Gault Book Details 'Africa's Renaissance'

Cover of 'New News Out of Africa'

Charlayne Hunter-Gault's book finds promise in an often-troubled region. hide caption

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Charlayne Hunter-Gault, NPR's special correspondent in Africa, has written a book called New News Out of Africa: Uncovering Africa's Renaissance. She tells Farai Chideya about it.

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ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon, and this is NEWS AND NOTES.

NPR's Special Africa correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault's new book, New News Out of Africa: Uncovering Africa's Renaissance, chronicles modern day life and the changes happening on the continent.

Charlayne recently spoke with NPR's Farai Chideya about the book and its message of hope and progress.

FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:

You've been living on and off the continent, spending much of your time there for years now, mainly based in South Africa, but traveling all over the place. Just speaking as an American - I guess, expat or quasi expat - tell us what your daily life is like and what makes it different than living in the U.S.?

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT reporting:

Well, it depends on where I am. I mean, Africa - as you and I know from the work that you and I do on this show - is a vast continent with so many different ethnicities, eccentricities, different kinds of cultural practices and backgrounds of its people.

Living in Johannesburg, I must say, is pretty much like living in any American city. It has shopping malls, it has myriad theatres and movie houses and coffeehouses. And I enjoy living in a lovely home, in a lovely suburb. But that is not the Africa that generally exists for most Africans.

I was also just in Tanzania, Malawi, and various other countries on the continent where there is extreme poverty, where none of the resources and riches of the country are filtering down to the people - where the women are the deepest in poverty, the poorest of the poor. And where no matter what you look at, what kind of story you're reporting, eventually, AIDS is going to sideswipe it. So there is all of that. And yet, in my book, I try to talk about the people who are waging heroic struggles against even that.

CHIDEYA: You have a lot of examples of hope, but in this book, you also talk about baby rape. You talk about political poisonings and assassinations. Do you worry that the examples that you put in of the brutality and of the death and of the other deeds of the apocalypse undermine your thesis that Africa is moving forward, or do you feel compelled to put them in to see what people are struggling against?

HUNTER-GAULT: Well, of course, I was just at a conference in the Dead Sea, Jordan, and the first lady of Rwanda, Jeanette Kagame, was there. And Rwanda is going full steam ahead, entering the global arena with Internet technology, with people feeling more space to get out there and help rebuild their country. So while there are still problems and still not enough persecution -prosecution of the genociders who committed the genocide and the process many say is going too slowly, it's happening and the country is coming back.

I mean, she even said that she would love to host a conference about freedom of the press because her country, as president - the president of her country and the government has been accused, on occasion, of being hostile to journalists. So there's that.

And then, you know, these other things don't just go away overnight. I mean, when we look at the evolution of the United States of America, you know that it is not - the road to democracy is not an easy one. We only - black Americans only got their full civil rights over a period of time. And, even then, it took the revolution in the '60s here to solidify those rights and end Jim Crow in the American South.

So, you know, I sometimes think that we look at Africa through a different prism than our own, and we forget the struggles that Americans had to reach. I mean, we're not even yet at full equality. And so, you know, many of the problems that Africa has now with this new generation of leaders, with this newly energized civil society, with people who are saying - you know, like the movie Network, we're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore - I mean, there is a new vibrancy among those who want to see a renaissance in the continent.

CHIDEYA: You yourself are a journalist, a very well-known one, and you've met a lot of African journalists in your travels across the continent. Explain to me kind of the difference of how things played out in Ghana as opposed to Zimbabwe in some recent elections and what roles journalists played in that?

HUNTER-GAULT: Well, of course, Ghana is a classic example of this new generation of African journalists who are trying to take control of their own story, and yet also trying to make sure that it's not just some PR campaign that they conduct. They understand that journalism is a part of the democratic project.

So that in Ghana, for example, the journalists fanned out throughout the country. They spotted illegalities. They called them in to their radio stations. In the last election, they even saw examples of ballot boxes and ballot counting not going right. And they were doing their own so that they were able to hold the government accountable for the election process. Whereas in Zimbabwe, there is such a crackdown on the media. Sometimes, it even brings tears to my eyes.

I just heard from a young journalist there the other day who calls me occasionally, and they have been just all but wiped out. I mean, many of them still try to do it like they did it in the old days during Apartheid. They call them guerilla typewriters where they worked underground. And so they're doing that, but they're doing it with a new technology. They work on their old, beaten down, battered computers, and they sneak into Internet cafes at night and download their material to the Internet so that people can see what's going on.

But the government has been very effective in closing the democratic space in the country, and that includes the space for freedom of expression. But again, the new news is that people aren't giving up. They're working against incredible odds, including incarceration, including brutality and torture. But they're just determined to do their jobs, and I just think that is part of the new news out of Africa that says that there is hope for the continent.

CHIDEYA: Charlayne Hunter-Gault, thank you so much.

HUNTER-GAULT: Thank you, Farai.

GORDON: That was NPR's Farai Chideya speaking with Charlayne Hunter-Gault, NPR special Africa correspondent. Her new book is titled New News out of Africa: Uncovering Africa's Renaissance.

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Uncovering Africa's Renaissance

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