When Africa makes international news, it is usually because war has broken out or some bizarre natural disaster has taken a large number of lives. Westerners are appallingly ignorant of Africa otherwise, a condition that the great Polish journalist and writer Ryszard Kapuciñski helps remedy with this book based on observations gathered over more than four decades.
Kapuciñski first went to Africa in 1957, a time pregnant with possibilities as one country after another declared independence from the European colonial powers. Those powers, he writes, had "crammed the approximately ten thousand kingdoms, federations, and stateless but independent tribal associations that existed on this continent in the middle of the nineteenth century within the borders of barely forty colonies." When independence came, old interethnic rivalries, long suppressed, bubbled up to the surface, and the continent was consumed in little wars of obscure origin, from caste-based massacres in Rwanda and ideological conflicts in Ethiopia to hit-and-run skirmishes among Tuaregs and Bantus on the edge of the Sahara. With independence, too, came the warlords, whose power across the continent derives from the control of food, water, and other life-and-death resources, and whose struggles among one another fuel the continent's seemingly endless civil wars. When the warlords "decide that everything worthy of plunder has been extracted," Kapuciñski writes, wearily, they call a peace conference and are rewarded with credits and loans from the First World, which makes them richer and more powerful than ever, "because you can get significantly more from the World Bank than from your own starving kinsmen."
Constantly surprising and eye-opening, Kapuciñski's book teaches us much about contemporary events and recent history in Africa. It is also further evidence for why he is considered to be one of the best journalists at work today. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
Colorful writing and a deep intelligence highlight these essays' graceful exploration of postcolonial Africa. A Polish journalist who has written about the continent for more than three decades, Kapuscinski provides glimpses into African life far beyond what has been covered in headlines or in most previous books on the subject. The dispatches focus on the awkward relationship between Europe and Africa. Kapuscinski, whose books have been translated into 19 languages (they include The Emperor and The Soccer War), makes this clear through his own personal struggle with malaria soon after he first arrived on the continent. This emphasis also comes through in his dispatches on African nations such as Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania and Rwanda, which detail how the giddy optimism of the immediate postcolonial era disintegrated into corruption, poverty and conflict. But even as he describes a familiar story, his keen observations make it fresh. Writing about the provincialism of Rwanda, he says, "A trip round the world is a journey from backwater to backwater, each of which considers itself... a shining star." But political observations are just one of the strengths of this book. Kapuscinski's seemingly effortless writing style makes daily life come alive whether he's covering an Arab vendor making coffee or the efforts made at night by lizards to catch their mosquito prey. (The lizards' "eyes are capable of 180-degree rotation within their sockets, like the telescopes of astronomers....") Ultimately, this book is a personal and political travelogue of one man's rocky love affair with a continent of nations. Those looking for an engaging, literary introduction to Africa or even for some additional knowledge should look no further. (Apr.) Forecast: Kapuscinski is a very popular writer in Europe but has never broken out here. With a cluster of books on Africa coming out this season, this will get some media attention and may sell better than his previous books.
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