The Book of the Week is “The Shadow of the Sun” by Ryszard Kapuscinski, originally published in 1998, translated by Klara Glowczewska. This book details the personal observations of a Polish journalist who traveled to various African countries from the late 1950′s through the late 1990′s.
He noted that in 1958 in Ghana, when it came to private citizens’ interaction with their federal government, there was no bureaucracy. If they had a comment or question, they simply personally visited the relevant minister, such as the Minister of Education and Information, and reported their issues. Children started school as young as three. The two types of schools were missionary-run and state-run, but the state still held ultimate power over both, and there was a nationwide curriculum.
The continent of Africa has had its inhabitants and resources exploited for centuries. Colonization gave rise to exportation of slaves, the creation of infrastructure on the land, the importation of weapons, medical advances against tropical diseases and dispersal of goods around the world.
The author remarked that in Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika (now Tanzania), his “prestigious white status” decreased after he contracted cerebral malaria and then tuberculosis.
There is a common pattern to the way Africa’s military leaders have acquired the maximum resources they possibly can. Once they’ve stolen all they can get from their citizens and made enemies along the way, their next trick is to negotiate a peace treaty and schedule elections. This charade fools the World Bank into lending the leaders money.
The endings of numerous dictatorships have followed a common pattern, too. The new guard attempted to coerce the old leader into revealing his private bank account number. However, the stereotype, which also may be true, is that he engaged in arms and drug sales, and put his money in foreign accounts so that he could draw upon funds when he went into exile.
Because Nigeria is a large nation, in January 1966, the rebels had to invade all five of its regional capitals, taking over the airport, radio station, telephone exchange and post office in each. The sending of outgoing telegrams was banned.
Through the decades, Ethiopia’s governments went from feudal-aristocratic to Marxist-Leninist to federal-democratic.
In 1989, the torture of Liberian dictator Samuel Doe was videotaped and shown continuously in bars and on the wealthy’s VCR’s.
On the whole, Africans are quite superstitious. They believe in witch doctors, herbalists, fortune tellers, exorcists, amulets, talismans, divining rods and magical medicines. The author was assisted in taking advantage of this to deter further frequent burglaries of his residence, by hanging white rooster feathers on his door. “Witches are capable of vengeance, persecution, spreading disease, inflicting pain, sowing death.”
Inhabitants of the Sahara desert regions are paralyzed by drought. The drought in Ethiopia in 1975 closed all establishments, including schools, and caused a lot of deaths in the villages.
African children under 15 accounted for more than half the population in 2001. They have participated in all aspects of adult life in recent decades– fighting in armies, living in refugee camps, toiling on farms, purchasing and selling goods and fetching water for their families.
Very often, lack of repair and maintenance of infrastructure makes for major eyesores on the African landscape. In the 1990′s, the war-damaged Robertsfield airport in Liberia , the largest airport in Africa, was closed, abandoned and left to deteriorate.
The author wrote this book of his African experiences because “The kind of history known in Europe as scholarly and objective can never arise here, because the African past has no documents or records,” only oral stories, passed on from one generation to the next. Time is described as “long ago” “very long ago” and “so long ago that no one remembers.”