A near-lethal combination of colonialism, Cold War bluster, war and disastrous decision-making has pushed Eritrea, perched atop Ethiopia, to the precipice of history.
Wrong, who has corresponded for the BBC and the Financial Times, returns to Africa with an analysis every bit as devastating as her In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz (2001). The scope of her research is astonishing. She visited the country numerous times—in its various manifestations of calm, disarray, chaos, hope and despair; she interviewed key personalities; she read everything directly relevant—and much that’s usefully illustrative. Most important, she thought deeply about how this small country has somehow attracted the notice of powers and superpowers. The title refers to a vicious crack made to an old black woman by a swaggering British officer after an important military victory over the Italians on Eritrean soil: “We didn’t do it for you, nigger.” Indeed. The West has not done much for the country, in Wrong’s analysis, except exploit it in times of self-interest and ignore it otherwise. Wrong begins with some allusions to Lost Horizon and with some lyrical aerial descriptions of Eritrea (a conflation of the Latin for “Red Sea”), then retreats into history to tell us the sad story of this country’s struggles. Before WWII, the Italians came, erecting beautiful buildings and building railways in unimaginably difficult terrain. The British drove them out during WWII, then in turn yielded to the Americans, who saw on an Eritrean high plateau a perfect spot for electronic eavesdropping. Among the nastiest sections in this nasty volume concern the tenure of the Americans, who behaved with an abominable disrespect for the people and the place. “Ugly American” is too pale a term. Then came the Cold War and the senseless, destructive global posturing in Africa by the superpowers, and ruinous, sanguinary wars with Ethiopia.
Wrong’s fiery prose boils the blood and burns infamy into the memory. (2 maps, not seen)