Connie Freeman, IDRC's Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa
This text originally appeared in IDRC's
2006-2007 Annual Report.
Too often, says Connie Freeman
, when people in the North attempt to understand Africa, they reach for a tired script with a well-worn plot and a predictable ending.
This standard scenario casts Africa as a continent largely beyond hope.
But IDRC's Nairobi-based Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa has seen subtle shifts that hint at a different story.
Recent solid economic growth rates in many African countries - while far from a guarantee that poverty rates will fall - nonetheless provide a promising platform for social progress and an opportunity for Africa to finally put the effects of the debt crisis behind it.
Another positive sign is the growing public impatience with poor governance that Freeman
believes has helped propel several countries toward more open and accountable leadership.
"People are tired of military dictatorships, autocracies, being told what to do, being scared, having war all the time," she
So while in the past the standard response to corruption, for example, was that "everybody shrugged their shoulders," the mood has now changed.
A new set of public expectations, Freeman
believes, may well have contributed to the current reality wherein "you have more countries in Africa today with representative government of one sort or another than ever in the history of Africa."
sees Africans' strengthened desire to direct their own futures as reflected in the fact, for example, that Kenya's national budget has for several years contained no donor funding.
South Africa similarly rejected funding from the international financial institutions (directly following the end of the apartheid era), so as not to be bound by the external conditions accompanying such funds.
is well positioned to contribute to Africa's development within this new context since many of those emerging conditions have themselves been cornerstones of the Centre's programming.
"Unlike other donor or assistance agencies, IDRC
funds research that is done by Africans, conceived on the continent, and rooted in the local reality," says Freeman
"What we have always done is provide support and capacity building for Africans to run their own development process."
also notes that improving standards of governance has been an important area of concern for IDRC
: with the end of autocracy in Kenya, for example, IDRC
backed a research program on transitions to democracy that focused in large measure on ethics in government and anti-corruption policy.
"People in Africa have already accommodated themselves to climate change over time," explains Freeman
: "We need to figure out ways to make urban living more acceptable and less lethal."
To that end, two Focus Cities projects in different regions of Africa - one in Kampala, Uganda, and another in Dakar, Senegal -are taking a systems approach to overlapping issues such as urban agriculture, environmental management, employment, and public services.
Part of the objective is to find the positive potential in negative circumstances: creating safe ways to use wastewater as fertilizer for urban crops, for instance, would solve two problems and lead to a net social gain.
is convinced that research is a particularly important commodity at a time when Africans are trying to forge a new future.
"There are many different types of transitions underway," she