A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa
Howard W. French
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Africa first captivated New York Times journalist Howard W. French more than twenty-five years ago, but his knowledge of and passion for the continent has the depth of a lifetime association. His experiences there awakened him as nothing before to the selfishness and shortsightedness of the rich, the suffering and dignity of the poor and the uses and abuses of power. And in this powerfully written, profoundly felt book, he gives us an unstinting account of the disastrous consequences of the fateful, centuries-old encounter between Africa and the West.
French delineates the betrayal and greed of the West–often aided and abetted by Africa’s own leaders–that have given rise to the increasing exploitation of Africa’s natural resources and its human beings. Coarse self-interest and outright greed once generated a need for the continent’s rubber, cotton, gold and diamonds, not to mention slaves; now the attractions include offshore oil reserves and minerals like coltan, which powers cellular phones.
He takes us inside Nigeria, Liberia, Mali and the Congo, examining with unusual insight the legacy of colonization in the lives of contemporary Africans. He looks at the tragedies of the AIDS epidemic, the Ebola outbreak and the genocide that resulted in millions of deaths in Rwanda and the Congo. He makes clear the systematic failure of Western political leaders–the nurturers of tyrants such as Mobuto Sese Seko and Laurent Kabila, whose stories are told here in full detail–and the brutal excesses of the CIA.
In helping us to better understand the continent, and indeed Africans themselves, French helps us see as well the hope and possibility that lie in the myriad cultural strengths of Africa.
investigator, after he produced a preliminary sixteen-page report that identified forty sites where Kabila’s AFDL was suspected of having committed atrocities. The worst stories centered around Mbandaka, where the government had banned visits by journalists, and had repeatedly disrupted UN attempts to commence field work, as Gourevitch wrote. Etienne Tshisekedi had been silenced by house arrest, and anyone else who challenged the government was being thrown into prison. “We thought we were
handsome, dark-skinned woman who appeared to be in her forties, had a powerful voice and exuded the authority that comes with her matrimonial rank. Indeed, during the long months of fear and frustration over her husband’s solitary confinement she had emerged as a force in opposition politics in her own right. “Abacha is moving the country at a very great speed,” she told me, pausing for dramatic effect before bellowing, “backwards! There is grief in every home in Nigeria, and the most graceful
their trail. As we taxied, I was impressed by the way the crowd’s eyes were fixed on the airplanes’ glinting skins; from the looks of beatitude they doubtlessly imagined their salvation was at hand. As Ogata began her tour of the camp, working the crowd and giving encouragement to the relief officials in the manner of a politician working a rope line, only far more dignified, I broke away from her party. There would be little time on the ground, and chances like these to encounter the wandering
there was nothing in his background to recommend him for the title, Johnson had won a seat as minister for reconstruction in the country’s volatile unity government. With members of his Krahn ethnic group approaching him constantly to solicit jobs that he had no power to grant, Johnson spent his days fuming in his third-floor walk-up office over not having been named one of Taylor’s co-presidents on the Council of State. Still, Johnson compensated for his limited book knowledge with rare energy
was simply a matter of cutting in ECOMOG’s Nigerian commanders on whatever business the multimillionaire warlord was running, whether diamonds, logging, bauxite and iron ore, or cocaine. The Nigerians had come from a country where corruption was as deeply embedded as any in Africa, and their president, Abacha, had set a particularly flagrant example. ECOMOG’s discipline and esprit de corps had been steadily chipped away. Nigeria had received modest donations from the international community to