Explorers Of The Nile: The Triumph And Tragedy Of A Great Victorian Adventure, by Tim Jeal
This particular book takes a tough line that manages to point out that European imperialism doesn’t have as much negative things about it as one might expect when it comes to Africa. The state of Africa before European imperialism, far from being a paradise, was a place where Islam was rapidly spreading its influence and where small peoples were being destroyed through the spread of the forgotten Islamic slave trade. The author, without being a huge fan of imperialism, recognizes that the horrors of the East African slave trade did justify European intervention and that the ideals of the Europeans were not wholly evil and their behavior towards the Africans was often idealistic and featuring better government than Africa has known since then, even if Africa has not paid off its promise of providing a worthwhile market for European products to the extent that was hoped for. Nor did Africa prove to provide rich places for European or Indian settlers, as those people attracted hostility and persecution once Europe no longer ruled over the area. The misrule that Africa has seen since independence is, alas, all too easily recognized as well, although the author notes that Africa’s triumphs are often neglected because hey don’t fit into the narratives that people want to use to promote generosity to Africa.
This audiobook is twelve cds long and it is divided into two sections. The first section, and longer one, looks at the various Victorian adventures that sought to understand the sources of the Nile. We see the rivalry between Burton and Speak, from Burton’s unconventional lifestyle to his attempts to sabotage Speak, who ended up dying young and not being given the credit he deserved for his discovery of Lake Victoria and his understanding of the lake as the source of the Nile. After that the author talks about such explorers as Livingston, Stanley, and Baker, among others, discussing how it is that the Great Lakes region was divided into various watersheds, which required numerous exploratory missions, lots of deaths, and eventually brought European powers to seek to colonize the area. The second part of the book then discusses the tragedy that Africa suffered under imperial rule, including a discussion of the struggle over the water of the Nile River and also the suffering that resulted to South Sudan as a result of the division of the Nilotic people between domination by Sudanese Arabs and by Bantu Ugandans, themselves burdened by ancestral enemies.
Was the Nile search worth it? The Nile River has a complicated course, with beginnings in the Ethiopian Highlands as well as in the area south of lake Albert and also in Lake Victoria and a couple of rivers that come out of Rwanda and Burundi. The efforts to uncover the source of the Nile led brave and idealistic and ambitious Europeans to suffer a great deal of irritation and danger and sometimes even death at the hand of African diseases as well as African rulers who were complicit in the Islamic slave trade. The author explores the contingent nature of the history of the area where Britain and France were able to avoid going to war and where Britain rather than Germany ended up securing the Great Lakes region of Africa as a whole. If imperialism is not generally viewed very highly by contemporaries, the efforts against the slave trade and the spread of Christianity in Africa that helped to limit the spread of Islam can all be counted as good things. By and large, if this book has a tough line to draw between its praise of ideals and its desire to give proper honor both to Europeans and Africans, it is an easy enough book to appreciate for its attempts to be fair-minded.