I was in Africa last month capturing footage for an upcoming documentary entitled "Africa and the World."
My interests in Africa are connected to my efforts to understand my roots and to demystify my past. Intellectually, I am shocked by the general ignorance of all things African in American society. Since I decided to be a part of the solution to this problem, I have spent a great deal of time trying to understand what's going on in Africa.
The West proudly continues to offer assistance in the form of aid to Africa. As I write, money is being given to Africans in need of food, and NATO is delivering bombs on a regular basis to Libya.
However, during my recent visit I wasn't overwhelmed by the rampant famine and war. This is most likely because of where I visited. What I did see was change. In the past I have visited Ghana and Mali, and while both countries still have problems, there was hope in the air for Africa's future, and not just any old hope, but hope among Africans.
On my recent trip, I had unparalleled access to two different dimensions of African society. In Ghana, I spoke to several distinguished leaders about Africa's past and future that remains hidden to the West. In Mali, I listened to Griots sing historical songs about a great Africa that its people proudly revere.
What are the connections between these two dimensions?
My conversation with former Ghanaian President John Kufuor, recent recipient of the World Food Prize, and my conversation with the Honorable Samia Nkrumah, current Member of Parliament in Ghana, captured the connection between Africa's Cold-War-dominated past and the current realities of new African politics. They speak of hope and innovation regarding Africa's future and were not defeated by the headlines proclaiming famine and war. They are part of Africa's post-Cold-War leadership, which is more responsive to the people's well-being than loyalty to the East or the West.
The perennial presence of the Griot in Malian society reminds me of an Africa that lit up the world through its pre-colonial empires. The Griots' message added a strong caution that leaders are only as good as their results, and if their results are hunger or war, then the nature of their leadership is revealed.
Don't get me wrong: I fully appreciate the benefits of Western aid in helping address some of Africa's problems. Some might even say that the West owes Africa a big debt because of slavery, colonialism or what have you.
However, while the realities of hunger and war are shocking, I believe Africans themselves will provide the solutions to these social problems. Western aid is only a Band-Aid to a social disease, the cure for which only African efforts can provide. There is no mystery in how to stop hunger and war; in fact, the solutions are always delayed because of a fight over political power.
My trip was about discovering solutions to African's problems, and in a shocking revelation, I was informed that what Africa needs most from the West is neither food nor bombs but our understanding.