24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
one of the finest books I have ever read about Africa,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Shadow of the Sun: My African Life (Hardcover)
Africa is a continent of such extraordinary diversity that almost anything you say about it collectively is both true and untrue, depending on where you stand literally and figuratively.
But one thing is common to all of Africa: it is subject to entirely different rules. What is true in Europe is not true in Africa; what is an article of faith in Africa is incomprehensible in Europe.
Ryszard Kapuscinski, a Pole, has been visiting Africa as a journalist since l957. In pursuit, admittedly hopelessly, of a true understanding of Africa, he has avoided 'official routes, important personages and high-level politics'.
He preferred the nomad camp, the Lagos slums, the bombed Eritrean towns. He has tried to understand the spiritual life of Africans, while making it clear that the term 'African', although necessary, is not really helpful.
But it is here, in the margins, that Kapuscinski has achieved something no other commentator I know of has done, compassionate insights which reveal so much.
For example, he explains that for an African, time is not, in the European sense, a master to which the African is enslaved. On the contrary, time only exists when things happen. Thus a bus will leave a terminal when it is full, a ceremony will take place when everybody turns up.
From his very first visit to Ghana until the present day, he has been overwhelmed by the beauty and the squalor of Africa, and puzzled both by its
generosity and its cruelty.
Kapuscinski comes close to saying that Africans are incapable of engendering within themselves the will to transform. We are told African leaders also have a fatal lack of self-critical faculties, which leads to delusion and paranoia, grudges and manias. He might have been writing about Mugabe.
Change leads inevitably to banditry, corruption and power struggles. In a particularly horrifying account of a visit to Liberia, he tells of a two-hour
video freely available in Monrovia, which shows the torture of President Samuel Doe at the hands of a rival, Prince - later President - Charles Taylor, who orders his ears cut off in an effort to get his Swiss bank account numbers.
Many hours later Doe dies of blood loss. But there is no prurience or contempt in Kapuscinski's account.
On the contrary, he wonders how it is that a simple tribesman could have come to power, and he explains lucidly the troubled history of Liberia and the extreme irony that its American freed slaves repatriated here instituted a form of apartheid forbidding all contact with the 'savages' of the interior.
Within a broad band stretching across central Africa, Kapuscinski has visited many extraordinary places.
He is fascinated by the states of mind, the essential beliefs, of the myriad people called Africans: some have obsessions with ancestors, others with portents, others with cattle, others with evil spirits.
Amost all have a profound sense of community and kinship. Kapuscinski puts this down in part to the oral tradition of history: history is essentially an affirmation of your place in the family, the tribe, the clan.
WHERE there were more than 10,000 fiefdoms before colonisation, there are now 53 countries.
Far from fragmenting African society, colonialism forced it into countries that do not correspond in any way to its religious, agricultural or cultural practices.
It is this which has led almost inevitably to the horrors of places like Rwanda and Amin's Uganda.
Although his prognosis for Africa is not good, Kapuscinski's humanity, his insights and the sheer brilliance of his writing make this one of the finest books I have ever read about Africa - and I have read many.