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Africa: New Books 2009

AfricaFocus Bulletin
May 14, 2009 (090514)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

This issue of AfricaFocus features brief notices of 15 books published so far in 2009 that I think AfricaFocus readers are likely to be interested in. This listing, including 10 on continent-wide issues or countries outside South Africa and 5 on South Africa, is far from comprehensive. But it includes a good selection of thoughtful analyses by both African writers and experienced non-African observers of the African scene.

Patrick Chabal, Richard Dowden, William Gumede, Wangari Maathai, and Ngugi wa Thiong'o cover a wide range of African issues. Patrick Manning covers the wide African diaspora and its relation to the home continent. Mahmood Mamdani focuses in on the wider issues raised by Darfur. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Peter Uvin, and Kasahun Woldemariam raise broader issues in the context of Liberia, Burundi, and Ethiopia, respectively.

On South Africa, Mark Gevisser and Pippa Green use their biographies of Thabo Mbeki and Trevor Manuel to explore recent South African history, and Alec Russell looks to the next phase of South African history, in a book entitled "After Mandela" in the UK but provocatively retitled for the U.S. market as "Bring Me My Machine Gun." Iris Berger provides a new overview of South African history from pre-history to the most recent developments, and the new book by cartoonist Zapiro collects his wide array of cartoons featuring Nelson Mandela.

For a much wider selection of books, visit the AfricaFocus Bookshop ( or You can browse the bookshop pages by region and country or by selected topics. There are also pages with books from African and Africa-focused publishers (, books by more than 100 AfricaFocus subscribers (, the "100 best African books" of the 20th century (, and suggested gift books ( and CDs (

Suggestions for additions are always welcome. In particular, I'm asking readers to send in additional book titles that they have written or that they recommend, that have been published this year or will be published later this year. I will add these to the web version of this AfricaFocus Bulletin issue as an update, and, and, if the number is sufficient, post them in a future issue of AfricaFocus Bulletin.


AfricaFocus FYI

Johnnie Carson on Kenya | Global Health Commission - climate change greatest health threat of 21st century

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Additional New Books Suggested by Readers
Last updated May 20, 2009

Premesh Lalu, The Deaths of Hintsa: Postapartheid South Africa and the Shape of Recurring Pasts. 2009.

Following the tracks of South African traditional leader Nicholas Gcaleka, this account explores the reasons for his postapartheid journey to Great Britain as well as the public derision that accompanied him. Arguing that the sources of derision can be found in the modes of evidence established by colonial power, this exploration traces Gcaleka’s search for the remains of the tribal leader Hintsa, who was killed by British troops during the South African colonial period. - Publisher's description.


Jerome H. Hanley, Tell the Truth - Be Prepared to Pay the Price 2009.

Autobiography of the first African American licensed psychologist in the state of South Carolina. Includes his own childhood struggles and his work as a child psychologist both in South Carolina and in travels to Africa. - Publisher's description.


Dambisa Moyo, Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa. 2009.

Moyo's book condemning aid has made her a conservative celebrity for the Western media. The argument is fashionable, and in some respects echoes valid long-standing critiques of both the governmental and non-governmental aid enterprises. But glib generalizations about "aid" as a whole warrant a great deal of skepticism, particularly when the alternative posed is overwhelmingly dependent on "free market" assumptions.

Kevin Watkins of Oxfam says "Dead Aid" is dead wrong, despite the multiple defects of the aid enterprise, highlighting the simplistic advice she offers for "a better way," "Moyo has a ready-made antidote for aid dependence. African governments, she argues, should raise money by issuing bonds on international credit markets. ... And civil society organizations should worry less about democracy because "it matters little to a starving African family whether they can vote or not."

Michael Gerson agrees: "the book is something of a marvel: Seldom have so many sound economic arguments been employed to justify such disastrously wrongheaded conclusions.". The critique of aid is in many ways well-taken and widely shared, he notes. But "if Moyo's point is that some aid can be bad, then it is noncontroversial. If her point is that all aid is bad, then it is absurd. The productive political agenda is to increase the good while decreasing the bad. The productive academic debate is distinguishing between them."


Patrick Chabal, Africa: The Politics of Suffering and Smiling. 2009.

In this book, Patrick Chabal discusses the limitations of existing political theories of Africa and proposes a different starting point; arguing that political thinking ought to be driven by the need to address the immediacy of everyday life and death. How do people define who they are? Where do they belong? What do they believe? How do they struggle to survive and improve their lives? What is the impact of illness and poverty? In doing so, Chabal proposes a radically different way of looking at politics in Africa and illuminates the ways ordinary people "suffer and smile." This is a highly original addition to Zed's groundbreaking Global Political Theories series. - Publisher's description


Richard Dowden, Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles. 2009. or

I actually thought it was pretty bold to call the book 'Africa' - like a little boy with a toy gun calling himself a cowboy, so I approached the book expecting to disparage it immediately. Having grown up in some of the countries written about in the book, I realized Dowden had actually lived through it enough to warrant telling the tale. I believe this book far outranks many of the history books on Africa, and should be required reading for all high school kids. - David Kobia, on


William Gumede, The Democracy Gap: Africa's Wasted Years. 2009.

We shouldn't praise individuals -- let's not create gods. Our leaders should be accountable. That's what many countries got wrong. Politicians should know that you are only as good as what you did yesterday. What can you do now? What can you deliver now? We should defend the country's democratic institutions because, once they are destroyed, it's difficult to rebuild them. Those institutions should have a life outside of political parties. Individuals will die, will go away, but those institutions will remain. ... The moment we stop criticising, the moment we stop showing the weaknesses of the state, the country is certain to go down.- William Gumede


Wangari Maathai, The Challenge for Africa. 2009.

If I was able to change and was willing to devote my life to trying to improve Africans' quality of life and, in spite of all the obstacles, was able to accomplish some measure of success, which even the world came to recognize, why not another person? And not just two people, but four--and then a critical mass of Africans who think like me in every other African country? If that happened, we could change; indeed, it is how things change. There are countries who have been poor, colonized, and enslaved, and they have been able to get out of that situation--mostly due to the kind of leadership they enjoyed. I don't believe that other people have a monopoly of good leaders. I know I'm not alone. We need to speak out. We need to hold our leaders accountable, so they can stop dividing us along ethnic and economic lines, and begin uniting us so we can have a respectable place at the table of the nations of the world. - Wangari Maathai


Mahmood Mamdani, Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror. 2009.

Mamdani (author of Good Muslim, Bad Muslim) continues to challenge political and intellectual orthodoxies in his latest book, a bold, near brilliant re-examination of the conflict in Darfur. While acknowledging the horrendous violence committed in the region, Mamdani contends that Darfur is not the site of genocide but rather a site where the language of genocide has been used as an instrument. The author believes that the war on terror provided an international political context in which the perpetrators of violence in Darfur could be categorized as Arabs seeking to eradicate black Africans in the region. Challenging these racial distinctions, Mamdani traces the history of Sudan and the origins of the current conflict back past the 10th century to demonstrate how the divide between Arab and non-Arab ethnic groups is political rather than racial in nature. The author persuasively argues that the conflict in Darfur is a political problem, with a historical basis, requiring a political solution - facilitated not by the U.N. or a global community but rather by the African Union and other African states. The book's introductory and closing chapters are essential reading for those interested in the topic. - Publisher's Weekly


Patrick Manning, The African Diaspora: A History Through Culture. 2009.

"Patrick Manning refuses to divide the African diaspora into the experiences of separate regions and nations. Instead, he follows the multiple routes that brought Africans and people of African descent into contact with one another and with Europe, Asia, and the Americas. In weaving these stories together, Manning shows how the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Indian Ocean fueled dynamic interactions among black communities and cultures and how these patterns resembled those of a number of connected diasporas concurrently taking shaping across the globe. ... Manning underscores the profound influence that the African diaspora had on world history, demonstrating the inextricable link between black migration and the rise of modernity, especially in regards to the processes of industrialization and urbanization. A remarkably inclusive and far-reaching work, The African Diaspora proves that the advent of modernity cannot be imaginatively or comprehensively engaged without taking the African peoples and the African continent as a whole into account. - Publisher's description


Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Something Torn and New: An African Renaissance. 2009

African scholar Thiong'o examines the collateral damage of colonization, focusing on the erasure of indigenous people's cultural memory along with the renaming of people, places, and objects to reflect the culture of the colonizer. Africans in the diaspora as well as those who remained on the continent were treated to the same erasure of all that preceded European conquest and colonization. Thiong'o sees similar patterns among other cultures, whether the conquered people were Irish or Native American. But his specific concern is Africa, where European colonialism has left the continent fractured and searching for wholeness. He points to a long tradition of African disaporic writers longing to reconnect to African culture. "Creative imagination is one of the greatest of re-membering practices," and Thiong'o argues for a "re-membering" of indigenous African culture and language and ponders whether an African renaissance sure to happen following the dark ages of colonialism would be expressed in European languages. "Memory resides in language," he asserts. A slim volume with a very impassioned discussion of the impact of colonialism and hope for cultural recovery. - Vanessa Bush, in Booklist


Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa's First Woman President. 2009

Forbes lists Sirleaf, the 23rd president of Liberia and the first elected female president on the African continent, among the 100 Most Powerful Women in 2008. In and out of government, in and out of exile, but consistent in her commitment to Liberia, Sirleaf in her memoir reveals herself to be among the most resilient, determined and courageous as well. She writes with modesty in a calm and measured tone. While her account includes a happy childhood and an unhappy marriage, the book is politically, not personally, focused as she (and Liberia) go through the disastrous presidencies of Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor. Sirleaf's training as an economist and her employment (e.g., in banking, as minister of finance in Liberia, and in U.N. development programs) informs the perspective from which she views internal Liberian history (e.g., the tensions between the settler class and the indigenous people) and Liberia's international relations. Although her focus is thoroughly on Liberia, the content is more widely instructive, particularly her account of the role of the Economic Community of West African States. - Publisher's Weekly


Peter Uvin, Life After Violence: A People's Story of Burundi. 2009.

Burundi recently emerged from twelve years of civil war. In this book, ordinary Burundians, farmers, artisans, traders, mothers, soldiers and students talk about the past and the future, war and peace, their hopes for a better life and their relationships with each other and the state. Young men, in particular, often seen as the cause of violence, talk about the difficulties of living up to standards of masculinity in an impoverished and war-torn society. Weaving a rich tapestry, Peter Uvin pitches the ideas and aspirations of people on the ground against the assumptions often made by the international development and peace-building agencies. This groundbreaking book on conflict and society in Africa will have profound repercussions for development across the world. - Publisher's description


Kasahun Woldemariam, The Rise of Elective Dictatorship and the Erosion of Social Capital: Peace, Development, and Democracy in Africa. 2009.

Using exploratory research methods and systems theory, Woldemariam's work examines the interactions between elective dictatorship and the erosion of social capital, the legitimacy of the state, and the perception of the public towards multiparty politics in Africa, with a focus on Ethiopia. Woldemariam - assistant professor of Political Science at Spelman College - argues that .. even if public policies are formulated with the best of intentions, they may not achieve their objectives if the state is widely perceived as illegitimate and if the public is denied meaningful opportunities to participate in the decision-making process. - Author's description

South Africa

See Chris McGreal's review of four recent books on South Africa, "The Rainbow Nation brought low" in The Observer, April 19, 2009 The best, he says, is Gevisser's biography of Thabo Mbeki (see below).


Iris Berger, South Africa in World History. 2009.

This marvelous history ranges from the first Stone Age foragers and Iron Age farmers to the coming of the Dutch settlers and the introduction of slavery, the British conquest in the early nineteenth century, the discovery of gold and diamonds, the rise of Afrikaner Nationalism, the coming of apartheid, the Soweto Uprising, and the creation of a new society headed by Nelson Mandela. Drawing on colorful biographical and autobiographical literature to provide a personal focus, Berger also explores social and cultural history, examining issues of race, class, gender, religion, and ethnicity, and drawing on a rich tradition of literature (both oral and written), music, and the arts. The book also discusses the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the devastating HIV/Aids epidemic in the country, and continuing struggles against racism and sexism, thus connecting the South African past with urgent contemporary issues. - Publisher's description


Mark Gevisser, A Legacy of Liberation: Thabo Mbeki and the Future of the South African Dream. 2009.

If Thabo Mbeki has been an enigma to the West, no one better explains him, how he got that way, and how it affected his place in the history of South Africa--old and new--than Mark Gevisser. Exhaustive research, incredible and impeccable contacts and the skill of a gifted writer and analyst combine to make this one of the best chronicles of a man and a movement in our time.-- Charlayne Hunter-Gault,


Pippa Green, Choice, Not Fate: The Life and Times of Trevor Manuel. 2009.

Manuel, not an economist, taught himself international finance and macroeconomics as he was trying to lead a group that moved the broadly socialist ANC towards economic policies closer to neoliberalism. This was, the author suggests, not based on being "seduced" by the World Bank or bullied by the IMF -- it was a conscious choice, a decision based on what the policy designers, led by Manuel, considered realistic.

Green weaves together Manuel's life story with the stories of Western Cape UDF-ANC politics, the transition and contemporary history with skill. This is an impressive and well-written biography of one of the most impressive contemporary South African politicians. If it is a little too respectful (perhaps apologetic) at times, the depth of research and the deft interweaving of other voices from Manuel's past and present generally restore a more critical edge. Ultimately, unlike many political biographies, it's also an exciting read. - Anthony Egan, Mail & Guardian, January 27, 2009
( ...


Alec Russell, After Mandela (U.S. title: Bring Me My Machine Gun): The Battle for the Soul of South Africa, from Mandela to Zuma. 2009.

[Financial Times editor Russell's] conclusions are hardly feelgood. But After Mandela, layered with anecdote, historical background and close scrutiny of recent events, stands as an informative, nuanced, and provocative end-of-era report. ... The country, he writes, faces its "second struggle." Are its present difficulties, he asks, signs of the dream deferred? Derailed? Betrayed? Or is South Africa still a dream in the making? ... Although Russell would agree that the ANC was always more than one man, even when Mandela was at its head, his emphasis is on the leader rather than the organisation. Surely what is needed, however, is a more effective grassroots action to safeguard the constitution and to argue on behalf of all the people of South Africa and not just for the rising middle class. ... Russell, despite his persuasive argument about the flaws in the black empowerment programmes, whole-heartedly endorses this emphasis on the middle class and on following western-approved models. - Gillian Slovo, in Financial Times (full review at


Zapiro, The Mandela Files. 2009.

Drawing on Zapiro's astonishing range of cartoons of Madiba from the late 1980s to the present, this handsome book is political cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro's personal tribute to the great man of our time. In addition to the classic cartoons there are personal anecdotes about Zapiro's first political cartoons, his meetings with Madiba, commentary on the stories and inspiration behind the cartoons, and the responses Zapiro has had to his Madiba drawings. There are doodles and sketches, as well as hand-colored works and black-and-white cartoons. The book is beautifully presented in hardback and will be a treasured piece of memorabilia. - Publisher's description

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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