A Brief Political And Geographic History Of Africa: Where Are…Belgian Congo, Rhodesia, And Kush, by John Davenport
It is perhaps inevitable that a political and geographical history of Africa would involve contemporary squabbles over politics and the repercussions of Africa’s troubled history. Despite my general distaste for victim tales, I found a great deal to appreciate this book even if I did not find it as good as some of the other books in this series . The author manages not to engage in the “blame whitey” approach to an extent that would have been troublesome, although the book (as is inevitable) does talk about some of the horrors of European colonization and exploitation and their tangled and complicated afterlives. Perhaps it is a matter of expectations, in that one expects a book on Africa to be fairly depressing and grim and when the author manages to find something different to talk about than the usual blaming on neocolonialism or the sins of generations past, the book is all the more appreciated because such an approach is not a common one, even if there is still a question of balance that remains about the contents of the book.
As is the case with the rest of this series, the book is only a bit more than 100 pages, including a timeline, notes, suggestions for further reading, as well as a glossary and index. This particular volume has nine chapters (as opposed to the usual eight) and begins in a strange place with the fate of white farmers and settlers in Zimbabwe and their benefit and worth to the economy of Zimbabwe despite Mugabe’s efforts at expropriating their land in the past. After that the author looks at Nubia and Kush and how much of it was put underwater by Nasser’s Aswan Dam. A chapter on native African empires follows before the author looks at the horrors of the Belgian Congo as well as Cecil Rhodes’ efforts at building a colonial empire for Great Britain. A discussion of the Boer War and the tensions between racism and internecine warfare follows before the author talks about the influence of World War I on Africa given the battles between the Central and Entente Powers in the colonies they had previously carved out of the continent. The book ends with a discussion of Africa after independence with a focus on the difficulties Africa has faced with the AIDS crisis.
As is common in this series, it is impossible for the authors to be exhaustive when it comes to the regional geography. For example, the authors included nothing about Wakanda, although that isn’t too surprising given the fact that this book was written before that place became particularly well-known. Likewise, the author does not spend as much time talking about the African kingdoms south of the Sahel or the slave trade as much as one would expect given its importance to African demography. Likewise, the author is not very hard on African leaders for their corrupt and authoritarian ways. The book discusses struggles but seems remarkably light on passing the blame for those problems and their continued difficulty, and that is something that some readers will greatly appreciate and that other readers will likely find a bit disappointing. Much of what you get out of this book, though, even more than is usually the case, will depend on what you bring to this book. Someone looking at in-depth discussion or a look at more than immediately recognizable oddball aspects of history will find this book a bit superficial but it definitely gives a reader encouragement for further research.
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