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Nelson Mandela’s Missed Opportunity for African Economic Integration

Late in former South African President Nelson Mandela’s historic career, my editors at the New York Times asked me to leave my assigned region of West and Central Africa and take up temporary residence in Johannesburg to report from there until another reporter arrived to take up a new assignment covering South Africa.

This was in 1995. The aged Mandela was already visibly slowing down, and this was already a time of intense jockeying over a future when people with his prestige and unassailable moral standing would no longer be running the country. As positive as my editors were about the way Mandela had governed after leading negotiations to end apartheid, some of my predecessors at the Times urged me to be on the lookout for what one of them called the return of “real Africa.”

That formula grated on me. I understood it to signify that South Africa was an outlier on its continent—a country that had built great…

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