Everybody wants to read good news from Africa, and Via Meadia is no exception. Any signs that democracy and prosperity are making progress are welcome. To find some optimism for Africa amid the many ominous signs, a recent article in The Atlantic is a good start, and The Economist a good next stop.As both point out, growth on the continent, led by savvy technocrats and market-oriented economies, has been significant in many countries—they point to Angola, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Chad, Mozambique, Rwanda and others as fast-growing success stories. Countries are using their rich natural resources well and exporting vast amounts of copper, gold, platinum, fruit, coffee and of course oil. Even ones without much of these resources are finding success by cashing in on growth in technology and communications.The development in many countries is certainly something to be optimistic about, but it’s worth remembering sometimes that press coverage on Africa tends toward the over-optimistic. Those of us who’ve been around for several decades can remember wave after wave of gee-whiz reporting about reforms, elections and investments in Africa that somehow never quite pan out. There is a standard journalistic formula at work here: new hope for Africa stories regularly appear. The list of hopeful countries changes over time, but these hopeful signs never quite turn into the next South Korea or Chile.Africa’s problems are real and deep, and happy clappy reporting that conceals the stubborn nature of the continent’s problems is ultimately both patronizing and unhelpful. Just over a month ago Via Meadia revisited global trends to monitor in the coming decade, one being the problem of uneven development, and more specifically the dysfunctional growth and governance across Africa. To provide some examples of that dysfunction, one need only revisit recent blog posts outlining rampant South African corruption, the rough road ahead for both Sudans and the difficulty of bringing aid to the neediest. The failed states Somalia and the “Democratic” Republic of the Congo, Senegal’s elections that suggest democracy there is not the pride of Africa as it was once thought to be, and of course Nigeria’s many ethnic, regional, economic, political and Boko Haram-related problems all suggest that Africa is not going to turn into Singapore or Taiwan anytime soon.Even Africa’s brightest success stories — and countries like South Africa and Rwanda come to mind — remain complicated places. Those who know Africa best and love it most tend to be the least complacent about where things stand.The record of development agencies and economic theorists in helping Africa has been a mostly dismal record of one failed nostrum after another going back to the late colonial era after World War Two. During all this time journalists kept writing stories about how turning points had been reached and how the latest new whiz bang development theories were leading to smart policy choices that were going to kick start sustained development in this country or that. Via Meadia hates to be the skunk at the garden party, but if we are serious about helping Africa we have to be honest about how difficult and intractable some of its problems really are.There are reasons to hope that the latest round of growth will prove more sustained than some of the other ‘turning points’ that somehow faded away. It’s clear that rising educational levels in a number of country are producing more African experts who may understand what needs to be done better than the non-Africans who have so misjudged the continent for so long. And the fading influence of European countries in much of Africa is also a good thing; Europeans are fond of bragging about their humanitarianism but it’s hard to see many good results from European influence and aid over the last sixty years. The World Bank actually seems to have gotten a little smarter than it used to be, and more and more Africans seem to believe that the market is the friend of the poor rather than their enemy.All of this is good, but the road ahead is still very long, and in many countries we are likely to see more than one wrong turn before things finally start to go right.