Book Review: The Black Nile

The Black Nile:  One Man’s Amazing Journey Through Peace And War On The World’s Longest River, by Dan Morrison

In looking at this author’s work with Slate and his obvious leftist perspective, I am tempted as a reader to troll this author pretty hard.  Yet the fact that this author undertook his dangerous travel [1] on spec, on his own money, and was committed to see it through is remarkable and admirable.  I suspect that the author and I would not see eye to eye when it came to many political questions, but at the same time I do not think that his travels were something that would be beyond the pale for me to do, even if rowing down the Nile River in a rickety boat does not sound particularly appealing.  The author’s curiosity about corruption and the way that people try to preserve their culture in the face of massive pressure is something I share and I found him to be a kindred soul in his willingness to tweak authority but also desire to know as much as possible from as many perspectives as possible.  The area of the White Nile between its source in Lake Victoria bordering Uganda and Egypt is definitely a messed up and dysfunctional area, but it is one worth knowing and the author gives a brave effort in understanding it through personal experience.

This book consists of about 300 pages of material in ten chapters about two trips the author made down the Nile, more or less, starting from the source in Lake Victoria through Uganda, the incipient but not yet independent South Sudan with its various divides and issues, Sudan, and Egypt.  Along the way the author wrestles with a large degree of anti-Western prejudice on the part of many people, sees the result of foreign aid and massive foreign direct investment in countries without a great deal of political or economic infrastructure, and meets some terrifying people including uniformed and secret police in Egypt, protesters and native groups in Sudan against the dam building and the destruction of the livelihood of maligned minority tribes, and various refugees and military and political figures in Sudan, as well as some ordinary people in Uganda trying to make their own lives better.  The author’s viewpoint is rather melancholy in nature and he certainly has a well-founded desire both to explore places that others seem unwilling to do, especially in Egypt, as well as some places that are quite frankly dangerous to visit.  This is definitely a book that has a lot to say about politics and legitimacy in Africa from the point of view of an American who is knowledgeable and sensitive and at least somewhat patriotic, and there is much to enjoy as well as reflect upon here.

In reading this book as someone who is aware of and interested in the problems of the world, even obscure parts of Africa, there are at least a few takeaways I have from this book.  For one, there are dynamic parts of Africa that have the chance for growth if they can ever get their act together and stop blaming whitey for all their problems.  Additionally, the author is not sanguine about the chances of success in South Sudan given the problems between Dinka and Nuer and between those who stayed in the area and accommodated with (North) Sudan’s military government as well as the fact that there is no developed infrastructure or contractual relationships to bring the oil in South Sudan to the outside world and benefit the people that live there.  The author is similarly pessimistic about Sudan given the dominance of that country’s politics and economy by a small Arab elite, to the misery of everyone else, and he is even more pessimistic about Egypt given its political malaise and its seeming lack of cultural dynamism or even basic curiosity in the outside world.  Suffice it to say that this region will continue to have serious trouble that effects the rest of the world as it has done so far, and the corrupt governments of the area will continue to look for scapegoats in the absence of an ability to genuinely do something about the severe problems they face in ruling effectively.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to Book Review: The Black Nile

  1. Pingback: Book Review: A Concise History Of South Sudan | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: The Root Causes Of Sudan’s Civil Wars | Edge Induced Cohesion

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