cover image Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent

Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent

Blaine Harden. W. W. Norton & Company, $22.5 (333pp) ISBN 978-0-393-02882-9

After 30 years of independence, Africa relies on foreign aid that is based more on Western computations than on the domestic needs of countries that lack national identities. Only in Botswana does democracy work; elsewhere, the ``Big Man Disease'' prevails, notes the author. Focusing on individuals but combining travel, history, politics, economics and generalities of African society, Washington Post correspondent Harden explores the indigenous systems that help hold ``the whole sorry mess'' together. He shows how Liberian Samuel Doe's talk about democracy attracted American aid dollars, which he used to shore up the vacillating support of his countrymen. Harden's experiences on a Congo river boat suggest that Zaire is pervaded by the attitude of its president, who has ``made his billions the old-fashioned way. He stole it.'' The account of a trial in Nairobi to determine where to bury a Luo lawyer is an allegory for the most wrenching conflict of modern African life: the rub between tribal tradition and modern Western values. For those who don't know Africa, this outstanding book is a good place to start. Photos not seen by PW. (Oct.)