Letter: Signs of hope in Africa's conflicts

Sir: Your correspondent Richard Dowden, commenting on events in Rwanda ('A wound at the heart of Africa', 11 May), is highly pessimistic with good reason. It is difficult to be other than pessimistic where ethnic strife engulfs a nation. (Why do we always refer to ethnic conflicts in Africa, with pejorative overtones, as tribal conflicts?)

However, pessimism in relation to caring for refugees is less warranted. Africa has a large proportion of the world's refugees, and much experience in dealing with them. Many African countries have refugee populations from neighbouring states that would cause European countries to panic and throw up barriers to 'maintain security'. Though international assistance is important, local initiative and self-help is vital.

Anyone who has travelled recently in Malawi will know that, for a long time, one in 10 of the population of that country was

a refugee from Mozambique - about 1 million people. Travelling the road from Dedza to Zomba, which for many miles is literally a few yards from the border, the scene was instructive. On the western side, Mozambique, there were scarcely two bricks standing. Every building was destroyed. On the eastern side, Malawi, hundreds of thousands of refugees lived in neat, thatched, African housing which bordered the road for miles. While they were fed with assistance from aid agencies, their lives depended on self-help over the years that the war persisted.

Africa is not a continent lost in despair. There is hope, and from within the continent itself. We do Africa a disservice to present it only as a basket case.

Yours faithfully,




12 March