The Book of the Week is “Chasing the Devil” by Tim Butcher, published in 2010. This volume’s author, a loyal fan of the British author Graham Greene, wanted to retrace the steps of Greene, who made treks on foot in Sierra Leone and Liberia in 1935. Greene went with his cousin to observe whether the countries were still practicing slavery. Butcher, accompanied by his friend’s son, insisted on having similarly primitive conditions on his trip in 2009. Both of the aforementioned countries have suffered bloody civil wars in recent decades.
Great Britain colonized Sierra Leone in 1807. In the 1940’s and 1950’s, many poor farmers abandoned their subsistence labor for a chance to get rich mining diamonds. Extreme greed prompted diamond smuggling. Although the nation achieved independence in 1961, it fell into disarray in the early 1970’s, as “… order collapsed and the pillars of society that I [Butcher] take for granted in a functioning state, such as the availability of fair-minded police or economic stability or unbiased journalism, crumbled away.”
The violence among white officials, black settlers and native Africans continued through 2002. Around then, a bloodless coup occurred, which represented progress. At the time of his visit, the author reported that Sierra Leone was fraught with corruption, and was suffering “brain drain” and “capital flight.” However, China became interested in building infrastructure and investing there due to untapped iron ore deposits. Modernization has been occurring, but not without growing pains. One part of that has been the advent of cars on the yet-to-be-constructed roads, causing extremely bad traffic jams.
Liberia became independent in 1847. In years prior, the United States launched a public relations initiative to assist freed slaves in returning to their homeland, just as the British did in Sierra Leone. However, the Americans did not colonize Liberia. This meant that the nation had black leadership much sooner than did Sierra Leone. Even so, in the early going, white men ran the campaign with hypocrisy and greed.
Read the book to learn more about Butcher’s trip and the histories of Sierra Leone and Liberia in the time of Graham Greene, and in the last twenty years.