Book Review: Neither Devil Nor Child: How Western Attitudes Are Harming Africa,

Friday, June 01, 2018

How the West keeps Africa Poor and Unstable

By Tom Young, OneWorld Publishing 2018

This new book is polemical. It is also an out of the box book. It is also full of counter narratives. Tom Young is a professor at the prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London and a keen observer of African politics.

In this tome, he asserts that all of Africa’s current relations with the West is determined by three lingering historical ‘elements’ namely: ‘colonialism, race and slavery’(p.2). Of these, the author says that colonialism is most significant because it was done so quickly and also that it was done under the pretext of a ‘civilizing mission’. Because of the latter reason in particular, the author argues that in fact many in Europe were ‘not against colonialism per se, but the deficiencies in its practice’. For example,  he insists that even the old Karl Marx himself, who lived all his life criticizing one form of exploitation and another, saw colonialism as ‘historically progressive’ as it was ‘likely to bring positive change in the long term’ (p.3). On the race and racism, the author dares us to consider the fact that it is not only Europeans who heap racist invectives on Africans, but almost all other races such as Indians and Chinese. He cites the ‘numerous incidents in India in which African students… were racially abused’ (p.14). On the thorny issue of slavery, the author says that the emphasis has been unfairly put at the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, ‘playing on the themes of ‘tight packing’ , monstrous rates of mortality across the Middle Passage and cheap slaves bought for virtually nothing’(p.16). But what about the other forms of slavery which Africans suffered? Like the notorious trade in Africans across the Sahara desert?  It is understudied even though it was also dehumanizing.  

The author relates that these three sores or wounds inflicted on Africa have left the continent ‘with nothing but resentment’.

Now further down the book, the author begins to address the other thorny issues that contemporary Africa is saddled with: corruption, foreign aid, humanitarian intervention.

On corruption, the author relates the depths of the cancer in Africa when 18 tea cups were ‘purchased’ for 22 thousand dollars! The funny thing here is that it was aid money which purportedly ‘purchased’ this astronomical price (p.25). Here what the author is driving at is that foreign aid helps to fuel corruption in Africa. African states could be so poor that were it not for the foreign aid pouring into them, there would not have been enough to steal anyway! The link he has made between corruption and humanitarian aid is also pertinent.

The disasters like the 2014 Ebola crises or natural calamities have also brought a lot of relief into the continent. Sadly, these humanitarian efforts easily become consumed in the corruption index of the ruling elite. Thus the paradox of well meaning support fuelling the ugly fire of corruption cannot be lost. ‘Let us help, not hector’ Africa is the conclusion of the book.

This is a highly engaging book and highly recommended.

Available at Timbooktoo tel 4494345