TBR: New News Out of Africa

I really wanted to like today’s book, New News Out of Africa: Uncovering Africa’s Renaissance, by Charlayne Hunter-Gault.  I’ve always admired Hunter-Gault’s journalism, and her personal story is heroic — she one of the two black students to integrate the University of Georgia.  And I agree with her point that western coverage of Africa is almost always limited to what she calls "the four Ds" — Death, Disaster, Disease, and Despair (plus one C, corruption).

But I found the book slow going (even though it’s only 142 pages).  Hunter-Gault spends a lot of time covering the relatively familiar story of the peaceful transition of South Africa from apartheid to democracy, and moves so quickly through a laundry list of other countries making progress that the details blur together.  Because she has so much ground to cover in a short space, she rarely gets into the details of the human stories that bring her reportage to life.  And she tries so hard to be even-handed that she winds up being almost mealy mouthed in places.  (I sputtered a bit over her statement that donor funding to Zimbabwe has declined "due to what Western agencies regarded as bad governance.")

The book is divided into three sections, based on three lectures that Hunter-Gault gave at Harvard in 2003.  The first section focuses on South Africa and its transformation since the fall of apartheid.  The second discusses the growth of (at least the forms of) democracy across the continent.  I found this the least persuasive section, with Hunter-Gault often having to point to the persistence of opposition movements in the face of brutal crackdowns as a sign of the people’s desire for democracy, rather than being able to point to significant progress.  The third section is where Hunter-Gault hits her stride, writing with passion about the African journalists who persist in the face of limited resources and often government censorship to report the news, both good and bad.

Ultimately, the book disappointed, because I didn’t feel like I knew any more about Africa when I finished than when I started.  Do any of you have suggestions for books to read?  I’ll admit that I took both The End of Poverty and White Man’s Burden out of the library this summer, and only got a few chapters into each of them before they were due.

2 Responses to “TBR: New News Out of Africa”

  1. Jennifer Says:

    I’m not sure what about Africa you’re looking for, but I found In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz; living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu’s Congo by Michaela Wrong, a fascinating study of all the ways in which colonialism stuffed up the Congo, with a lot of help from those on the ground.
    Probably easier for me to be clearsighted about it given that the colonial power in question was Belgium not Britain (which I still do feel some kinship with).
    She’s written another book which I haven’t read but seen reviewed fairly positively – I Didn’t Do It for You: How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation.

  2. Jennifer James Says:

    I love visiting your blog because I know I’m always going to come away with valuable information. Thank you for this review! I saw New News featured rather prominently in a recent Essence and filed it away as a “must-get”. I am disappointed to hear that it really didn’t say much. Although, I must admit, something told me it wouldn’t. A book so short can only do so much and as someone who keeps up with African news I knew instinctively that it could only amount to fluff.
    I just finished a book that was truly enlightening: Century of Genocide by Samuel Totten, William S. Parsons and Israel W. Charny. It came out in 2004, but is well worth a read. I also just finished Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak by Jean Hatzfeld. I highly recommend it. I’ve been meaning to read White Man’s Burden. Thank you for the reminder.
    Also, there’s a blog I’d like to share with you. You may already know about it. It’s written by Jan Pronk, the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations in Sudan and leader of the UN peace keeping operation (UNMIS – http://www.unmis.org) there. I wrote a post -http://joyride.clubmom.com/joyride_through_insanity/2006/08/i_touched_sudan.html – about a brief email exchange we had. You can find his blog at http://www.janpronk.nl/index120.html.

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