The director of the Royal African Society offers an ambitious, roundly informative and still intimate look at sub-Saharan Africa’s turbulent road in the modern era.
Though Dowden fell in love with the continent when he ventured to Uganda in the early 1970s as an idealistic young teacher, he was booted out by Idi Amin’s burgeoning regime. As a journalist covering African politics, he has seen firsthand how the so-called Big Man leaders—specifically Mobutu in Congo, Daniel arap Moi in Kenya, Sani Abacha in Nigeria and Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe—have systematically destroyed many of the fledging nations by establishing a ruthless military rule, squandering rich natural resources and nationalizing industry, thereby holding the reins of wealth. The end of colonialism has given way to horrendous civil wars, genocide and the increased impoverishment of the African people, largely because the government systems left by the imperial powers were not rooted in African culture or experience but were based on Western models. Moreover, Dowden notes, many Western powers, including Britain, France and the United States, supported dictatorships that served their own strategic interests, such as the Israeli training and backing of Amin. The author methodically examines some of the toughest issues facing many African nations in their struggle for self-determination and autonomy: the 1994 genocide in Rwanda; rampant government corruption; the curse of diamonds and oil; and the devastation of the AIDS epidemic. He also looks at the phenomenal success story of Asian emigrants and businesses moving to the continent; the Chinese, in particular, “go where Western workers fear to tread.” Dowden displays a deeply felt knowledge of the recent history of sub-Sahara Africa, and his suggestions for its future are well-informed and wise.
A remarkably full-bodied and frank discussion of Africa’s place in the world.