correspondent and Newsweek contributing editor Alex Perry (Lifeblood) takes an
ambitious and controversial approach to answering some of the thorniest
questions about Africa’s contradictions and its epic quest for freedom.
Perry starts from the premise that “outsiders” all too often get Africa wrong. The journalists, academics and foreign aid workers who define Africa for the Western world tend to treat Africa as a monolithic entity or sell their own solution. Well-intentioned aid often infantilizes and humiliates. Aware he’s an outsider, Perry avoids interviewing familiar experts in favor of recounting the stories he’s been told over the course of a decade crisscrossing the continent. He writes about men and women from Kenya, South Sudan, Rwanda, South Africa and elsewhere, individuals whose daily struggles in the face of unimaginable hardship reveal commonalities and say something meaningful about the Western response to Africans and Africa in general. There’s Khalima, the 38-year-old mother of nine in Mogadishu, husband near death, her five remaining children left at the city gates while she searches for a burial site for her dying seven-year-old son. But the city is so devastated by famine and war that there is no more spare land for graves. The episode gives a human face to an avoidable disaster: southern Somalia was under the control of a militant group with terrorist ties, and a U.S. aid block, part of the U.S. war on terror, was intended to deprive a few thousand militia fighters, but effectively denied emergency food to several million Somalis, resulting in a humanitarian crisis.
Perry does equal justice to other seemingly intractable problems, like extreme economic disparities, the unimaginable scale of the continent, the legacies of history--which include civilizations and cultures that Western explorers failed to recognize as advanced--and the ongoing consequences of slavery and colonialism.
Yet, the continent has enormous potential: Africa’s economic growth has been double the global average since 2003, and accounts for more than half the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies. Today, 50% of Africans are destitute; by 2030, that number is expected to fall to 25%, a difference of a half a billion human beings. Perry is clear about both the profound humanitarian implications, and the painful and inevitable social and economic disruptions--the “rift” of the book’s title.
The Rift is an immensely readable, shocking and important book. It challenges readers to think about how we relate to a changing continent, the suffering around us, and what it means to do good in the world.
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