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When Africa makes international news, it is usually because war has broken out or some bizarre natural disaster has
taken a large number of lives. Westerners are appallingly ignorant of Africa otherwise, a condition that the great
Polish journalist and writer Ryszard Kapuœciñski helps remedy with this book based on observations gathered over more
than four decades.
Kapuœciñski first went to Africa in 1957, a time pregnant with possibilities as one country after another declared
independence from the European colonial powers. Those powers, he writes, had "crammed the approximately ten thousand
kingdoms, federations, and stateless but independent tribal associations that existed on this continent in the middle of
the nineteenth century within the borders of barely forty colonies." When independence came, old interethnic rivalries,
long suppressed, bubbled up to the surface, and the continent was consumed in little wars of obscure origin, from
caste-based massacres in Rwanda and ideological conflicts in Ethiopia to hit-and-run skirmishes among Tuaregs and Bantus
on the edge of the Sahara. With independence, too, came the warlords, whose power across the continent derives from the
control of food, water, and other life-and-death resources, and whose struggles among one another fuel the continent's
seemingly endless civil wars. When the warlords "decide that everything worthy of plunder has been extracted,"
Kapuœciñski writes, wearily, they call a peace conference and are rewarded with credits and loans from the First World,
which makes them richer and more powerful than ever, "because you can get significantly more from the World Bank than
from your own starving kinsmen."
Constantly surprising and eye-opening, Kapuœciñski's book teaches us much about contemporary events and recent history
in Africa. It is also further evidence for why he is considered to be one of the best journalists at work today.