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Africa: Books New & Notable 2011

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Dec 12, 2011 (111212)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

It's past time for one of our too infrequent book issues. I've organized this one into three groups of new books I've come across this year: three books on current priority issues that I recommend to readers as "must reads," new and notable books by AfricaFocus subscribers, and other new and notable books on a variety of topics.

Of course the lists are not complete. I've only read a few of them myself, and will no doubt manage only a few more, given limitations of both time and money, before even more recent books take their place at the top of the list. But I hope they will offer a good selection to AfricaFocus readers for their own reading or for gifts.

If you have additional suggestions to include in these lists, just send a note to for me to include them in the web version of this bulletin. And remember, there is a page with links to books by AfricaFocus subscribers at If you are a subscriber and a published author, but not yet included on that page, please sent a note. If you've previously sent such a note and I missed it, don't hesitate to remind me. It's easy to lose track sometimes with the volume of incoming e-mail.

Descriptive text for the books below, unless otherwise noted, is taken from the publisher's description.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins featuring books, as well as suggestions for gift CDs, visit

For suggested new music CDs for gifts, AfricaFocus recommends the Afropop "stocking stuffer 2011" list at



Given its frequency and the variety of topics covered, AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail and on the web does not provide regular updates on current issues. However, more frequent updates are often available on the AfricaFocus Facebook page at

And you can also follow Africa_Focus on Twitter. Even more frequent (but not constant!) updates on selected issues are available through the AfricaFocus twitter feed at!/africa_focus In recent days our followers have received recent updates on the elections in the DRC and on the climate talks in Durban. If you are not on twitter, the twitter feed is now also available on the AfricaFocus home page (, on the right hand side of the page, next to the rss feed from BBC Africa. Thanks much to Anita Wheeler for her management of and additional postings to the AfricaFocus twitter feed.

Among important recent updates:

(1) Carter Center statement on the DRC elections: "DRC Presidential Election Results Lack Credibility"

(2) Video of youth statement to climate summit at

(3) short summary of the Durban Deal at "better than many had expected" but also "kicked the big issues down the road."

(4) more extensive summary of Durban deal, in Guardian - deal sets direction but does not make substantive moves in that direction -

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

Must Reads

Paul R. Epstein and Dan Ferber, Changing Planet, Changing Health: How the Climate Crisis Threatens Our Health and What We Can Do about It. University of California Press, 2011.

Dr. Paul Epstein, who passed away on November 13 after a long battle with lymphoma, leaves a legacy of commitment and intelligence in the service of health in Africa, the United States, and around the world. This book, co-authored with science journalist Dan Ferber, provides an incisive and clearly written account of both the process and substance of decades of research showing how climate change and social inequalities impact on human health. It begins the story with Epstein's first encounter with a cholera epidemic, in the late 1970s in post-independence Mozambique, and moves quickly to the pioneering work of Kenyan researcher Andrew Githeko, who first demonstrated how climate change enabled malaria to spread to higher land areas in Kenya. The wideranging text goes on to readably describe the development of research and the formation of new scientific consensus, as well as the obstacles posed by special interests and false solutions. Their outline of possible solutions is admittedly incomplete, and the political prospects for real action are probably even more daunting than when their book was completed in 2010. But this is definitely a "must read." AfricaFocus editor

For more about the book, see

Léonce Ndikumana and James K. Boyce. Africa's Odious Debts: How Foreign Loans and Capital Flight Bled a Continent. Zed, 2011.

"While many, including this reviewer, have attacked these attempts to misrepresent the reality of financial flows in and out of sub-Saharan Africa, none have done so with the analytical clarity and empirical thoroughness of Ndikumana and Boyce in their outstanding work, Africa's Odious Debts. The reality that the authors demonstrate is simply stated and appalling in its implications: sub-Saharan Africa, location of the poorest countries in the world, has generated net capital outflows for decades. One could with small exaggeration say that for a generation Africa has provided aid to the United States and Western Europe." - review by John Weeks in African Arguments /

Note: excerpts from this important book coming in a future AfricaFocus Bulletin.

Nnimmo Bassey, To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and Climate Crisis in Africa. Pambazuka, 2011.

Bassey examines the oil industry in Africa, probes the roots of global warming, warns of its insidious impacts and explores false 'solutions'. Crucially, his intelligent and wide-ranging approach demonstrates that the issues around natural resource exploitation, corporate profiteering and climate change must be considered together if we are to save ourselves. What can Africa do? And can the rest of the world act in solidarity? If not, will we continue on the path laid out by elites that brings us ever closer to the brink?

New and Notable Books by AfricaFocus Subscribers

Adekeye Adebajo, UN Peacekeeping in Africa: From the Suez Crisis to the Sudan Conflicts. Lynne Rienner, 2011.

The book reviews 15 peacekeeping operations in Africa over a period of five and a half decades, examining domestic, regional, and external factors that shaped their outcomes, from failures in Angola, Rwanda, and Somalia, to successes in Burundi, Mozambique, and Sierra Leone.

Daniel Bach and Mamoudou Gazibo, eds., Neopatrimonialism in Africa and Beyond. Routledge, 2011.

"The concept of neopatrimonialism has been widely accepted since the 1970s as a characterisation of the generality of African states, condemned by both history and culture to be anti-developmental. This volume is a welcome and timely critique of this approach, focusing on two major themes: the necessity to differentiate between positive and negative types of neopatrimonial states, some of which are quite capable of sustaining successful development, and the importance of taking the concept out of its Africanist ghetto and applying it comparatively across all regions of the globe including Europe." - Richard Crook, Institute of Development Studies, Brighton.

Scarlett Cornelissen, Fantu Cheru, and Timothy M. Shaw, Africa & International Relations in the 21st Century. Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

Paulus Gerdes and Ahmed Djebbar, History of Mathematics in Africa (2 volumes). Lulu, 2011.

The book reproduces the thirty-seven newsletters published by AMUCHMA (African Mathematical Union Commission on the History of Mathematics in Africa) since its birth in 1986. The book celebrates the 25 years of AMUCHMA by giving a vivid picture of the activities that took place, of the studies done, of the queries, of sources, of meetings, of lectures, of dissertations, of publications.

Bereket Habte Selassie, The Devil in God's Land. An Eritrean Play. Mkuki na Nyota, 2011.

Eritrea (God's land, according to the ancient Egyptians) is an example of a country and society in convulsion because of the abandonment by its leadership, particularly among the ex-combatants, of the lofty principles of democracy, serving the people, equality and solidarity: aspirations that characterized the rhetoric of the revolution. The incidences and personalities in it are, however, purely fictitious although similarities are bound to exist since the principles during the wars of liberation and the abuses thereafter tend to be the same in all undemocratic countries.

Krista Johnson and Sean Jacobs, eds., Encyclopedia of South Africa. Lynne Rienner, 2011.

This authoritative, comprehensive reference work covers South Africa's history, government and politics, law, society and culture, economy and infrastructure, demography, environment, and more, from the era of human origins to the present. Nearly 300 alphabetically arranged entries provide information in a concise yet thorough way. In addition, a series of appendixes present a wealth of data, including: a chronology of key events, major racial and apartheid legislation since 1856, heads of state (with party affiliation) since 1910, provinces and major cities, government structures, and current political parties and representation in parliament.

Christopher Lee, Making a World After Empire: The Bandung Moment and its Political Afterlives. Ohio University Press, 2010.

This collection of essays speaks to contemporary discussions of empire and decolonization and explores the precursors and afterlives of the Bandung moment. Making a World after Empire reestablishes the conference’s importance in the global history of the twentieth century.

James Smith and Rosalind Hackett, eds., Displacing the State: Religion and Conflict in Neoliberal Africa. Notre Dame Press, 2012.

Samuel Totten, An Oral and Documentary History of the Darfur Genocide [2 volumes]. Praeger, 2010.

Samuel Totten, Genocide by Attrition: The Nuba Mountains of Sudan. Transaction, 2012.

David Zarembka, A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region. Madera Press, 2011.

Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region is a book that explores life adventures on the ground through experiential knowledge and observations. By weaving personal stories with historical narratives, A Peace of Africa explores how the Great Lakes region of Africa went from optimism at the time of independence to the conflict, corruption, wars, and genocide that have engulfed the region since then.

Other New and Notable

Mohamed Adhikari, The Anatomy of a South African Genocide: The Extermination of the Cape San Peoples. Ohio University Press, 2011.

In 1998 David Kruiper, the leader of the Khomani San who today live in the Kalahari Desert in South Africa, lamented, "We have been made into nothing." His comment applies equally to the fate of all the hunter-gatherer societies of the Cape Colony who were destroyed by the impact of European colonialism. Until relatively recently, the extermination of the Cape San peoples has been treated as little more than a footnote to South African narratives of colonial conquest.

Séverine Autesserre, The Trouble with the Congo: Local Violence and the Failure of International Peacebuilding. Cambridge University Press, 2010.

The Trouble with the Congo suggests a new explanation for international peacebuilding failures in civil wars. Drawing from more than 330 interviews and a year and a half of field research, it develops a case study of the international intervention during the Democratic Republic of the Congo's unsuccessful transition from war to peace and democracy (2003-2006). Grassroots rivalries over land, resources, and political power motivated widespread violence. However, a dominant peacebuilding culture shaped the intervention strategy in a way that precluded action on local conflicts, ultimately dooming the international efforts to end the deadliest conflict since World War II.

Gregory Barz and Judah M. Cohen, eds., The Culture of AIDS in Africa: Hope and Healing Through Music and the Arts. Oxford University Press, 2011.

Covering the wide expanse of the African continent, the 30 chapters include explorations of, for example, the use of music to cope with AIDS; the relationship between music, HIV/AIDS, and social change; visual approaches to HIV literacy; radio and television as tools for "edutainment;" several individual artists' confrontations with HIV/AIDS; various performance groups' response to the epidemic; combating HIV/AIDS with local cultural performance; and more.

Richard Bourne, Catastrophe: What Went Wrong in Zimbabwe? Zed, 2011.

'Richard Bourne has written a clear, well-linked history of Zimbabwe from its earliest days as a territory invaded and seized by whites to its recent history under the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe. Perceptive and fair, Bourne offers no quick solutions or easy receiver plans but remains optimistic that Zimbabweans themselves will reconcile and rebuild.' - Richard Dowden, author of Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles

Padraig Carmody, The New Scramble for Africa. Polity, 2011.

This book explores the nature of resource and market competition in Africa and the strategies adopted by the different actors involved - be they world powers or small companies. Focusing on key commodities, the book examines the dynamics of the new scramble and the impact of current investment and competition on people, the environment, and political and economic development on the continent. New theories, particularly the idea of Chinese "flexigemony" are developed to explain how resources and markets are accessed. While resource access is often the primary motive for increased engagement, the continent also offers a growing market for low-priced goods from Asia and Asian-owned companies.

Teju Cole, Open City. Random House, 2011.

Along the streets of Manhattan, a young Nigerian doctor doing his residency wanders aimlessly. The walks meet a need for Julius: they are a release from the tightly regulated mental environment of work, and they give him the opportunity to process his relationships, his recent breakup with his girlfriend, his present, his past. But it is not only a physical landscape he covers; Julius crisscrosses social territory as well, encountering people from different cultures and classes who will provide insight on his journey - which takes him to Brussels, to the Nigeria of his youth, and into the most unrecognizable facets of his own soul.

Steven Cook, The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square. Oxford University Press, 2011.

A sweeping account of Egypt in the modern era, it incisively chronicles all of the nation's central historical episodes: the decline of British rule, the rise of Nasser and his quest to become a pan-Arab leader, Egypt's decision to make peace with Israel and ally with the United States, the assassination of Sadat, the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood, and--finally--the demonstrations that convulsed Tahrir Square and overthrew an entrenched regime.

Youssef Courbage and Emmanuel Todd, A Convergence of Civilizations: The Transformation of Muslim Societies Around the World. Columbia University Press, 2011.

Courbage and Todd position their book in direct opposition to the 'clash of civilizations' thesis and argue that 'consideration of profound social and historical indicators points rather to the idea of a "meeting of civilizations."'. They reject a view of the 'Muslim world' in which 'Islamic fundamentalism is the expression of an essential antagonism between Islam and the West.' - review by The Moor Next Door -

Trevor R. Getz and Liz Clarke, Abina and the Important Men: A Graphic History. Oxford University Press, 2011.

The graphic history, titled Abina and the Important Men, is truly a first in the realm of historical non-fiction. The story of Abina Mansah - a woman "without history" who was wrongfully enslaved, escapes to British-controlled territory, and then takes her former master to court - takes place in the complex world of the Gold Coast at the onset of late nineteenth-century colonialism. Slavery becomes a contested ground, as cultural practices collide with an emerging wage economy and British officials turn a blind eye to the presence of underpaid domestic workers in the households of African merchants. The main scenes of the story take place in the courtroom, where Abina strives to convince a series of "important men" - a British judge, two Euro-African attorneys, a wealthy African country "gentleman," and a jury of local leaders - that her rights matter.

Rebecca Hamilton, Fighting for Darfur: Public Action and the Struggle to Stop Genocide. Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

Journalist Rebecca Hamilton's new book: Fighting for Darfur: Public Action and the Struggle to Stop Genocide, is a remarkable discussion of a difficult question: Why, despite gaining support from millions of grassroots activists and leading policy makers, did the Darfur advocacy movement fail? In terms of drawing ordinary people to support a cause, getting them to pressure influential politicians and world leaders, and drawing public attention to a previouslyunknown crisis, the Darfur advocacy movement was remarkably successful. But its ability to achieve its primary goals - stopping the violence in Darfur and protecting civilians there - was severely limited. - review by Laura Seay /

Raymond Jonas, The Battle of Adwa: African Victory in the Age of Empire. Harvard University Press, 2011.

The Battle of Adwa is the first comprehensive account of one of the most important events in the history of modern Africa. The battle of Adwa (1 March 1896) was a stunning victory for Ethiopian forces but a rout and a disaster for Italy.

James Lindsay and Fatima Jibrell, Peace And Milk: Scenes Of Northern Somalia. Lulu, 2011.

Two global peace nomads, Fatima Jibrell, a Somali environmentalist and peace activist, and James Lindsay, a retired Australian diplomat, wandered all over the geographic Horn of Africa promoting solar stoves. Fatima and James visited places where no one had ever been with a camera. The title of their book of photographs comes from the traditional Somali response to the greeting: "Ma nabad baa?" (Is there peace?), which is "Nabad iyo caano" (Peace and milk). Peace and Milk reveals the beauty and variety of the Somali landscape. Informative captions tell the stories behind the photographs and provide an insight into Somali life.

Jack Mapanje, And Crocodiles Are Hungry at Night. Lynne Rienner, 2011.

Jack Mapanje's memoir is the moving account of his imprisonment by the Malawian state and his struggle to probe the hidden motives behind his arrest. In 1981, Mapanje was a budding poet and scholar; his first collection of poems, Of Chameleons and Gods, had just been published in the prestigious African Writers Series, and his work on linguistics was having an impact on language and literary studies in central Africa and beyond. Just two years later, however, the government ordered the withdrawal of his poetry from all bookshops, libraries, and institutions of learning. And in September 1987, he was arrested and held without charge for nearly four years. This new book recalls those prison years as Mapanje records in his unique voice the terror of arrest, the reality of incarceration, and his daily struggle to retain a solid measure of sanity and spiritual freedom.

Cyril Obi and Siri Aas Rustad, eds., Oil and Insurgency in the Niger Delta: Managing the Complex Politics of Petroviolence. Zed, 2011.

"Obi and Rustad's collection charts the descent from Ken Saro-Wiwa's non-violent mobilization of the Ogoni in the 1980s and 1990s to the insurgency of the present. A pathbreaking book containing important insights into the complex landscape of oil, politics and the so-called 'resource curse'. Empirically rich and conceptually rigorous, this collection of essays is a tour de force." - Michael Watts, University of California, Berkeley

Jacques Pépin, The Origins of AIDS. Cambridge University Press, 2011.

This compelling new account traces the origins and development of the most dramatic and destructive disease epidemic of modern times. Jacques Pepin looks back to the early twentieth-century events in Africa that triggered the emergence of HIV/AIDS and the subsequent evolution and transmission of the disease before it was first officially identified in 1981. The book focuses on the specific circumstances in Léopoldville, the capital of the Belgian Congo, where urbanization, the spread of prostitution, and medical interventions to control the incidence of tropical diseases interconnected to fuel the communication of HIV-1 in the 1960s. With a unique synthesis of historical, political and medical elements, this book adds a coherent and necessary historical perspective to recent molecular studies of the chronology of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Betty Press, I Am Because We Are: African Wisdom in Image and Proverb. Books for Africa, 2011.

Highlights 125 black and white photographs of African daily life combined with related proverbs. Published in partnership with Books for Africa

Kwei Quartey, Children of the Street. Random House, 2011.

"Kwei Quartey does what all the best storytellers do. He takes you to a world you have never seen and makes it as real to you as your own backyard. In Children of the Street he brings a story that is searing and original and done just right. Inspector Darko Dawson is relentless and I look forward to riding with him again." - Michael Connelly

Orla Ryan, Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Zed, 2011

Six years ago, Orla Ryan was covering the commodities market for Reuters in London. Later she was sent to Ghana to report on the country's cocoa trade, where City stats and prices turned vividly into life and death issues for cocoa farmers. Chocolate Nations is a fascinating account of the struggles of cocoa producers in West Africa, almost all of them smallholders, and what it takes to turn a crop of cocoa into a warehouse full of Ferrero Rocher. - Jeremy Harding in The Guardian /

Tony Roshan Samara, Cape Town after Apartheid: Crime and Governance in the Divided City. University of Minnesota Press, 2011.

Nearly two decades after the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa, how different does the nation look? In Cape Town, is hardening inequality under conditions of neoliberal globalization actually reproducing the repressive governance of the apartheid era? By exploring issues of urban security and development, Tony Roshan Samara brings to light the features of urban apartheid that increasingly mark not only Cape Town but also the global cities of our day - cities as diverse as Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, Paris, and Beijing.

Gennady Shubin, Bush War: The Road to Cuito Cuanavale. Jacana, 2011.

This book provides, for the first time in English, firsthand, personal accounts of the conflict, leading up to Cuito Cuanavale, as told by Soviet advisers to the Angolan army. Their experience of the war and their views and assessment of their South African enemies as well as their Cuban and Angolan allies offer new insights into the conflict.

Jason Stearns, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa. Public Affairs, 2011.

Based on two years of research and over a hundred interviews with protagonists of the war, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters paints an intimate picture of the wars that have devastated the Congo since 1996. And yet, while remaining deeply personal, the book shies away from personalizing the conflict, from making it a matter of Mobutu's greed or Kabila's hulking egoism. If we are truly to understand the predicament the country is in, we need to move beyond the mistakes and incompetence of individuals and understand the political system - both local and international - that has allowed such irresponsible leadership to flourish.

Sylvia Tamale, ed., African Sexualities: A Reader. Pambazuka, 2011.

This groundbreaking volume, the first of its kind written by African activists themselves, aims to inspire a new generation of students and teachers to study, reflect and gain fresh and critical insights into the complex issues of gender and sexuality. It opens a space - particularly for young people - to think about African sexualities in different ways.

Theodore Trefon, Congo Masquerade: The Political Culture of Aid Inefficiency and Reform Failure. Zed, 2011

In this scathing study of catastrophic aid inefficiency, Trefon argues that whilst others have examined war and plunder in the Great Lakes region, none have yet evaluated the imported 'template format' reform package pieced together to introduce democracy and improve the well-being of ordinary Congolese. It has, the book demonstrates, been for years an almost unmitigated failure due to the ingrained political culture of corruption amongst the Congolese elite, abetted by the complicity and incompetence of international partners.

Binyavanga Wainaina, One Day I Will Write about This Place. Granta, 2011.

"Brilliant. What makes the book good is its impassioned account of the Africa we need to hear more about: the Africa of schools, weddings, television shows, jokes, politics, family gossip, and idiosyncratic dreams. What makes it great are Wainaina's beautifully elastic sentences which fizz and crackle, pounce on their meanings, stretch and snap back into place, and evoke not only the self-replenishing wonders of childhood but the more complex wonders that follow. An outstanding book, bursting with life and full of love." - Teju Cole

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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