Friday, March 04, 2011

Book Review: The Africans by David Lamb

Anyone know what the hell is wrong with Africa? When cruising through Borders during lunch time walks, I check out the African book section. There are the white guilt books, there are the warfare books, and there are the history of Africa/apartheid/colonialism books. I've been looking for a book about modern Africa that doesn't sound like a printing by some charity. David Lamb's 1982 work "The Africans" has aged pretty well. While it was written prior to the end of apartheid or the onslaught of HIV/AIDS, there are many parts that feel contemporary (except the Commie/Soviet stuff). It is a heartbreaking read at times but worth the time.

Lamb's work is based on his years as the LA Times correspondent in sub-Saharan Africa. His focus is on 'black Africa', and he does not pull punches. He lays blame at the feet of everyone: colonialism's legacy, selfish dictators, Western aid agencies that send money out of guilt, Commies, the climate of Africa and the African people themselves. No one avoids his wrath, but unlike many writers pointing out the boogeyman, he mentions solutions. Lamb sounds like a man who genuinely cared about the African people he met, and a man who saw the great potential if only given the proper leadership, patience and investment.

With hindsight, some of his predictions are proven wrong. While the Soviet threat is gone, the Chinese seem to have stepped into their place with investment for access to raw materials. Apartheid ended without a war. Mugabe became a terrible dictator who destroyed Zimbabwe. The Sudan slipped into horrible crisis and blood civil war. Rwanda's genocide popped up form under Lamb's nose. Sadly, no one saw Aids coming, and that has ruined black Africa. HIV/AIDS has become a horrendous killer, and some of the aspects of Africa's poor medical and health policies make HIV/AIDS worse than it should be. The medical facilities are poor, sanitation bad, belief in witch doctors still prevalent and then throw in HIV. It is a recipe for disaster. We should be honoring the MDs who volunteer whether through NGOs, governments or their church organizations for giving their time to Africa.

There are many great moments in the book. The entire section on Idi Amin is great. He was an exaggeration of what the rest of the African strong man dictators were at that time. Kind of funny to read the author point out how odd it is to berate South Africa for apartheid when many other African dictaors are killing thousands of their people. It was interesting to read some of the independence stories as well as the coups. The coups read like bad 70s-80s movies, except there is no Arnold or Stallone to come in and root the bad dictator out. At the end of the day, this book is about the people of black Africa. It is their story. It is a varied and diverse story and one worth reading.

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