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  • LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images
  • Protesters demonstrate outside Nigeria House in London on May 9 to demand the return of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by the Boko Haram Islamist group.

A newspaper column we have read a thousand times and will read a thousand more (providing newspaper columns continue to be written) is the one that sprays Windex on a matter we supposed was clear enough and invites us to take another look.

On Friday, David Brooks of the New York Times wrote about Africa. Africa is a distressing subject these days, even to people in the habit of not thinking about it at all, because of the recent kidnapping of some 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria by Boko Haram terrorists who have threatened to sell them into slavery. There is no way not to be appalled.

But Boko Haram, writes Brooks, “is a small rear-guard reaction to the main story”—which is an “impressive surge of growth, urbanization and modernization” throughout Africa. This leap forward “has sparked panic in a few people [like Boko Haram] who don’t like these things,” but the main story, even in Nigeria, is progress. Brooks’s column was headlined “The Real Africa.” Apparently Boko Haram isn’t.

Brooks is armed with statistics that show African economies growing at a “phenomenal clip.” What’s more, “in many countries political systems are becoming marginally less dysfunctional.” If “formal governmental and regulatory structures are biased toward the connected and the rich,” and if “governing institutions are failing to perform the basic, elementary tasks” (like trying to rescue the schoolgirls), the good news is that “individual and social creativity is zooming ahead.”

This might not have been the perfect time for Brooks’s corrective. When Africa’s politics aren’t so dysfunctional, its governments not so incompetent and not so skewed to the elite, its recidivists less inclined to rampage through villages, kidnapping children and murdering everyone who stands in their way, its market for child slaves not so substantial, I suggest he try again. I don’t want to be told to keep those lost girls in perspective. No reader does.