Plenty of field pictures and tales from the last week in Liberia, but no time to write (or upload) them. Hopefully this weekend I’ll have some success.
When should we write about Africa, asks the reviewer? Never.
People shouldn’t write books about Africa. Not the whole of Africa. When was the last time you read a book about Eurasia? Never. The vastness of the European-Asian landmass precludes useful generalisation. And Africa is just as various, if not quite as huge. There are almost as many countries, rather more languages and a comparable degree of environmental diversity. […]
In an important sense, “Africa” is a western invention. Despite attempts by visionaries to promote unity among the states that inherited dominion from Europe’s retreating empires, African politicians have never paid anything more than lip-service to the pan-African ideal. African writers have an uphill task reclaiming the term “Africa” from the mythic associations it has in western literature. Most of these writers don’t write about continental aspirations but about the worlds within a single country, leaving generalisations to World Bank experts, grandstanding politicians and Hollywood stars.
The review strikes me as a bit harsh. There are enumerable volumes entitled “Europe” or “Latin America”. These suffer from all the weaknesses of breadth over depth, but the good ones draw cultural and historical parallels worth making.
I asked a half dozen Liberians their opinoin on the matter today. All saw the idea of pan-Africanism as something worth aspiring to. “Even Obama is our African brother,” said one. Let us cautiously write about so ambitious a topic, but not pretend it’s merely an extension of the colonial impulse.