 12 rental bungalows and the restaurant, and he has plans for more. "I'm very confident about the future," says Nuno. "No one is interested in war ever again." As he sips a coffee, he muses, "You know, a lot of people here are trying to do things just like me. Sure, the government can help, but we've got to start taking care of ourselves."
By logic, the nation of Eritrea (pop. 3 million) should not exist. The secessionist province's independence fighters ought never to have defeated Ethiopia in their 30-year-long struggle. They were outmanned, outgunned, abandoned or betrayed by every ally; their cause was hopeless. They won by force of character, a unity and determination so steely not all the modern armaments, superpower support or economic superiority of Ethiopia could withstand it. The spirit that saw the Eritreans through 10 years in the trenches of their mountain redoubt at Nakfa has built them a nation from scratch, since independence was finally consummated in 1993.
The emergence of Eritrea as a working state in so short a time is a remarkable testament to self-reliance. "We learned the hard way," says President Issaias Afewerki, the rebel leader turned chief executive, "that our own sense of purpose, our own unity, our own organized capabilities were the only things that we could count on to succeed." Alone in Africa, Eritrea carries little debt and accepts virtually no foreign assistance. Over the past four years, it has asked all but six aid providers to leave, including Oxfam and every religious organization. "It's not that we don't need the money," says Issaias, "but we don't want the dependence." Aid, he says, subsidizes but corrupts the government, blocks innovative solutions to problems, so that people do not seek out and use their own resources.
Just the physical improvements are impressive. All the rusted metal detritus of battle has been swept up into neat piles waiting to be recycled into rail lines, girders and tools. Men and women break rock by hand to repave the highway that spirals down 7,000 ft. from the capital of Asmara to the seaport of Massawa. Workers trained by the grandfathers who built the railroad in the '30s lay reforged rails back toward Asmara; they have completed 26 miles in two years and cunningly restored the country's two 1938 Italian steam engines.
What sets Eritrea apart is the self-sacrificing character of its people, the thousands like Olga Haptemariam who rely solely on their own gumption. We meet her behind the counter of the building-supply shop she has opened in Massawa, striving to capitalize on the construction boom resuscitating this shattered equatorial port. "It's my own business," she says, pointing to the stacked cans of paint and tools lining the shelves. "It is doing very well, very nice." She can't wait to expand. "When I get more money, I want to get more materials from Italy, China. If I can bring them in, I can improve this business fast."
Olga is a self-made woman. While her brother went to university, she was married off at 16, already pregnant. Two years ago, she sought a divorce and demanded 30,000 birr as alimony. Out of that she paid the 2,000 birr for a business license and 18,000 birr for the shop. She earns 3,000 or 4,000 birr a month, occasionally as much as 7,500. She can afford to send her daughter to a private school, preparing her to study abroad and become a "doctor for women." Olga vows never to remarry. "I think of business only," she says. "I want to make this business very big, and I can do that best myself."
Nothing symbolizes this nation's true grit better than the mountain retreat of Nakfa. There the near defeated rebel troops hewed out miles of rock trenches with bayonets and survived for 10 years beneath the shelling of the Ethiopian army. It still takes 10 hours in a four-wheel to drive the 137 miles from the capital over rugged mountain tracks. But Nakfa is a place of veneration akin to Valley Forge. "It reminds us forever of our resistance," says Zacharias, a teacher at the new technical school. The national emblem is the camel that carried supplies to Nakfa; the country's new currency, introduced in November to replace the Ethiopian birr, is called the nakfa. Despite Nakfa's 9,000-ft.-high chill and barren soil, the government is determined to turn this inhospitable locale into a regional magnet.
Many of the 10,000 current residents moved into their first concrete buildings just this year. Helping replace the city's tin huts are young people doing their national service. Every Eritrean male is required to spend six months in the army and 12 more working on rehabilitation projects. Up here, some are also planting trees to revive the blighted landscape. "I like doing it," says 24-year-old Daniel. "I teach people how to do things, and that is a way to develop our country fast."
In his blacksmith shop in the busy market town of Keren, Fikad Ghoitom explains the national attitude: show me, don't tell me; ingenuity applied to example; homegrown know-how. Fikad's brother saw a wood-cutting machine in an English magazine and forged one out of scrap metal. Down in the artisans' suq in Asmara, men in blue overalls don masks cut from cardboard to weld new pots from old oil tins and cooking braziers from rusted rods. The clang, hammer, sizzle of makeshift industry are everywhere as boys flatten old iron bars for their brothers to beat into new shovels.
Eritreans are extraordinarily dedicated to the public welfare. Doctors living abroad came back during the war as volunteer medics and still visit for six-month stints. Former fighters who went into the civil service took no pay for three years.
This is not Africa, people will tell you in Eritrea. What they mean is that the country is astonishingly free of the social plagues that taint much of the continent. There is no tribalism or sectarian division here. National pride supersedes loyalties to nine main ethnic groups, at least 10 languages, Islam and Christianity, in part the consequence of the rebels' insistence on mixing everyone together in its army units and now in national-service teams.
Egalitarianism is ingrained, reinforced in the days when army officers wore no insignia of their rank on their shoulders.
There is no begging, no corruption, virtually no crime. "We would not be so dishonorable," says Russon, an Asmara taxi driver. However poor they are, families share with the truly destitute. A fierce sense of personal rectitude makes thievery unthinkable. "It is not the police who prevent crime but the honor inside us," insists Fikad, the blacksmith. "The corruption is the lowest of any government I've ever worked for, including in Santa Rosa, Calif.," says Michael O'Neill, an American adviser to the Commercial Bank of Eritrea. "They will not tolerate it in any way, shape or form." During the war, the fighters were too desperate for money to put any into people's pockets, and that scrupulous use of every precious resource carries over into the government today.
What also sets Eritrea apart is the dedication to national purpose of its leader. President Issaias is one of Africa's new men, hammered into leadership by the rigors of long war. Though soft-spoken, he is stern, almost paternalistic in his confidence that he knows best. His government is firmly controlled, even secretive, yet people seem to admire him. He is sharp and decisive, says what is on his mind, accepts diplomatic criticism when he considers it right and rejects it when he doesn't. "What you hear is what you get," says O'Neill. "He doesn't dicker or pussyfoot."
The President has few doubts about his methods, even if they differ from those practiced in the rest of Africa. "We learned from the bad experiences of others," he says, "what is bad governance." He and his countrymen are determined to do better, on their own. "We are not rich; we do not have many resources; we are affected by things we cannot control. But we prefer to face our problems ourselves. If you teach someone to fish, instead of giving him fish, then he has a sustainable future." He turns his nearly impassive face toward the reporter. "This is difficult for people; it takes a long time," he says. "But in the long term, success can only come from inside us."
The story of Mali's ascent out of poverty begins at 6 a.m. on March 26, 1991. Then Lieut. Colonel Amadou Toumani Toure--called A.T.T. by everyone--went on the radio to announce that he had just arrested his commanding general, the nation's President, and taken control. "I said that as soon as minimum security was established we would organize elections," recalls Toure. "And as soon as the elections were held, we would go back to our barracks."
On April 26, 1992, after two rounds of voting widely judged to have been free and fair, civilian Alpha Oumar Konare was elected President, and A.T.T., now an immensely powerful and popular general, stepped down. Instead of returning to the barracks, he took on the job of fighting Guinea worm disease and now also mediates regional disputes.
In the 14th century Mali (pop. 11 million) was the biggest, richest empire in West Africa, encompassing all or part of Senegal, Gambia, Guinea and Mauritania, the legendary land of gold and learning, grower of cotton, source of salt, trader across the Sahara to all the countries of Europe. Almost 700 years later, the Republic of Mali found itself the fourth poorest country in the world, destroyed by tribal and religious wars, colonialism, crashing commodity prices, soaring fuel prices, bad weather, bad governments.
The dictatorial President Moussa Traore had run the country dismally for 23 years. "I made a coup," says Toure, "but sometimes you have to give a quick kick to democracy." Rare among Africa's military bosses, A.T.T. had the courage to return his country to civilian control. "I watched officers my age in other countries take over," he says. "These men came in to save their countries, then stayed 20 years. But when a country is well managed, the constitution is respected, no captain can come out of his barracks. The vaccination against a coup is good government."
Mali seems to have that under the guiding hand of Konare, its first ever popularly elected President. The 52-year-old former teacher and history Ph.D. once taught A.T.T. and served in the regime A.T.T. ousted, resigning in 1980 to join a clandestine democracy movement. "He understands human capital," says Tore Rose, head of the U.N. Development Program in Mali. "It's not the people themselves, but how they work with one another, and with groups and institutions."
The history of Mali is marked by the trust people have in these dealings, institutionalized in the traditional "palaver tree" approach to decision making, where village elders consult under a tree until a consensus is reached. Since its creation in 1993, Mali's Decentralization Mission has been educating the public about a modern democratic version of such local control. The country is divided into eight regions, 50 districts, 701 communes and thousands of villages. District chiefs are no longer appointed from the capital of Bamako but elected locally. Later this year, the communes will hold elections. "Reinforcing democracy," says President Konare, "means devolution of power to the communities."
Although CMDT, the Malian Company for the Development of Textiles, which monopolizes the country's cotton production, is state owned, it is decentralizing, transforming a money-losing dinosaur into an engine for local development. Putting cotton plants into rotation with cereal crops, CMDT not only grows higher-quality cotton but also keeps farmers producing less pricey but essential maize, millet, sorghum and rice. Says Chaka Berte, a CMDT management director: "The farmers are taking their cotton money and diversifying. Good for them. Good for Mali."
The profits have helped transform N'Tjinina, a hamlet of 49 families, 1,263 people, deep in the countryside southeast of Bamako. There are still no paved roads, no electricity, no running water anywhere in the district. But with help from its CMDT-sponsored village association, which bought insecticides, oxen and a weighing machine, the families regularly harvest bumper crops. Mali's Producers' Union, a rarity in Africa, negotiates with CMDT to set prices for the farmer, and the village association receives block earnings. Extra profits are pooled, and so far N'Tjinina has bought two water pumps and built three primary schools, paying the three teachers' salaries too. "Before, our children left the village," says N'Tjikoua Sangare. "Now they are staying."
Women have always labored twice as hard as men in Africa, tending house, raising children, harvesting their husbands' fields. When we met Awa Kone, she was watering, bucketful by bucketful, young banana and mango trees and small plots of onions, tomatoes and eggplants. This garden in the tiny 10-family settlement of Tenemakana is a cooperative moneymaker for the village wives. The women pool the profits and then loan out the money to each other at 9% interest. No woman has ever defaulted. When they have earned enough, Kone and her friends plan to build a clinic.
These credit schemes are giving village women their first independent source of cash. That is changing the societies they live in, turning tiny profits into wells, protective fences and, most important, schools. Since 1992, villagers have built and staffed 128 primary schools; with U.S. grants, an additional 447 local schools were opened. Today 46.5% of Mali's children attend primary school, and the literacy rate, 19% seven years ago, is now 32%. "I've never seen such effective community systems," says the U.S. Agency for International Development's Timm Harris.
Awa Kone is not surprised. "If you are educated," she says, "you can solve problems." For the first time in her life, such ideas are shared by the nation's leaders. A.T.T. has started a private foundation dedicated to the education and health of Mali's children. "Here in this country," he says, "everyone works for the community."
The rise and slump and rise again of Ashanti Goldfields, the only black-African-operated mining company on the New York and London stock exchanges, mimics the fortunes of Ghana itself. The British outpost in French-dominated West Africa lived well on its gold and cocoa exports until the production of both plummeted during the first two decades after Ghana's independence in 1957, under Kwame Nkrumah, one of the founding fathers of modern Africa. As Ashanti's output tumbled, the first sub-Saharan colony liberated from colonialism never did live up to Nkrumah's promise that "all else" would follow the act of uhuru, freedom.
The junior air-force flight lieutenant named Jerry Rawlings who seized power firmly in 1981 spouting Marxist rhetoric hardly seemed the man to turn things around. Yet within two years of his coup, Rawlings pirouetted to the right and embraced Adam Smith capitalism. It was the practical move of a military man wise to who had the money to help dig Ghana (pop. 18 million) out of its sinkhole. For the sake of foreign investment and IMF loans, he swallowed one of Africa's harshest doses of free-market medicine. The result: one of the most diversified economies in Africa and a more than embryonic middle class.
Rawlings also brought Sam Jonah into the boardroom. Jonah was the seventh child of 10; he grew up in Obuasi, site of Ashanti's richest gold mine. Jonah went down into the mine while awaiting a promised scholarship from Ashanti. "It was character forging," he says. "I know about teamwork, and I can still speak the mining slang." After study at University of Exeter's Camborne School of Mines, he returned to Obuasi, starting as a shift boss deep in the pits and working his way up--and out--the first black man to climb the ranks.
Rawlings chose Jonah in 1982 as deputy managing director of Ashanti, then owned 55% by the government and 45% by London's Lonrho Corp. "I didn't know him," says Jonah. "He just reached out for the highest-ranking Ghanaian." In 1986 Jonah rose to the top job, becoming, according to him, the only black African ceo of a multinational company. "The obstacle to there being more like me on this continent relates to one thing," says Jonah. "Ownership. If Rawlings had not taken a personal interest in the mining sector, the level of prejudice would have kept me underground forever. I still tell my Ghanaians," he adds, "'Don't accept no!'"
Under Jonah, Ghana has learned the art, rare in Africa, of managing its natural resources effectively. Ashanti has led the country's gold production to record highs. Floating public shares on the New York Stock Exchange in 1994, the government sold off 30% of its interest. Then Jonah went shopping, acquiring mining interests and prospecting rights in 15 other African states. Instead of confirming that any multinational company involving foreign owners will only exploit African labor and steal Africa's natural resources for the benefit of shareholders overseas, Rawlings and Jonah have turned Ashanti into a model for made-in-Africa industrialization.
Modernization is also the byword of Nat Nii Amar Nuno-Amarteifio, the mayor of Accra, a sprawling port city that in 20 years will be home to 50% of Ghana's population. Rawlings has just launched an ambitious plan known as Vision 2020, aimed at making Ghana a middle-income country by then. Part of that is spinning off responsibility for local governance to district assemblies, shifting the jobs of housing, feeding, educating and picking up the garbage of Ghana's population to trained technocrats like Nuno-Amarteifio. Local government was career exile before decentralization; now, says the mayor with gusto, "it is where reality catches up with even the best politicians. If we don't make things work here, then we become Liberia."
Nii Quaynor saw what modernization can do when he went to study computer science in the U.S. But when he returned home in 1969 to spread the technology gospel, "I was too advanced. Computer science was too new." Twenty-four years later, Quaynor finally hooked his country into the Web. In 1993 his company brought the Internet to West Africa, and in 1995 Ghana became the second sub-Saharan nation to have full connectivity. "We're sharing the same information as everyone else in the world," says Quaynor. His most prized client: President Rawlings, an avid Web surfer. Soon, Quaynor hopes, wireless technology will let the phone-short country leap straight into airborne access
Farsighted enterprise is also the business of women in Ghana, and the prospect of making money brought Sarah Galloway Hage-Ali back from a comfortable life in England. In 1994 Hage-Ali bought Accra-based Sapad Manufacturing Co., Ghana's only maker of sanitary napkins. Changing the company's name to Fay International, she revamped its marketing philosophy into an ambitious campaign to teach Ghana's often infected women to use her hygienic product. Only 15% to 20% of Ghanaian women use sanitary towels; genital ailments are among the most prevalent problems of women patients. In the past two years, the company has conducted more than 30 workshops, bringing its message to secondary schools, village associations, market traders.
Lucia Quachey, president of the Ghana Association of Women Entrepreneurs, is proud that Hage-Ali is showing the world the other side of the African woman. "Not just the woman with the child on her back, pregnant, wood on her head," she explains, "but the African women who operate computers, who employ people, who generate resources to help in the growth of the national economy." Those are the women Nana Konadu Agyemang Rawlings, Ghana's First Lady, has drawn into the biggest and best-organized women's association in Ghana, the 31st December Women's Movement, named after the day her husband took over the country. Before, she says, "we did not ask for our due; we were not politicized."
Five-year-old Fridous Abu Tofic is learning simple arithmetic along with 295 other preschoolers because the movement opened a day-care center in Nima, a Muslim enclave in one of Accra's poorest and most neglected neighborhoods. 31st December runs tree-planting programs, immunizes children, offers family-planning services and initiates rural-development projects. Once funded by foreign donors, it now gets 95% of its operating funds from income-generating programs, one of which provides the army with bread and a local staple called kenkey. The movement, claiming some 1.5 million members, even produces a children's television program. "We have changed the face of Ghanaian women," says Mrs. Rawlings.
You might call it a second-chance African revolution. What every country striding forward shows is that progress comes first to those who adopt the principles and practices of capitalist democracy. There are some common lessons here that any African nation can learn: free-market economics works, including privatization, entrepreneurship and often the stern measures of wholesale reform to jump-start failed economies. So does agricultural self-sufficiency, starting from the bottom up. And decentralization, spreading development outside urban capitals to the vast rural majority. And women's empowerment.
Other elements may be harder to acquire but are no less essential: Good governance, caring for the welfare of the people, not the potentates. New leaders, pragmatic and progressive, honest and efficient in their exercise of power. Eritrea's President Issaias is but one of them, along with South Africa's Nelson Mandela, Uganda's Yoweri Museveni, Rwanda's Paul Kagame, Botswana's Quett Ketumile Masire. National reconciliation where necessary, national cohesion everywhere, the sublimation of narrow loyalties to a larger good.
You will note that there is not yet much stable democracy. Mali is still struggling to institutionalize democratic practices, and Rawlings still runs Ghana after two questionable elections. Neither of these countries--along with Eritrea and Mozambique--qualifies as anything other than a one-party state, despite token oppositions. Many African leaders, good and bad, share Museveni's belief that real multiparty elections are a luxury these fragile states cannot afford until they have the education, the middle class, the rule of law and the firm economic base on which American-style democracy rests.
But it's easy to see only the Africa that's broken. While many of these countries cannot quite stand on their own, what they want from the West is no longer just a benefactor but a partner. Although the U.S. trade-liberalization bill passed two weeks ago by the House of Representatives is mostly symbolic in easing the terms for America's minuscule trade with Africa, it moves in the right direction of shifting aid from handouts to the development of sustainable economies.
There is a word we heard over and over in Africa: ubuntu. It's different in every dialect, but the meaning is always roughly the same: a complex, highly nuanced precept governing the way individuals relate to the community. Ubuntu is the organizing principle of the African mind, defining the pre-eminence of the interests of the community over the individual, the duties and responsibilities the individual owes the community, the obligation of the individual to share what he has with the community. It is both blessing and curse, the root of Africa's strong families and social customs and the root cause of its debilitating corruption and crime. Yet as the continent embraces Western ways, its people do not want to lose everything African. What we need to encourage--what Africa needs to make for itself--is lives and systems that mesh modernization with an African way of doing things. That's what works.
Photographs for TIME by Greg Marinovich and Christopher Morris