The Full View of a Continent

To identify Africa with misery is a distortion. Nevertheless, a continent with centuries of cultural and scientific achievement has been reduced in the popular imagination to a land of flies and pot-bellied children.

The U.S. press fashions such distortions by concentrating on Africa's "bloody" civil wars, "corrupt" leaders, "tribal" violence, and "failed" socialist experiments. Two recent Los Angeles Times headlines announced that Africa is "on the road to nowhere" and "cursed by man and nature." Rarely does Africa come into focus as a place of creative power and hope. Unfortunately, best-selling books about Africa delve only a little deeper than the daily paper.

Blaine Harden's Africa: Dispatches From a Fragile Continent is no exception. Harden, who was the Africa correspondent for The Washington Post for five years, has written a sweeping, detailed book on Africa's bad news. His certainty that Africa is on a slide into oblivion is outstripped only by the flat-footedness of his assertions: "Nigeria -- ­horrible, ugly, boastful, coup-crazed, self-destructive, too-goddam-hot Nigeria­ -- is black Africa's principal prospect for a future that is something other than despotic, desperate, and dependent." For U.S. readers used to equating cynicism with progressive thought, Harden's arch style may not at first come across for what it really is: disdain.

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