I was sitting on the plane to Uganda with a Belgian carpet salesman next to me. He leaned over and asked where I was going. I told him Kampala.
"Ah," he said, "Africa!" He shook his head like he'd never heard anything so sad. "You see the way they kill each other?"
"Um, yeah," I said, not sure what else to say.
"They blame us! And, okay, we did some not-so-good things. But it's been a long time, and they're still killing each other!"
"Why do you think that is?" I asked.
He shrugged. "Do you have a better explanation than it's a little..." He chose his words carefully, "...a little in their system?''
I sat back in my seat. Actually, I didn't have a belter explanation. At least not the simple one everyone seems to grasp for when Africa comes up. Something about that word and that place unleashes the inner anthropologist in every Westerner. It becomes a Rorschach test in which we see the worst of humanity: Death. Misery. Despair.
Yet while Africa has its problems, there are also huge swaths of the continent not at war, where cows are being tended, kids are going to school, songs are being sung and things are just normal. But we seldom hear about those places.
There are many reasons for this, including media coverage, old stereotypes and plain lack of contact. But there's also the fact that in 2006, half of the world's high-intensity conflicts were in Africa. And according to a 2007 Oxfam report, the continent lost about $18 billion a year to these conflicts since 1990. A...