Africa: Al­tered States, Or­di­nary Mir­a­cles

Africa Renewal - - Africa Books - By Richard Dow­den — Pavithra Rao

PublicAf­fairs, New York, NY, USA, 2010; 592 pp; pb $ 19.95

Africa is like a gi­ant ta­pes­try; lots of colour­ful threads make up a vast and com­plex con­ti­nent. How­ever, the Western world of­ten over­looks its many sides. In­stead, it sees Africa as one “coun­try” that is plagued with dis­as­ters of ev­ery kind. To the Western au­di­ence, Africa is hope­less and con­stantly ex­pe­ri­enc­ing suf­fer­ing.

Au­thor Richard Dow­den, who moved to Uganda in 1971 to work as a teacher and jour­nal­ist, seeks to un­ravel com­mon mis­con­cep­tions about Africa. He re­lies on his ex­ten­sive travel across the con­ti­nent to do so in his book, Africa: Al­tered States, Or­di­nary Mir­a­cles. He is re­al­is­tic in his quest – he ac­knowl­edges Africa’s well-known strug­gle with poverty and cor­rup­tion but also paints a dif­fer­ent pic­ture – a re­al­is­tic pic­ture of a land where, along with the strug­gles and losses, there are vic­to­ries and tri­umphs. In short, he show­cases an Africa in which there is hope.

The au­thor ex­plains his ea­ger­ness to project the “real” Africa: “The or­di­nary gets ig­nored in Africa as it does in Asia or South Amer­ica. Nor­mal­ity is nice but it does not – as they say – sell news­pa­pers … It is the same with most of Africa. Not all Africans are fight­ing or starv­ing. Mil­lions have never known hunger or war and lead or­di­nary peace­ful lives.” But this as­pect is not news­wor­thy and in­stead the me­dia like to main­tain Africa’s tar­nished im­age.

To ex­plore Africa’s true essence with all its in­tri­ca­cies and nu­ances, Dow­den in­tro­duces read­ers to his per­sonal ac­counts: he presents vi­brant anec­dotes from Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and So­ma­lia, among others. Each story por­trays Africa in its re­al­ity and high­lights sto­ries of strug­gle and tales of sur­vival. For ex­pa­tri­ates, na­tives and other for­eign­ers, the 592-page book is some­thing to rel­ish. But the au­thor warns: “Be­ware. Africa can be ad­dic­tive.”

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