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A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa Hardcover – April 20, 2004

4.3 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Although both tragedy and hope are mentioned in the subtitle, this work of reportage on Africa focuses more on the former than the latter. French was first captivated by Africa after college, in 1980, when he joined his parents and siblings in Ivory Coast. Taken by the pride and beauty he found on the continent, he became a journalist there, eventually serving as a bureau chief for the New York Times. His strength as a reporter is evident as he takes the reader across the continent, recounting in vivid detail the genocide in Rwanda and the AIDS and Ebola outbreaks. His prose is evocative without being melodramatic in describing the suffering he saw. The "powerful and eerily rhythmic" wailing of those who had lost loved ones to the Ebola virus "was painful to hear, and clearly bespoke of the recent or imminent deaths of loved ones." French is just as eloquent discussing his ambivalence about covering African crises after criticizing other journalists for their pack mentality in focusing on such crises rather than on giving a more rounded picture of life on the continent. In addition to disease and murder, French focuses his book on Africa's other plague: corrupt tyrants. While his insights into Zaire's Mobutu and Congo's Laurent Kabila are valuable, like many other writers on Africa French excoriates the "treachery and betrayal of Africa by a wealthy and powerful West." But providing some ways to improve life thereâ€"to give Africans some hopeâ€"is not so easy. As his book shows, French might be exactly the kind of seasoned Africa observer who could help point the way. 8 pages of photos, 1 map.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

For the U.S., Africa is only a source for oil and other resources and a theater of misery, according to senior New York Times writer French, who reported on Central and West Africa in the 1990s. In contrast to that official detachment is French's own passionate engagement, both with what he sees close-up and with the politics and history. An African American raised in Washington, D.C., he has lived with his family in Africa, and he brings a unique perspective to the news in Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Congo. He is as critical of the corruption and greed of Africa's modern leaders as he is of the West, but he does blame much of the continent's trouble on colonialism and "faraway mapmakers" who patched countries together. Most damning is his criticism of the Clinton administration's preoccupation with the Bosnian crisis, while it ignored the much bigger Rwandan genocide and its aftermath. French's eyewitness reporting is unforgettable, as in the portrait of a Liberian child-soldier. The "hope" of the subtitle isn't here. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (April 20, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375414614
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375414619
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,431,596 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By doomsdayer520 HALL OF FAME on August 18, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Reporting from the ground in several trouble-prone nations, Howard French explains how sub-Saharan Africa is still being subjected to the whims of the outside world. Former rounds of slavery and colonialism are simply continuing under a new form of domination based on facilitating far-off political games, and enriching multinational corporations through the shameless appropriation of natural resources. All the while, the people of Africa continue to be exploited and forgotten by the rest of the world. French does find one (partially) happy success story in Mali, whose hardworking people have started a homegrown move toward democracy with nonexistent interest or support from outside. However, much of this book covers the violence and mayhem that still afflict much of Africa, displaying the lingering legacies of colonialism and economic exploitation.

Included here are quick examinations of the relentless political corruption in the potentially successful Nigeria, which has a strong population and political culture but also the corrupting influence of Western corporate profiteering; and the sorry subversion of democratic progress by violent local warlords in sleepy Congo-Brazzaville. French writes many pages on the catastrophic civil war in Liberia, fueled by drug-addicted teenage soldiers and genocidal competing dictators. In the process French devastatingly debunks the rebel leader Charles Taylor, who has become a supposed American poster boy for democratic reform.

The greatest part of the book is based on French's knowledge of events in Congo (formerly Zaire), including stirring eyewitness accounts of the 1997 insurrection that toppled the despicable lifetime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who had also been an American favorite.
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Format: Hardcover
It would have been a gigantic undertaking to write Howard W. French's kind of book about all of Africa. Africa is, after all, a large continent with the greatest diversity in species, ecosystems, peoples, languages and histories. French does not attempt such a challenge. His primary focus is the part of Africa that he knows best, Central Africa, and its complex history since independence. While he draws some general conclusions for Africa, resulting from the colonial carving up of the continent, his concern are the events in "the heart of Africa". Given the common misconception that Africa can be regarded as one unitary region, the title "A Continent for the Taking" strikes me as somewhat unsuitable and the subtitle as misleading. Only a few chapters relate French's travels in other countries, all in West Africa, and almost all struggling with their own post-colonial catastrophes such as Sierra Leone and Liberia. One notable exception is Mali where recent history has demonstrated that democratic development is possible despite political, environmental challenges and severe poverty of the vast majority of the population. Here, French finds some of hope among the tragedies.

French feels privileged for his position given his personal background and family connections in and to the region. As West Africa representative for the New York Times between 1994 and 1998, he traveled extensively in the region. The book records one major political crisis after another: most of those happened to occur in Zaire in the last years of Mobutu's reign.

French complements his current affairs coverage with reflections on the impacts of colonial history and political power play during the Cold War.
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Format: Hardcover
A well written work that delivers unusual insight into the peculiar political situation in Africa. Howard French brings to bear his deep understanding of the continent. This book is a must-read for anybody seriously interested in understanding the true socio-political dynamics of Africa. Unlike most books about Africa that are written by foreigners, it avoids the condescending know-it-all attitude that gets many Africans mad.
More importantly, French is not shy about pointing out the role played (and still being played) by many western powers and multinational corporations in fostering the instability and and conflict that has plagued Africa.
The one criticism I have is that the book deals so much with the Congo crisis and with conflicts in Africa in general, but does not adequately address key positive developments that also took place. Perhaps, Mr. French will address those in a second volume.
All in all, Mr. French deserves commendation for writing such an honest and deeply incisive book.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I heard an interview on NPR (Fresh Air, I believe was the program) and purchased the book immediately.
It was so much more than I anticipated it would be with regards to the information and depth of content provided. Although Mr.French speaks from his experience, it still has a feel of a well-rounded objective read. He provides answers and reasons about questions many of us ask about Africa - a continent whose countries are often ignore in the news/media and in elementary and secondary education. I know I will reference this book in the future, especially in school when writing future papers. I'm grateful it was brought to my attention and I've already referred it to others. This is a mind/perspective expanding work on a continent that deserves the attention.
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