New Internationalist

Africa explained

December 1979

An African Abstract: A Brief Background to Issues and Events

The slave market at Zanzibar in 1872.

In a concise yet penetrating manner, each of the 54 African countries is described here in a way which makes Africa accessible to readers with little or no prior knowledge of the continent. Students, teachers, lecturers, even politicians, will find this book a helpful and easy-to-use reference.

Rather than just stringing together facts, the authors have attempted to present each country historically, out­lining the major themes of pre-colonial Africa, as well as the overall impact of colonialism and underdevelopment. The intention is to dispel some of the popular myths: that African history did not begin until the arrival of the Europeans and that pre-colonial Africa was a land of primitivism and little variety. The authors not only succeed in portraying the diversity and complexity of African history past and present. They also pose, a sharp challenge to the usual travelogue survey found all too often on the book­shelves.

As well as describing the history of each country, there are concise and accurate descriptions of the economy, complete with up-to-date statistics. The sections on Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe are especially helpful. The economic links between Africa and the West are highlighted in those countries where wars of liberation are still being fought. The authors have attempted to show that Western corporations have a stake in maintaining the existing oppressive regimes by virtue of their investments. On the social (as well as political and economic) level, it is refreshing to have a book about Africa which does not reduce historical developments to mere relations between tribes, but instead takes the formation of the modern nation state as the dominant feature of African political life.

Before we read An African Abstract, we thought that any book of this type would have sections that are out of date simply because it is so hard to fix in print countries where events are changing so rapidly. We studied the section on Uganda carefully, aware that the government there had changed twice since this book was written. But we were pleased to find that the accurate historical account allowed the situation at the time of writing to be put into proper perspective as well as providing a background against which to understand subsequent changes.

We were especially impressed with the sections on the Southern African countries. The Western media have unleashed barrage of propaganda not only to justify corporate and government involvement in propping up minority racist regimes such as exist in Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, but also to attempt to dis-credit genuine progress being made in creating democratic institutions in recently independent countries such as Angola and Mozambique. The clear historical sketches in this book provide any reader with sufficient objective material to understand these struggles for human dignity against centuries of inhuman exploitation.

Susan Hurlich and Paul Puritt, Oxfam - Canada.

This column was published in the December 1979 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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Africa explained Fact File
Product information by Dennis Lewycky and Susan White.
Star rating4
Publisher The Manitoba Council for International Co­operation

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This article was originally published in issue 082

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