As a human rights activist and co-founder of the Enough Project, John Prendergast works to bring to light and end violence against women in the Congo, conflicts in Sudan and the brutal Joseph Kony-led rebel group the Lord's Resistance Army.
But those atrocities aren't the only face of Africa far from it.
"I think that whenever we see Africa portrayed in the popular media, it's usually as a pretty hopeless place torn apart by wars, disease and dictatorship," Prendergast said. "There are certain swathes of the continent where that's the case ... [but] if you look at the reality of Africa today, a vast majority of the countries are democratizing and reforming economically."
Somalia, for example, a hotbed of violence in the movie "Black Hawk Down," has in recent years undergone a "pretty radical change," Prendergast said.
"They've formed a government for the first time since 1991, attempted to deliver services and security for people, at least in urban areas ... Al-Qaeda has really been backed into a corner," he said, due to an intervention led by other African nations.
Prendergast will give a free lecture on the reality of life on the continent Sept. 11 at the University of Utah. Titled "A Changing Africa," the event will be held at Libby Gardner Hall, 1375 E. Presidents Circle, and is free and open to the public.
Prendergast has worked for the Clinton White House, the State Department, two members of Congress, Human Rights Watch and UNICEF, among others.
He's also appeared in documentaries, written best-selling books and worked with celebrities such as George Clooney and Don Cheadle.
While bringing abuses to public attention is essential, a singular focus on Africa's problems can make people feel like the situation is hopeless and disengage, he said.
"The idea is that we don't turn away from this stuff, but we actually are empowered to do more about the hard issues," he said. Examples of success elsewhere make the problems seems less insurmountable.
And Prendergast believes in the public's ability to effect change. He pointed to the Civil Rights movement, Live Aid in the 1980s, the Save Darfur movement and the recent viral video Kony 2012.
Though the video was criticized for its Hollywood-style methods, Prendergast said it was part of a larger online awareness campaign that culminated in the U.S. sending members of special forces to train those fighting Kony in Africa, an investment that is starting to pay dividends in eroding the LRA.
"I look at our history in the U.S. and how we've influenced global events, mostly through popular movements," he said. "It is in [that] context ... real changes can happen."
Tanner Humanities Center's 2013 World Leaders Lecture Forum
Lecture • John Prendergast will discuss "A Changing Africa"
When • 11 a.m. Wednesday
Where • University of Utah, Libby Gardner Hall, 1375 E. Presidents Circle
Cost • Free