Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE NEW AFRICA by Robert M. Press

THE NEW AFRICA

Dispatches from a Changing Continent

By Robert M. Press

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8130-1704-1
Publisher: Univ. Press of Florida

From the former correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor in Africa, a brief for hopeful change in Africa that is more heartfelt than persuasive. With the exception of the sections on Somalia and Rwanda, which are masterful descriptions of the troubles there and damning indictments of both UN and US policies, the rest is disappointing. In his accounts of Mali, Togo, Nigeria, and Kenya, Press is eager to show that democracy is struggling to prevail as civic associations forge potent alliances to bring about a just society. His heroes are Africans like conservationist Wangari Maathai, who founded the Greenbelt Movement in Kenya and challenged President Moi’s plans to destroy a popular park for personal gain, and Logo Dossouvi of Togo, who in 1990 was brutally tortured for his efforts to end one party-rule, but with the help of attorney Djovi Gally led a national movement for democracy. Africa, as Press points out, has always been unfairly compared with the rest of the world—what happened in Serbia, at least in principle, is no different from the genocide in Rwanda—but what he calls fundamental change seems small and incremental. With rare exceptions, the “Big Men” still rule, and cronyism and corruption are rife. Press is at his best in detailing the causes and outcomes of the war in Somalia and the genocide in Rwanda. Noting that “Somalia was a tragic example of how lack of understanding can lengthen the distance between an African country and the West,” he suggests that “the loss of eighteen US lives in one battle in Somalia left US officials unwilling later to commit troops to try to stop the genocide in Rwanda that took up to one million lives.” A moving but not always convincing plea not to abandon Africa, reinforced by Betty Press’s photographs memorably recording the people caught up in events the outside world has too often forgotten.