John Gunther for the 1980s--which is only qualified praise. Lamb, the Los Angeles Times' correspondent for sub-Sahara Africa from 1976 to 1980, has taken note of everything that makes the continent's prospects ""bleak"": from high population growth to political instability to economic slippage. He starts with a nice illustration of what independence nonetheless means to an African--self-respect--and concludes with some hopeful prognostications (highly dependent, however, on a reconstituted South Africa). He writes reasonably about such specifically pan-African cankers, often covered-up, as tribalism and genocide. Now and again, he has a deft piece of reportage--a ""non-interview"" with curt Mary Leakey, a two-worlds train trip from Mozambique into South Africa. Occasionally, too, he makes a thoughtful observation: the preservation of things French in former French colonies vs. the obliteration of all signs of a British presence. But much, much of the text is journalistic fodder: the brief, tragicomic ""empire"" of the Central African Republic's Bokassa; the capitalist excesses (""extreme even by American standards"") of Zaire's Mobutu; the socialist fallacies of Tanzania's Nyere. Also: the dismal story of Uganda, under Idi Amin and after; three amusing-to-chilling examples of ""coups and countercoups"" (the Comoros islands, the Seychelles, Liberia); the ""flashy,"" acrimonious summits of the Organization of African Unity. There are some exceptions, however, to the pattern of ineptitude and worse. Kenya's Kenyatta was an inspiring leader--and he had the sense to invite the whites to stay. The Sudan's Numeiri, who reconciled the Christian/tribal south and the Muslim north, is another who practices ""compromise."" The Ivory Coast's HouphouÃ«t-Boigny, whose prosperous, orderly country is run by the French, also exemplifies ""conciliation."" To be just, what is probably Lamb's most stimulating chapter is on chaotic, fast-growing, aggressively African Nigeria--an isntance, also, of a country that turned itself around. Fair enough, then, for a kaleidoscopic view--without any deep soundings or strong recognitions.