Editor’s Note: African Tales
February 28, 2011 |  by Catherine Pierre

News out of Africa these days seems at best a mixed bag, at worst horrific. As this issue of Johns Hopkins Magazine was headed to press, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had stepped down and military rulers had instituted martial law; the potential of a new democracy is promising, but stories along the way of protesters and journalists being detained, beaten, or killed have been scary. Southern Sudan had just voted to secede from the North, but only after years of civil war and genocide. Charles Taylor was boycotting the war crimes trial against him; the former president of Liberia is accused of commanding rebels in Sierra Leone in the 1990s, and witness testimony has involved stories of slave labor, cannibalism, rape, and other acts of brutality. Tales of poverty, disease, corrupt leadership, and civil unrest seem unending.

Around Johns Hopkins, however, we often hear different kinds of stories about Africa—from researchers who’ve worked there, from students who were born there, and from alumni who’ve turned their attention there since graduating. Those stories can be full of good people and meaningful interactions, of progress, and of hope for the future. In “African Studies” (page 28), this issue’s three-part special section focusing on the continent, we wanted to share some of those stories with readers.

With that in mind, senior writer Michael Anft conducted interviews with a handful of researchers based in various African countries (“Into Africa,” page 30). Their subjects of study are along the lines you’d expect—HIV/AIDS, for example, or saving the lives of pregnant women and newborns—and those issues continue to present huge challenges. However, Mike found that these researchers were not just dedicated to a cause; they were inspired and changed by the Africans with whom they lived and worked. In writing about Africa’s seeming “paradox of plenty,” associate editor Dale Keiger writes that Nitze School of Advanced International Studies’ Peter M. Lewis, an expert on Nigeria, is optimistic about that country’s future despite its continued inability to parlay oil revenues into a healthy economic system (“The Curse of the Golden Egg,” page 38). Finally, freelancer Brennen Jensen found all kinds of interesting facts and perspectives from all around Johns Hopkins (“20 Questions: Africa Edition,” page 42).

Taken together, our stories don’t prove the daily news accounts wrong. But they do fill in the picture a little better. They also show just how far-reaching and varied the Johns Hopkins community’s collective efforts are when it comes to helping Africans solve all those problems you read about in the papers.