01/05/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Was There Good News from Africa in 2008?

Headlines from Africa in 2008 recounted brutal riots in Kenya, a war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and election-driven chaos in Zimbabwe. But there was also good news. The International Monitory Fund has estimates economic growth for sub-Saharan Africa in 2008 at 6%, compared to global growth rates of 3 or 4% -- a good sign given global food and fuel price shocks in the last year. Relative peace in former conflict zones like Cote D'Ivoire, Mozambique, Rwanda is noteworthy. In fact, President Bush announced the reopening of the Peace Corps in Rwanda this February, 14 years after the genocide forced the offices to close. This year not only marked a number of peaceful presidential and parliamentary elections, but improvements in governance, public health and environmental protection.

As noted in the Washington Diplomat, Botswana and Mauritius have led the continent in successful reforms. Both are strong electoral democracies that have combated corruption and have the highest per capita income. Botswana has received the highest credit rating from Moody's and Standard & Poor (two of the leading international credit agencies). Mauritius is the second most improved economy according to the 2008 Heritage Foundation Index. Botswana and Mauritius have shown that multiparty electoral democracies are alive and well in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) made news this year, showing its determination to hold accountable those who commit crimes against humanity. The ICC arrested Jean-Pierre Bemba, a rebel leader from the Central African Republic (CAR) for crimes against humanity and war crimes. Bemba allegedly gave orders for murder, rape, sexual mutilation, torture and even cannibalism while leading the rebel army of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo. The ICC prosecutor also hinted his next target could be Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir, by asking ICC judges to indict al-Bashir for war crimes committed in Darfur.

On the public health front, there was welcome news in the fight against malaria, a disease which kills nearly 3 million people a year. The World Health Organization reported in 2008, that its new 3-pronged attack plan has demonstrated remarkable results. Trials in Rwanda and Ethiopia are the first to show a greater than 50% reduction in malaria deaths. The plan includes widespread distribution of long lasting insecticidal mosquito bed nets, indoor artemsinin-based insecticide sprays, and preventive pregnancy treatment.

Those fighting HIV/AIDS in Africa debated controversial new studies associating male circumcision with lower incidence of HIV/AIDS. Researchers presented results from three African trials at the AIDS 2008 Conference in Mexico City showing a 50-60% drop in HIV/AIDS infection in men, ages 12-30. As a result of the findings the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS now recommends the provision of safe circumcision services in targeted countries. But the technique has its critics. Many in the public health community question the reliability of these trials. The next few years will likely yield more studies before the debate is settled.

And there is hope that the international community can help constrain environmentally damaging practices in Africa. In June, the world's largest fund dedicated to combating deforestation was launched. The Congo Basin Fund, is co- chaired by Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathal and former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. Its creation is the latest step taken in the international legal campaign to end illegal logging. Charlotte Walker, a Yale PhD candidate in African Studies, cautiously declares,

"international treaties and alliances formed by Central African governments such as Cameroon, Gabon, and Congo-Brazzaville have led to increased safeguards of Congo Basin forests. The engagement of governments, private enterprise, and multilateral institutions in the process of monitoring forest zones and allocating resources towards countering corruption, bribery, and illegal logging contracting has yielded initial signs of progress."

This development comes on the heels of stronger compliance with international forestry law. Perhaps most promising is the idea that a successful anti-foresting framework could be used as a model for other anti-corruption initiatives in Africa.

Looking to 2009, Obama's appointment of Dr. Susan Rice as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations is also noteworthy. The former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs was a strong advocate for increased U.S. to support of the peacekeeping effort in Sudan. Her commitment to establishing diplomatic channels with sub-Saharan Africa suggests more good news to come.