Africa: Despatches from a Fragile ContinentHardback
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- Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
- Format: Hardback | 336 pages
- Dimensions: 161mm x 240mm
- Publication date: 18 April 1991
- Publication City/Country: London
- ISBN 10: 0002158892
- ISBN 13: 9780002158893
- Illustrations note: 16pp b&w photographs
Journalist Blaine Harden reveals the darker, unsightly picture of Africa which is beginning to emerge in the media. Each of the eight chapters focuses on a single country and a single story, using examples and anecdotes to give context and comprehensibility to problems usually clouded by sociological jargon. He has two principal themes: the battle between modernity, with its double-edged benefits, and the tribal way of life; and the way that Western governments seek to appease their sense of duty, or salve their imperial consciences by providing "aid" which in fact often makes problems worse than they were before. Harden was once thrown out of Kenya for his attack on the corruption endemic even in that romanticized country. This book is controversial, and provokes thought about where Africa is going and what it is becoming.
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These timely and perceptive essays by Washington Post reporter Harden actually consider the fortunes of just one chunk of Africa, those central African countries where English is lingua franca: Kenya, Sudan, Ghana, Zaire, Zambia, Liberia, and Nigeria. Harden, sub-Saharan bureau chief for four years, describes how Africa's woes - famine, foreign debt, agricultural collapse, political unrest among them - are being compounded by the greed and corruption of personal rule. He faults Africa's corrupt "Big Men" - as well as the Western moneylenders who prop them up - for squandering the chance to build democratic institutions that meld tribal tradition with modern, Western values. The Big Men's use of violence to solve political problems begets further bloodshed, an outcome Harden astutely foresaw for Samuel Doe's Liberia. African success stories are hard to fred. While Harden may be right when he calls Nigeria "the Great Black Hope" for democracy in Africa, he admits that the nation has yet to lay the groundwork. As African leaders race to reconcile old with new, tribal with national, rural with urban, ordinary Africans are left feeling spiritually empty. In a scattershot approach (understandable given the continent's size and contradictions), the author observes their lives to gauge the effects of these drastic changes. Even Manute Bol, who escaped the war and poverty of Sudan to become a wealthy US basketball star, can't escape the astonishing cultural clashes: "He grew up an illiterate cowherd in a defiantly primitive and self-centered culture that worships cows. He has become a semi. literate celebrity in a defiantly modern and self-centered culture that worships celebrity." Harden's in-depth background analysis - albeit sometimes repetitive and intrusive - and his intelligent case-study observations of the tensions in individual African life styles put this a cut above everyday journalism. (Kirkus Reviews)