Exploring modern Africa in all of its complexities.
Perry (Lifeblood: How to Change the World One Dead Mosquito at a Time, 2011, etc.) is a veteran foreign correspondent, with Africa representing his most recent beat. This book builds on his reportage by exploring contemporary African problems and promise. One of his major themes is the ways in which those who claim to want to help Africa—foreign aid workers, nongovernmental organizations, Western governments and their militaries—often do more harm than good, emphasizing their own priorities over those of the people they purport to serve. Perry has an eye for the telling anecdote, and he generally makes his case well, though he is better at identifying problems than proposing solutions. The book is uneven; some chapters are deeply reported and compellingly presented, while others feel scattered, perfunctory, and incomplete. Furthermore, Perry overstates his book’s uniqueness, effectively trying to dismiss a number of scholars and journalists, many of whom have written about Africa with at least as much insight and verve as Perry, without the self-regard. The author dismisses veteran “Africa hands” for allegedly mostly speaking with one another, and yet he relies on their insights when it is convenient for him. He also overstates the comprehensiveness of his coverage of sub-Saharan Africa and has a tendency to put himself at the center of the story, an unwitting irony for an author who disparages the solipsism of others. However, behind these flaws are important stories that Perry effectively conveys when he gets out of his own way. His arguments about the often deleterious effects of outsiders augment some of the scholarly literature by providing a human face to usually well-intentioned but misguided interlopers.
A welcome addition to our understanding of Africa that occasionally overpromises and underdelivers.