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Africa: Books New & Notable

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Dec 20, 2012 (121220)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

This annual books issue contains 22 books that have come to my attention that seemed to me to be of particular interest. It's hardly a systematic selection, and I've only read a couple of them so far. But they cover a wide range of topics, and I think most AfricaFocus readers will find at least of a few ot them well worth their time.

The featured recommendation is Sarah Lefanu's S is for Samora: A Lexical Biography of Samora Machel and the Mozambican Dream. Anyone familiar with Mozambique will enjoy this uniquely organized biographical reflection. And anyone interested in the complexities of liberation struggles and post-liberation disappointments will find in it a wealth of insights.

Also of particular interest, although not specifically on Africa, is Joseph E. Stiglitz's The Price of Inequality. I include it, despite its focus primarily on inequality in the United States, because of my conviction that the policy of the United States and other rich countries towards global inequality and issues on other continents is influenced first of all by the shape of values and policies applied at home. I can't comment on his recommendations on the way forward, since I have yet reached that chapter. But his diagnosis is clear-minded and devastating.

If you are a subscriber to AfricaFocus and have had a book published in 2012 that is not included below, or want to recommend a book highly to other AfricaFocus readers, please send in information on the book so that I can add it to the web version of this Bulletin.

I haven't had time this year to do much additional work on the AfricaFocus Bookshop page, but you will still find many interesting books, by country and by topic, at

Year-End Break

AfricaFocus will be taking a year-end break beginning with this issue, and will resume publication in mid to late January. The AfricaFocus website (, Google Plus page (, Facebook page (, and Twitter feed ( continue to be updated.

Thanks much to those AfricaFocus subscribers who have sent in voluntary subscription payments during the year to support this work. If you haven't done so and are able and willing to send in your support, you can contribute online or get a form to send in a check at

Best wishes to all for the holidays and the new year.

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

Books New and Notable

Note: Unless otherwise noted, the brief descriptions of the books below are taken from the publisher's description.

Featured Recommendation

Lefanu, Sarah. S is for Samora: A Lexical Biography of Samora Machel and the Mozambican Dream. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012.

Samora Machel led FRELIMO, the Mozambican Liberation Front, to victory against Portuguese colonialism in 1974, and the following year became independent Mozambique s first President. He died eleven years later in a mysterious plane crash. Drawing on stories, speeches, documents, and the memories of those who knew him, this biography presents the many different faces of the man Nelson Mandela called a true African revolutionary . Machel was a trained nurse who became a consummate military strategist, a farmer's son with the diplomatic skills first to tread the tightrope between China and the Soviet Union and then to charm Margaret Thatcher, a man of the people who found himself utterly alone, a dedicated seeker of peace who never saw anything but war. The book examines the discourse of equality, liberty and comradeship that flourished during the 1960s and 1970s in the liberation struggles of the countries of southern Africa, in the face of the dominant rhetoric of the cold war. It meditates on the different languages through which the Mozambican dream was articulated: the linguistic currencies of anti-colonialism, of anti-racism, and of Marxism-Leninism, while exploring the gaps between then and now, between Mozambicans and the western idealists who wanted to be part of their new society, and between the polyglottal Mozambicans themselves.

New and Notable

[* indicates book by a subscriber to AfricaFocus Bulletiin]

Abiodun Alao. Mugabe and the Politics of Security in Zimbabwe. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2012.

In 1980, the newly independent and democratic Zimbabwe was a beacon of hope in a troubled region. Three decades later, Zimbabwe became the focus of international attention for very different reasons: acrimonious racial relations, controversial elections, economic hardship, and military intervention in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mugabe and the Politics of Security in Zimbabwe argues that this unfortunate transition is intrinsically linked to the ways in which President Robert Mugabe used the politics of domestic and external security for his own gain. Abiodun Alao presents a comprehensive study of defence institutions, domestic security policy, and external use of military force during Mugabe's decades of rule.

Peter Alexander, Thapelo Lekgowa, Botsang Mmope, Luke Sinwell, and Bongani Xezwi. Marikana. Johannesburg, South Africa: Jacana Media, 2012.

This unique book provides rich details and tells of police murders, sadness, bravery and pride. Royalties from this book will go to families of Marikana victims through a trust fund held by the South African Council of Churches.

* Dorina A. Bekoe, ed. Voting in Fear: Electoral Violence in Sub-Saharan Africa. Washington, DC: U.S. Institute of Peace, 2012.

Eighteen African countries held presidential, primary, or legislative elections in 2011. Elections in eleven of these countries were marked by violence that ranged from low-level intimidation and harassment to more intensely violent displacement and death. In "Voting in Fear" nine contributors offer pioneering work on the scope and nature of electoral violence in Africa; investigate the forms electoral violence takes; and analyze the factors that precipitate, reduce, and prevent violence. The book breaks new ground with findings from the only known dataset of electoral violence in sub-Saharan Africa, spanning 1990 to 2008.

Huw Bennett. Fighting the Mau Mau. The British Army and Counter-Insurgency in the Kenya Emergency. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

For the first time Huw Bennett examines the conduct of soldiers in detail, uncovering the uneasy relationship between notions of minimum force and the colonial tradition of exemplary force where harsh repression was frequently employed as a valid means of quickly crushing rebellion. Although a range of restrained policies such as special forces methods, restrictive rules of engagement and surrender schemes prevented the campaign from degenerating into genocide, the army simultaneously coerced the population to drop their support for the rebels, imposing collective fines, mass detentions and frequent interrogations, often tolerating rape, indiscriminate killing and torture to terrorise the population into submission.

* Bond, Patrick. The Politics of Climate Justice: Paralysis Above, Movement Below. Durban, South Africa: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2012

This is an indispensable book for anyone who seeks to understand world leaders' responses to climate change through the United Nations' Conference of the Parties (COP). Politics of Climate Justice provides the vital background and theoretical context to what happened at the COPS in Kyoto, Copenhagen, Cancun, and Durban. It explores the favored strategies of key elites from the crisisridden global and national power blocs, including South Africa, and finds them incapable of reconciling the threat to the planet with their economies' addiction to fossil fuels. Finally, the book reveals sites of climate justice and interrogates the new movement's approach

Jason Brownlee. Democracy Prevention: The Politics of the U.S.Egyptian Alliance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

When a popular revolt forced long-ruling Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to resign on February 11, 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama hailed the victory of peaceful demonstrators in the heart of the Arab World. But Washington was late to endorse democracy - for decades the United States favored Egypt's rulers over its people. Since 1979, the United States had provided the Egyptian regime more than $60 billion in aid and immeasurable political support to secure its main interests in the region: Israeli security and strong relations with Persian Gulf oil producers. During the Egyptian uprising, the White House did not promote popular sovereignty but instead backed an "orderly transition" to one of Mubarak's cronies. Even after protesters derailed that plan, the anti-democratic U.S.-Egyptian alliance continued. Using untapped primary materials, this book helps explain why authoritarianism has persisted in Egypt with American support, even as policy makers claim to encourage democratic change.

Neil Carrier and Gernot Klantschnig. Africa and the War on Drugs. London: Zed Books, 2012.

'In a world in which progress on addressing the global illicit drug problem is non-existent, this important volume seeks to move the discourse on drug flows and use in sub-Saharan Africa from a domain tightly controlled by the punitive language and narrow mind frames of the U.S.- driven war on drugs towards a more nuanced, balanced, research-based and both historically and culturally informed perspective. Thus, it is a breath of fresh air for an arena of contemporary social life dominated by failed policy, preconceived ideas, human rights violations, and lack of rigorous on-the-ground research. Patterns of drug use in Africa have been changing, and certainly the globalization of illicit drugs is part of this story, but, as this volume effectively demonstrates, it is on a small part of a much more complex narrative.' Professor Merrill Singer, Department of Anthropology, University of Connecticut Storrs

Claremont Chung, ed. Walter A. Rodney: A Promise of Revolution. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2012.

The life of the great Guyanese scholar and revolutionary Walter Rodney burned with a rare intensity. His most famous work, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, is a mainstay of radical literature. Not content merely to study the world, Rodney turned to revolutionary politics in Jamaica, Tanzania, and in Guyana. This book presents a moving and insightful portrait of Rodney through the words of academics, writers, artists, and political activists who knew him intimately or felt his influence. These informal recollections and reflections demonstrate why Rodney is such a widely admired figure throughout the world, especially in poor countries and among oppressed peoples everywhere.

Farah, Nuruddin. Crossbones. New York: Penguin Books.

A dozen years after his last visit, Jeebleh returns to his beloved Mogadiscio to see old friends. He is accompanied by his son-in-law, Malik, a journalist intent on covering the region's ongoing turmoil. What greets them at first is not the chaos Jeebleh remembers, however, but an eerie calm enforced by ubiquitous white-robed figures bearing whips. Meanwhile, Malik's brother, Ahl, has arrived in Puntland, the region notorious as a pirates' base. Ahl is searching for his stepson, Taxliil, who has vanished from Minneapolis, apparently recruited by an imam allied to Somalia's rising religious insurgency. The brothers' efforts draw them closer to Taxliil and deeper into the fabric of the country, even as Somalis brace themselves for an Ethiopian invasion. Jeebleh leaves Mogadiscio only a few hours before the borders are breached and raids descend from land and sea. As the uneasy quiet shatters and the city turns into a battle zone, the brothers experience firsthand the derailments of war.

* Joseph Hanlon, Jeannette Manjengwa, and Teresa Smart, eds. Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land. Sterling, VA: Kumarian Press, 2012.

The news from Zimbabwe is usually unremittingly bleak. Perhaps no issue has aroused such ire as the land reforms in 2000, when 170,000 black farmers occupied 4,000 white farms. A decade later, with production returning to former levels, the land reform story is a contrast to the dominant media narratives of oppression and economic stagnation. Zimbabwe Takes Back it Land offers a more positive and nuanced assessment of land reform in Zimbabwe. It does not minimize the depredations of the Mugabe regime; indeed it stresses that the land reform was organized by liberation war veterans acting against President Mugabe and his cronies and their corruption. The authors show how "?ordinary" Zimbabweans have taken charge of their destinies in creative and unacknowledged ways through their use of land holdings obtained through land reform programs.

Harper, Mary. Getting Somalia Wrong: Faith and War in a Shattered State. London: Zed Books, 2012.

Somalia is a comprehensively failed state, representing a threat to itself, its neighbours and the wider world. In recent years, it has become notorious for the piracy off its coast and the rise of Islamic extremism, opening it up as a new 'southern front' in the war on terror. At least that is how it is inevitably portrayed by politicians and in the media. Mary Harper offers the first comprehensive account of the chaos into which the country has descended and the United States' renewed involvement there. In doing so, Harper argues that viewing Somalia through the prism of al-Qaeda risks further destabilizing the country and the entire Horn of Africa, while also showing that though the country may be a failed state, it is far from being a failed society.

Lindsey Hilsum, Sandstorm: Libya in the Time of Revolution. New York: Penguin, 2012.

Over a quarter century, the renowned British international correspondent Lindsey Hilsum has covered crisis and conflict around the world. In February 2011, at the first stirrings of revolt, she went to Libya, and began to chronicle the personal stories of people living through a time of unprecedented danger and opportunity. She reported the progress of the revolution on the ground, from the conflict of the early months, through the toppling of Gaddafi???s regime and his savage death in the desert. In Sandstorm, she tells the full story of the events of the revolution within a rich context of Libya???s history of colonialism, monarchy and dictatorship, and explores what the future of Libya holds.

Honwana, Alcinda. The Time of Youth: Work, Social Change and Politics in Africa. Sterling, VA: Kumarian press, 2012

Argues that most young Africans are living in 'waithood', a period of suspension between childhood and adulthood. Failed neo-liberal economic policies, bad governance and political instability have caused stable jobs to disappear. Without jobs that pay living wages, these young people cannot support families, thus becoming fully participating members of society. As this limbo becomes pervasive and prolonged, waithood in Africa becomes seemingly permanent, gradually replacing conventional adulthood. And with the deepening of the world economic crisis, youth in Europe, North America and other parts of the world face the same crisis of joblessness and restricted futures. Draws on in-depth interviews in four countries: Mozambique, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia.

Keable, Ken, ed. London Recruits: The Secret War Against Apartheid. London: Merlin Press, 2012.

This is the story of the foreign volunteers and their activities in South Africa, how they acted in defiance of the Apartheid government and its police on the instructions of the African National Congress. Many volunteers were Young Communists, some were recruited from the IS, others were Trotskyists or independent socialists; from the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the USA, they all volunteered and took amazing risks. With an introduction by Ronnie Kasrils a foreword by Z. Pallo Jordan.

Lapsley, Michael and Stephen Karakashian. Redeeming the Past: My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2012.

In 1990, Fr Michael Lapsley, an Anglican priest and monastic from New Zealand, exiled to Zimbabwe because of his anti-apartheid work in South Africa, opened a package and was immediately struck by the blast of an explosion. The bomb -suspected to be the work of the apartheid-era South African secret police - blasted away both his hands and one of his eyes. His memoir tells the story of this horrendous event, backing up to recount the journey that led him there - particularly his rising awareness of the radical social implications of the gospel and his identification with the liberation struggle - and then the subsequent journey of the last two decades. Returning to South Africa, Lapsley saw a whole nation damaged by the apartheid era. So he discovered his new vocation - to become a wounded healer, drawing on his own experience to promote the healing of other victims of violence and trauma.

Sarah Markes, Hafiz Juma, and Karen Moon. Street Level: Drawings and Creative Writing Inspired by the Cultural and Architectural Heritage of Dar Es Salaam. Dar es Salaam: Mkuku na Nyota, 2011.

Street Level was selected as 2012 Honor Book for Older Readers by the Children's Africana Book Award program, affiliated with the African Studies Association. The introduction to this extraordinarily beautifully illustrated book gives a fascinating overview of the history and architectural heritage of Dar es Salaam, and an insight into the efforts of those seeking to preserve it. The book captures 'fragments of the atmosphere, the sun bleached charm and the dynamic energy' of Dar es Salaam. Generic class and concrete skyscrapers are replacing human sized old Dar, and the frenzy to modernise shows little sign of abating. The city's cultural and historic memory is being erased by property development and its profits for the few. Through her drawings, the artist has recorded the vanishing city centre. She gives portraits of its colourful and dynamic people: living, going about their business, worshipping and gathering in its age old restaurants and tea rooms to spend time as generations have done so before. An important part of the book is short pieces of prose and poetry by some of the best creative writers in Dar today.

* Guy Martin. African Political Thought. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Designed to be used as a textbook, this book is organized thematically as a comprehensive overview of both indigenous and modern African political thought. Focusing on individual political thinkers/activists and beginning with indigenous African political though, the book successively examines African nationalism, African socialism, populism and Marxism, Africanism and panAfricanism, concluding with contemporary perspectives on democracy, development and the African state.

* Elizabeth Schmidt. Foreign Intervention in Africa: From the Cold War to the War on Terror. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Foreign Intervention in Africa chronicles the foreign political and military interventions in Africa during the periods of decolonization (1956-1975) and the Cold War (1945-1991), as well as during the periods of state collapse (1991-2001) and the "global war on terror" (2001-2010). In the first two periods, the most significant intervention was extra-continental. The United States, the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and the former colonial powers entangled themselves in countless African conflicts. During the period of state collapse, the most consequential interventions were intra-continental. African governments, sometimes assisted by powers outside the continent, supported warlords, dictators, and dissident movements in neighboring countries and fought for control of their neighbors' resources. The global war on terror, like the Cold War, increased the foreign military presence on the African continent and generated external support for repressive governments. In each of these cases, external interests altered the dynamics of Africa's internal struggles, escalating local conflicts into larger conflagrations, with devastating effects on African peoples.

Joseph E. Stiglitz. The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future. New York: W. W. Norton, 2012.

I include this, despite its focus primarily on inequality in the United States, because of my conviction that the policy of the United States and other rich countries towards global inequality and issues on other continents is influenced first of all by the shape of values and policies applied at home. I can't comment on his recommendations on the way forward, since I have yet reached that chapter. But his diagnosis is clear-minded and devastating.

* Totten, Samuel. Genocide by Attrition: The Nuba Mountains of Sudan. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2012.

Genocide by Attrition provides a solid sense of antecedents to the genocidal actions in the Nuba Mountains. It introduces the main actors, describes how the Nuba were forced into starvation by their government, and tells how those who managed to survive did so. The interviews provide in-depth stories and revelatory information about what Totten characterizes as genocide by attrition. Among the themes that link most of the interviews are: the discrimination against and disenfranchisement of the Nuba by the government; the destruction of villages and farms; and the impact of the forced starvation. The book also documents the anger and frustration of the Nuba Mountains people at being left out of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed between the South and the North, and their ongoing fear that the government might once again carry out a genocidal assault against them.

Carl Watts. Rhodesia's Unilateral Declaration of Independence: An International History. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

"Carl Peter Watts has written a remarkably wide-ranging and lively analysis of the international repercussions of Rhodesia's unilateral declaration of independence in the mid-1960s. Drawing on archives from a number of countries and applying international relations theories as well as a sound historical grasp, he questions a number of assumptions about the crisis, arguing that UDI could have been avoided and that, once it took place, the British government could have ended it by using military force." - John Young, Professor of International History, University of Nottingham

Additional Suggestions Received from Readers since Dec. 20

* Donna Katzin. With These Hands. New York: Mignon Publications, 2011.
Order through

Since 1994, Shared Interest has worked with remarkable "everyday" people on the front lines of building a new South Africa—with their own hands. Shared Interest’s partners, friends, and colleagues generously entrusted their tragedies and aspirations, challenges and dreams, in pursuing the Herculean day-to-day work of reconstructing their lives, communities, and nation. These poems and photographs honor the mothers and fathers who brought South Africa this far.

Mary Ndlovu, Against the Odds: A History of Zimbabwe Project. Harare, Zimbabwe: Weaver Press, 2012.

The Zimbabwe Project Trust, a child of the war, came home, and its director, Judith Todd, started mapping the route that it would follow for the next thirty years. ZimPro - as it came to be known - began its work with ex-combatants, assisting with their education, skills training and co-operative development, and producing a news bulletin. In terms of funding, courage, and creative programming, it became a giant in the country's development landscape, but it has had to negotiate many political, financial and philosophical minefields on the way. Against The Odds offers a rare insight into workings of an NGO on the frontline. With a cast of larger-than-life characters, it also offers a drama of Zimbabwe's first thirty years and provides insights and lessons which will benefit everyone concerned with development, and provide historians with another important lens through which to view the past.

Abebe Zegeye. Mulatu Astatke: The Making of Ethio Jazz. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2012.

Mulatu was the first Ethiopian jazz music-maker to study abroad and thus be exposed to Western musical trends. When he returned to Addis Ababa he pursued his dream of drawing on the musical heritage of his homeland -- a heritage that has been buffeted by Ethiopiaâ's turbulent history -- to produce a unique, compelling blend of music: 'Ethiopian sounds with a twistâ'. In the late 1960s, his Ethio jazz introduced, among other new ideas, the Afro-Latin soul where he played conga, piano, vibraphone and innovative musical arrangements. These included compositions of popular Ethio jazz music which took on a modern, funk, jazz-infused quality that soon had recording companies knocking at his door.
Contains a CD and DVD!

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