Richard Dowden, Africa: altered states, Ordinary Miracles, Portobello Books, 2009.
Richard Dowden, the famous British journalist on Africa has his take on the situation in the continent he has covered for various British media such as the Economist, Times and Independent since 1983. After other British reporters like Michela Wrong, Blame Hardyn, Tim Butcher and many others who have came to Africa, reported it for British media and wrote about it, Dowden, currently head of the prestigious Royal African society in London, has decided to share his innermost feelings about the continent he claims to love. Western journalists who cover Africa suffer a straitjacket of toeing the editorial line of their newspapers, while harbouring deep love and sympathy for the ordinary peoples of the continent. The usual stable of bad news from Africa such as famine, war and AIDS which they report daily is not always what they see when they cover Africa, yet it is what they report so as to keep their jobs. They see lot of good things happening such as the toil of women, the youth entrepreneurship, ordinary men and women who stand for justice and defend the poor in their own little corners. When they cannot report on such success stories, they develop a guilt which they could only assuage by writing books after retirement to tell the story of the miracles they saw but may not have reported, while covering Africa.
Dowden, I dare say, falls in this category of western journalists. He came to Africa in 1971 and fell in love with the continent and championed its cause even before he started to report on it. Sadly, as a journalists he wrote about the wars and famine and the failures, and less about the hope. In this book, he gives a balanced view of our great continent of the mighty rivers, great deserts, majestic mountains, active people and religious masses. He dissects Africa rise as a continent of newly independent states in the 1950s and ?60s under the charismatic leaders of Nkrumah, Nyerere and others to its slide in the 1970s under dictators like Amin and Bokasssa and its new independence of the 1990s when these Big Men were chased away by the gale of good governance and democracy. He writes about the small people he met, the ordinary village school teachers, the petty traders, the hardworking market women; in these ordinary peoples? toil he sees the real hope for Africa and its people. It is these people who motor the Africa into the century of success. Dowden does not prescribe solutions for the challenges facing Africa; what he does is to insists that at the end of the day, it is Africans who will remove the tick from their skins and liberate themselves from poverty, tyranny and want. Also, it is Africans who will sing their own praises and blow their trumpets of success if they register success. This is an excellent book which deserves reading by all of us.
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