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The Graves Are Not Yet Full: Race, Tribe and Power in the Heart of Africa [Paperback]

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Book Description

14 Feb 2002
Since 1983 journalist Bill Berkeley has traveled through Africa's most troubled lands-Rwanda, Liberia, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda, and Zaire-seeking out the tyrants and military leaders who orchestrate seemingly intractable wars. Shattering the myth that ancient tribal hatred lies at the heart of the continent's troubles, Berkeley instead holds accountable the "Big Men" who came to power during this period, describing the very rational methods behind their apparent madness. A New Republic Book

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Product details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; New Ed edition (14 Feb 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465006426
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465006427
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 14 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 668,399 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


"You will understand Africa differently after reading this book...the richly reported stories he tells to make his case are unforgettable." -William Finnegan.

About the Author

Bill Berkeley is a contributing editor on the op-ed page of the New York Times and a Fellow at the World Policy Institute of the New School for Social Research in New York City. He lives in New York City.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
ON A SATURDAY MORNING in June 1992, the Liberian port of Buchanan sweltered in the dense tropical humidity of West Africa's rainy season. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
77 of 78 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Bill Berkeley spent a decade writing about Africa for US publications, such as Atlantic Monthly, which left him free from deadlines and indulged his taste for interminable journeys on local transport to places journalists rarely go. Thousands of interviews with those in power and far from power gave him a picture of the last violent decade as Africans saw it and lived it across the continent. The great virtue of Berkeley's book - apart from the fact that he is a lovely writer - is that he has a coherent idea of what lies behind the wars in the six countries he writes about: Sudan, Liberia, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Berkeley ended his travels determined to rebut what he calls the "nonsense" written by influential journalists such as Robert Kaplan and Keith Richburg, who have pictured for an American audience a mysterious Africa where people are different - inscrutable and savage. "Fully evolved human beings in the 20th century don't do things like that," wrote Richburg of the Rwandan genocide. Kaplan meanwhile speculated that the Liberian civil war came from "new-age primitivism" born of superstitions that apparently flourish in tropical rain forests. "In places where western enlightenment has not penetrated . . . people find liberation in violence." That such claptrap has been so respectfully received in western intellectual circles underlines what is different about Berkeley - he has spent a decade listening to Africans, unlike most western journalists, academics, diplomats and aid workers, who prefer to talk to each other and recycle their own ideas.
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36 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A disturbing book, but very revealing! 18 Oct 2004
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a frightening book, but perhaps one of the most important ever written on the state of the continent over the last 10 years. The author destroys all the myths about tribal politics in Africa, especially that old chestnut about 'age old tribal hatreds' we hear so often in the western media. He shows that most of these hatreds were no more than mere rivalries, but that in modern times these rivalries and prejudices against other tribes have been manipulated and turned into hatred. This has been largely the work of, not military dictators like Amin, but the so called 'intellectuals'. In Rwanda the power of radio broadcasts is shown in its full devastating results with the constant encouragement to continue the killing, because 'the graves are not yet full'.
Besides Rwanda, there are revealing chapters on the Congo, Liberia and South Africa. All are disturbing reports, showing a calculating and brutal leadership all over the continent. The only conclusion I could draw from this book is that Africa has no hope - at least not with the current leadership, and with the attitudes among western governments, many of which benefit from the chaos in those countries.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At last, a western reporter who doesn't condescend to Africa 5 July 2001
By A Customer - Published on
As an african who is tired of reading self-fulfilling in-anities in the western press about how africans are programmed to commit "tribal violence" on each other, this book is a refreshing breath of clean air. It shows how political elites, and their backers use ethnicity as a means for holding on to power. It details how conscience is completely absent in the people who draft the foreign policies to support the dictators of the day, taking former assistant secretary of state Chester Crocker as an example. It also looks at the cynical manipulation of ethnic tensions by erstwhile "leaders" to get power (such as Charles Taylor of Liberia), or to maintain it (Mobutu of Zaire). (Mobutu is given praise by president after president in his 33 years of looting, one calling him "an uncommonly wise leader). The author repeats his observation that most african "tribes" live together in peace, but that conflict is manufactured by the elites. He gives the example of Liberia, where two "tribes" were involved in killing each other, but how just across the border, which is nothing more than a dried out this river bed, the same two tribes live together with no problem. This book is a must read for Africans, africanists, and most of all, western journalists who only superficially write on Africa.
19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars On Familiar Ground, With Telling Details 4 July 2001
By Paul Frandano - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Bill Berkeley begins with an interesting idea social scientists have mined deeply: that politics--most frequently of the exploitative tyrannical stripe--and "ethnic competition" provide a far more compelling explanation of ethnic violence than threadbare notions of "primordial conflict"--"that's just the way those people have always been"--which constitute the conventional wisdom underlying most accounts of of ethnic strife in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and the Balkans. Berkeley expressly criticizes popular writers like Robert Kaplan for keeping the conventional--and easily controvertible--wisdom in circulation. In doing so, and in writing to correct the record, Berkeley deserves a pat on the back.
After these introductory passages, the book heads for mostly well worked territory in accounts of African ethnic conflicts Berkeley has, at some point, covered as a reporter (for Atlantic Monthly and other publications). He does this through the lens of six "types"--"the rebel," "the collaborator," "the assistant secretary"--each with its own chapter, some of which work better than others (such as the ones on Chester Crocker, Assistant Secretary of State for African for the entire Reagan Administration and errant practioner of Kissingerian realpolitik, and Gatsho Buthelezi, the Zulu leader who collaborated with South Africa's White Apartheid regime against the Mandela's African National Congress). In other chapters, however, Berkeley is hard-pressed to maintain this focus, especially since he seems determined to cut or stretch his material to give roughly equal attention to each conflict. Still, Berkeley provides reliable, informed overviews, filled out by personal anecdotes, interview material, and occasional gleanings from other scholarly or popular writers.
Some things irritate: I found his use of "tribe" and "tribalism" to be inconsistent, at times diffuse, first criticizing these terms as Western categories imposed on subservient peoples, and later using them conventionally (and, I would add, insensitively), without any suggestion that such usage may be in any way objectionable (at a time when "tribe" has been widely abandoned among Africanists in favor of, say, "people" or "ethnic group"). From time to time the text repeats itself, and Berkeley often returns to home themes artlessly (a problem of structure: if each of your chapters has the same basic point, you'll tend to repeat your punchlines unless you factor them into a common front end or conclusion). And Berkeley is at times too much the "new journalist," gratingly front and center of his own narrative, wearing his progressive credentials and editorial opinions (he's now an editorial writer at the NY Times) on his sleeve, hatband, shoulderbag, and anywhere else he can hang them.
This is nevertheless a book that, apart from its other merits, gets its big concerns right, and for that reason alone I would recommend it as a corrective to a lot of the nonsense on ethnic strife now in circulation.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshing Insight into African Politics 12 Oct 2001
By A Customer - Published on
I bought this book along with Michela Wrong's "In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz." Both are must-reads for anyone interested in Africa. The difference is that Wrong's book is a straight-forward narrative of Zaire's descent into anarchy, whereas Berkeley considers several instances of anarchy and goes one step further by attempting to explain how and why these grim situations came about. His central thesis - that anarchy is a tool used by tyrannical "Big Men" to secure and enhance their own power - helps to dispel the myth that Africa's problems are the result of "age-old hatreds" or "tribal conflicts." Berkeley does a great job of explaining the motives and methods of a diverse array of players (ranging from Mobutu to South African generals to American politicians), thus demonstrating their complicity in creating so many of Africa's past and present problems.
Best of all, Berkeley handles all this weighty material in a very user-friendly manner. The book is well-organized, the points are made clearly and strongly, and his first-hand accounts are vivid and fascinating - more than enough to keep you turning the pages. Highly recommended for anyone looking to understand modern Africa.
21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Africa is a nation with a lot of diseases" - George W Bush 28 Jan 2002
By Amazon Customer - Published on
This oft quoted remark the president made last year is the epitome of what Berkeley calls the "conventional American conception of Africa as a unitary landscape of unremitting despair." The president and his conventional...wisdom? is not the target of Berkeley's book though. The author says that part of the purpose of THE GRAVES ARE NOT YET FULL is a "pointed rebuttal" to Afro-pessimists, the prime example being Robert D Kaplan and his book THE ENDS OF THE EARTH.
Similarly to Michela Wrong and her book - IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF MR KURTZ, Berkeley sees a lot of the problems in Africa as having foreign origins. Much moreso than Wrong though, he develops on the theme that violence and ethnic warfare are not the results of some "ancient tribal hatreds" in the words of Kaplan, but are in fact organized, manipulated, or orchestrated devices used by various African leaders as a means of exerting control and maintaining power. Ethnic conflicts in Africa he plainly says "are all provoked from on high."
He illustrates this point by developing a series of profiles on the manipulative leaders and tales about the victims of their crimes. Berkeley is pretty blunt in his reporting and with his words. He starts off by saying that "this is a book about evil". It should be no surprise then that he is willing to put names to these "creatures of evil". Mobuto Sese Seko of Zaire is here, but again, this book is broader than Wrongs', - hers stopped there, but Berkeley looks at South Africa, Liberia, Angola, Sudan and Rwanda. He names Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Samuel Doe, Charles Taylor, Jonas Savimbi, Hasan Turabi and John Garang. It's not just Africans that are responsible though and in an entire chapter devoted to the role of former Assistant Secretary of State for Africa in the Reagan administration Chester Crocker, we see Berkeley's thesis developed to the full. While not calling the man a war criminal he nevertheless says that he was "the kind of figure many war criminals depend on: an articulate front man, capable of putting an intellectual gloss on otherwise crude power politics." Berkeley believes Crocker is morally guilty of crimes against humanity for supporting the despotic and murderous rule of Samuel Doe in Liberia in the late 1980's.
With all these examples of criminal regimes, evil rulers, and morally corrupt and culpable supporters, it's possible to believe that this is an unremittingly bleak book and that the author holds out no hope for Africa. Not so at all. Berkeley says that "not all the news from Africa is bad, and much of it is hopeful." Yoweri Museveni and Uganda are put forth as an example of what a peaceful, democratic, African future might look like.
All told this is a well researched, broad ranging book which develops an interesting thesis on the causes of what seems to be such an unyielding problem. Berkeley's rational, well written and very plausible argument does offer hope for Africa. While it is true that despotic regimes and evil rulers are a significantly widespread and sometimes well embedded sore, the truth is that once identified and named, a cure can be sought for any disease. This is a much more manageable (and realistic) beginning point than the hand-wringing, non-solution offered by viewing Africa as a single entity plagued with irrational violence and unfathomable tribal slaughters.
69 of 91 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Incomplete Picture of African Conflict 19 Jun 2002
By Cashew Son - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Although I share Berkeley's concern for the people of Africa, in my opinion he is way to eager to prove an initial thesis - that Africa's basic problem is "outside" influence. Like many young idealists who care passionately about their cause, Berkeley is highly selective about what is included in the book, although he does make an admirable effort to give targets of his criticism an opportunity to state their case (no small concession).
Over one-third of the book - nearly 100 pages - is devoted to Liberia, a tiny country with less than three-tenths of one percent of the continent's population. The reason for this is that it is simply not chic to criticize the West unless you can find some way of demonizing the U.S. in the process. This is hard to do in the case of Africa, since the U.S. was never a colonial power there, but Liberia is a country in which the U.S. has had a special interest over the years, which makes it a juicy target. It doesn't hurt that Liberia's worst problems began just as the Reagan administration was being installed, although connecting the dots becomes a bit of a stretch (Berkeley criticizes the U.S. both for supporting the Doe regime in 1986 and then failing to support the regime three years later).
This touches on the main problem with the book, namely that it is a long litany of skin-deep complaints without any exploration of alternatives. Certainly it is easy to criticize the U.S. for supporting the kleptocratic Zairian dictator Mobutu, but how would the country have been any better without Mobutu? Zaire would most certainly have fallen under Soviet influence (if not outright anarchy) and, as we see in places like Guinea and Ethiopia, this would not have been any better for the people or the economy. Failure to hold the line in the Third World would simply have prolonged the Cold War, and the Marxists were far less supportive of human and political rights than was the West.
Berkeley does not mention any Communist countries or African disputes that fail to fit the model, such as that between the Shona and Matabele. His foray into South Africa is an amazing piece of gerrymandering that manages to portray the ANC as a victim of Inkatha aggression. He accomplishes this by focusing only on the Natal area, an Inkatha stronghold in "Zululand." Tough questions are put to the Inkatha leadership on the violence in their district, yet there is no mention of what was happening in the rest of SA. ANC atrocities, such as the Shell House and St. James's church massacres, are neatly sanitized from Berkeley's version of events. One wonders if he ever heard of the Black Consciousness movement and why it no longer exists in SA.
Perhaps instead of trying to fit Africa into a politically correct cliché, Berkeley would have done better to challenge his own preconceptions and educate the reader in the process. There is no harm in providing the total picture, but a dedication to do otherwise, simply for the purpose of influencing the audience, insults those who feel that they can be trusted with the true details of a complex situation.
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