The African Predicament

Deborah Scroggins/The Nation

Howard French has written a passionate, heartbreaking and ultimately heartbroken book about covering West Africa’s blood-soaked descent into a nightmare of war and greed as a reporter for the New York Times in the 1990s. The book is called A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa, and, much as French wished it otherwise, there is far more tragedy than hope in it.

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French Makes Impassioned Plea

Shelley Neumeier/Overseas Press Club

In some ways, Howard French didn’t have a choice about writing “A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa” (Alfred A. Knopf, 2004). The book chronicles some of the troubles of Africa’s recent past, particularly the devastating war in what was then called Zaire. “I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t wrestle with it and attempt to bring it to the world’s attention,” French said at a recent OPC book night. “This is about the failure of mankind.”
French has had a long relationship with the continent, particularly with West Africa. As he was heading off to college in 1975, his father, a doctor, took a job with the World Health Organization in Abidjan, the capital of the Ivory Coast. French spent summers with his family, and then moved there after college. Initially, he had no interest in journalism—he thought he’d try to write short stories, maybe a novel—but he began freelancing, soon filling in for The Washington Post bureau chief. “What seized me,” he said, “was the idea that people would pay me to go somewhere and write about it.” After his first son was born, he decided to get a full time job, and landed with The New York Times at the metro desk in New York.

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The African Maelstrom of War, Corruption, Disease and Death

Robert I. Rotberg/The New York Times

Africa is a tough, bittersweet beat. Its long-suffering people are too frequently caught in the crossfire of rampaging wars, afflicted in their millions with AIDS and other desperate diseases, preyed upon by greedy despots and prevented by corrupt leaders and bureaucracies from obtaining basic schooling, medical attention and access to economic opportunity.
Africa is raw but resilient. Yet Africans learn to survive. They make do. They reap tiny crops from hard and inhospitable soils. They collect firewood or trek for water across vast distances. They pedal miles with huge bags of charcoal. They sell cast-off clothes or used flip-flops in ad hoc markets along the banks of remote rivers or, for pennies, thrust peeled oranges into the outstretched hands of thirsty and crowded long-distance bus passengers. They scrabble together some old pieces of tin and canvas and create slum shanties within sight of cities of skyscrapers.

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Online Review

Meg Wood

Part travel memoir, part history book, and part political analysis, this richly written look at contemporary Africa should be required reading for every future politician. French, who has travel extensively in Africa and who obviously loves it deeply, not only describes the current problems many African nations face, but takes us beyond those problems back to the history that led up to them ? a history soaked in centuries of Western manipulation, greed, and onvenience. The result has been a never ending spiral of ever-deepening crisis, not just political, but also economic, agricultural, and social. African nations with their own functional and growing governments and cultures were stomped to pieces by Western nations with an eye on more colonization. And when the West got tired of having to deal with them, it just “liberated” them, dumped them, and, in many places, left them in a state of absolute chaos from which they are still struggling to emerge.

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The Pathological Dictators Of Africa: An Examination Of The Causes Overlooks The Obvious – The People Who Seized Power Were Criminals

The Hartford Courant

When French arrived at the Times’ office in the Ivory Coast capital of Abidjan in 1994, the continent had achieved a rare degree of world attention with a peaceful transfer of power in South Africa and a horrific civil war in Rwanda. While South Africa offered the hope of a better future, the catastrophe in Rwanda was a signal of things to come.
French bore witness to the gruesome internecine conflict that destroyed Liberia and the violent collapse of Zaire into military anarchy. Complicating matters for the beleaguered African people were two vicious health-care crises: the Ebola virus and the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

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