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.
Mohammed, was charged with ordering the hit. Fela died of AIDS in 1997. He was only fifty-eight years old. With the disappointment of Independence Day behind them, Nigerians sensed one more chance for Abacha to change direction. But the special tribunal organized to try Saro-Wiwa delivered its guilty verdict barely a month after Abacha’s big speech. The dictator was the only person who could prevent the executions from taking place, and a parade of African leaders, including Nelson Mandela, had
alerting the American Embassy to my arrival, and as a courtesy, they had arranged for an embassy staffer, a Zairian “expediter” named Manzanza, to meet us at the quay. This was unusual procedure for both me and for the embassy, but the diplomat, a woman from the United States Information Service, extended me the courtesy with this comment: “Sure, that makes sense. If we don’t greet you, we’ll have to bail you out when they arrest you anyway.” As the scene at the docks came into focus, I rejoiced
had decided that getting roughed up by agents of SNIP, the National Service for Intelligence and Protection, was above the call of duty, no matter how good the money I paid. In his place, Tony recommended another driver named Pierre, who one morning showed up at the Memling Hotel, where I was eating breakfast in the crowded and dreary buffet-style restaurant. Old Man Bah, in Liberia, was serenity personified. Pierre, on the other hand, with his permanent look of slight dishevelment, a battered
and branches, which they wielded like guns, groups like these had been hunting down people in the capital for days, singling out anyone who had the long slender build and distinctly angular features of the Tutsi. Kengo had every right to point an accusing finger at Rwanda, but that did not excuse the ugly reprisals against Tutsis in Kinshasa’s streets. Moreover, Mobutu had provided the perfect excuse for the invasion by allowing the governor of South Kivu to order the expulsion of 300,000
Passing through the base’s heavy iron gates, one realized that Tshatshi also stood firmly for one other thing—segregation. Here there were no ragged masses. The city might be abuzz with excitement, but all here was tranquility and order. Selected visitors, including the accredited press, were told to park their cars in one of the sloping lots on the grounds and were conducted to the manicured gardens behind Mobutu’s grand but sober mansion. It was late afternoon, and the equatorial sun had