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Reviews of Books about Africa

These books have greatly enhanced my understanding of Africa. They are listed in chronological order.

Inside the Third World: The Anatomy of Poverty

Paul Harrison, Penguin, 1979, 1993

The First World was the capitalist West, the second was the communist bloc, and the third was the rest of the world. Despite the end of the Cold War and the change in terminology to North and South, developed and developing, rich and poor, and although this book is now over 20 years old, it was ahead of its time and remains relevant. The book is scholarly and well researched in science, history, politics and economics, yet written in a readable language. Assertions are supported with many numerical statistics and brief anecdotal descriptions of places the author visited. The author is not romantic about indigenous culture or biased toward western technology or economics. Every page is packed with detail; although it is a small paperback, it contains as much information as five hardbacks. Each section contains important principles that clearly show the causes and effects of poverty in developing countries. The book is written not for laughs or entertainment but for justice. The author does not lose focus; he always takes the side of the poor. There are sections on the main causes of poverty, agrarian and urban problems, the underdevelopment of people, and political power struggles.

The Africans

David Lamb, Vintage, 1983, 1987

This book covers a large amount of recent African history, and the author makes good use of journalistic rhetoric. However, the book is dominated by an overwhelmingly unbalanced cold-war tone: xenophobic, misanthropic, pro-capitalist, anti-communist, pro-American, anti-African. The author reinforces all the negative stereotypes about Africa and searches for every possible example of misery and cruelty. In searching for causes of African problems, he dwells on extremists and tyrants and downplays colonialism. He praises right-wing sycophantic pro-West strong men and blames pro-African leaders who care about their people. For example, he relentlessly attacks Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, putting him in the same category with some of Africa's most murderous dictators, merely for being socialist. He portrays Africans either as humourously uneducated or heartlessly wicked, but never as human beings and always as inferior. He claims that a few American farmers with modern technology could easily transform the agriculture of the continent. He takes the side of white farmers and South Africans, downplaying apartheid and saying white journalists like himself are labeled racists for any criticism of Africa. He says that Africans cleverly use guilt to outsmart Westerners and get a "gold mine of international aid". Despite its title, the book is not about Africans; he sees little value in African people or cultures. Perhaps he talked with too many settlers, ex-pats and dictators, and too few ordinary people.


Blaine Harden, Houghton Mifflin, 1990

This book is a good mix of detailed anecdotes and political analysis. The author points out the problems and many of the causes without blaming Africans in general. He discusses how Africa is to cope with the rapid changes of the modern world. He criticises bad leadership that does not represent the people's interests, and recognises that African values are the key to success. There are chapters on a Congo river voyage, a Ghanaian professor supporting his extended family, the ethnic dispute over a Kenyan's body, a Sudanese cattle herder and US basketball star named Manute Bol, a Norwegian fishing project in Kenya and other failed Western development projects, a comparison of the failures of three "big men" leaders (Kaunda, Doe, Moi), and Nigeria as the great hope of Africa.

The Fate of Africa: Trial by Fire

Jeremy Harding, Simon and Schuster, 1993

The author finds similarities in six territories, Angola, Namibia, Western Sahara, South Africa, Mozambique and Eritrea, which fought for national liberation in the 1980s and 1990s, despite the official end of colonialism over twenty years earlier. Foreign influence needlessly protracted the conflicts, and peace gradually arrived after the two superpowers, the US and USSR, left. Although these were small wars in terms of military technology and number of deaths, the effects of disease and debt were tremendously devastating. The end of external or minority rule was not a final liberation. Despite idleness, urban congestion and dependency, the people survive with courage and push for non-racial democracies. By limiting the number of countries covered, the author goes into more depth, yet he still represents the issues of the continent as a whole. The author shows compassion for people and gets to know individuals as a way to understand the national struggles. He avoids government officials and capital cities, because the real stories come from real people who speak for themselves. He uses history to support their stories and put them in context.

Learning: The Treasure Within: Report to UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century

Jacques Delors, ed., UNESCO, 1996

One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism

William Greider, Simon & Schuster, 1997

Into the House of the Ancestors: Inside the New Africa

Karl Maier, Wiley, 1998

This book is a tribute to the adaptability of Africans. The author gives examples of their ability to blend tradition and modernisation, and to take responsibility for their own problems. Through interviews, stories, history and analysis, the author presents a balanced picture, finding hope amidst the troubles. Unlike most authors of books on Africa, the author avoids mentioning himself and his own experiences and selflessly focuses on Africans. Instead of pointing out cultural peculiarities like so many travel diaries, he shows that people's behaviour is understandable and acceptable. Chapters in the book discuss communal emergence from colonialism and the cold war, individual innovators, the role of traditional religion in bringing peace, the co-operation of traditional and modern healers to fight AIDS and malaria, the supression of education by rulers, the rehabilitation of child soldiers, the use of ethnic tension for power gains and the heroes who opposed the Rwandan genocide, the need for federalism and the struggle of local communities to be free of national governments and colonial boundaries; and Nigeria as a prime example of the struggle for free speech, democracy, mass participation, and the end of the big man.