Africa is a continent of innovation – Prof. Robert Hitchcock

When many people think of Africa, they think of conflict, disease and drought.

University of New Mexico professor Robert Hitchcock would like people to see the continent in a much different light.

“I’ll share a more positive view,” Hitchcock said of the presentation he will give to the Albuquerque International Association on Friday.

He said he won’t be ignoring the negative issues in Africa occurring in places such as Zimbabwe and Somalia, which he describes as complex.

But Hitchcock said many innovations are coming from the land of 54 countries, including some that are being implemented here.

Almost all African countries have climate change proposals they are working on,” he said.

Hitchcock said the countries have developed tree-planting, livestock and wildlife management strategies that are community based. He said some of the countries south of the Sahara have developed some of the most effective early warning drought systems in the world.

Some of the measures involving livestock, wildlife and drought management are being put into practice in the Great Plains and the Southwest, he said.

“We’re seeing it in Nebraska, Montana and here in New Mexico,” Hitchcock said. “A lot of what they’re doing is being applied here.”

Africa is involved heavily in the application and use of digital technologies, artificial intelligence, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles such as drones (for use in wildlife conservation and monitoring), mobile banking and the widespread use of cellphones.

He also said several countries are transitioning toward democracy, with leaders who have held power for years giving way to new leadership, “although not all countries in Africa are democracies.”

Countries such as Sierra Leone and Rwanda have been engaged in successful conflict management and conflict resolution efforts, and they are world leaders in post-conflict reconstruction and transitional justice initiatives, he said.

More new embassies are opening up in Africa than any other continent, primarily by European, Latin American and Asian countries. The United States used to be the biggest investor on the continent, now China is, Hitchcock said. But he said reports that China is in control of the continent is a misconception.

“China has built a lot of infrastructure,” Hitchcock said, “but more African countries are demanding that the Chinese companies observe strict environmental, social, and labor standards.”

Hitchcock is a research professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico and an adjunct professor of geography and spatial sciences at Michigan State University. Hitchcock is an applied cultural anthropologist and human ecologist who has spent much of his professional career working on issues facing current and former hunters and gatherers and agropastoral peoples, particularly in Africa.


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