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Economist Reads | Africa
Our Africa editor chooses five books, and one album, as an introduction to the great continent
For a first taste of Africa, begin with these
Life in Nigeria. NIGERIA LAGOS People working in Jankara market, Lagos, Nigeria. Jankara is one of the biggest and busiest markets in Lagos.
Jun 14th 2022 (Updated Jun 22nd 2022)


This article is part of our Summer reads series. Visit our collection to discover “The Economist reads” guides, guest essays and more seasonal distractions.

Speak of africa as a single entity, and many of its inhabitants will say testily that it is no such thing. Rightly so: lazy outsiders often lump together the 1.2bn people who live in Africa’s vast landmass, who speak perhaps 2,000 distinct languages and who are more culturally, politically and genetically diverse than people on any other continent. Doing justice to this richness could easily take a lifetime of reading, listening and watching. Do not despair, though, for all of life’s great passions start with but a first taste. Below is a selection of five books (and just a few songs) that serve as an introduction.

Half of a Yellow Sun. By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Knopf; 435 pages; $24.95. Fourth Estate; £18.99

Africa’s most populous country was neatly summed up in the decades before its independence in 1960 from British colonial rule by Obafemi Awolowo, a leading Nigerian politician of the era. “Nigeria,” he said, “is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression.” When European powers drew up maps dividing Africa between them, they arbitrarily paid no heed to those already living there. With a stroke of a pen they jammed together more than 250 ethnic groups and called them a country. Little wonder Nigeria often seems to be on the verge of flying apart. In 1967 it almost did when Igbos in the south-east tried to secede, sparking a brutal civil war. These days that conflict is largely forgotten by outsiders, but its legacy still shapes Nigeria. Chimamanda Adichie’s novel paints a vivid picture of a country pulled apart by the strain of ethnic and religious tensions, the first heady days of the creation of the breakaway state of Biafra and the brutal dehumanisation of the war and Biafra’s eventual submission. Our sister publication, 1843, wrote about spending time with (and shopping with) Ms Adichie.

More Summer reads
• Our Bartleby columnist explains how to avoid the most overused words in business
• What’s at stake in Ukraine is the direction of human history, writes Yuval Noah Harari
• The pandemic has given economists a new lease of life
• Flashman, Victorian England’s foremost rotter, would have made a great journalist
•Six guides to biology as seen at different scales

Zombi. By Fela Kuti.

While still immersed in Nigeria treat your ears to the sounds of Afrobeat, a mix of African rhythms, jazz, soul and funk. Its founder was Fela Kuti, who is remembered not just for his musical talent but also as an outspoken political activist whose protest songs against military rule inspired a generation. The album is named after its first song, which describes soldiers following the orders of dictators as “zombies”. It so infuriated the government that police invaded his compound in 1977, beating him badly and, reportedly, throwing his mother from a first-floor window. When he performed this album in Ghana, a riot broke out, leading to him being banned from re-entering the country. Read a review of a film about his life.

The Wife’s Tale: A Personal History. By Aida Edemariam. Harper; 314 pages; $26.99. Fourth Estate; £16.99

After exciting one sense with the sounds of Afrobeat, head over to Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous country, for a vivid evocation of the smell and taste of its spices and stews and the feel of eating injera, a deliciously spongy flatbread that does double duty as a spoon. Between such delights is the moving story of the life of the author’s grandmother that encapsulates much of Ethiopia’s history over the past century as she lived through a colonial conquest, liberation, the fall of an empire and rise of a brutal communist dictatorship. “Rather than cataloguing Ethiopia’s turbulent modern history,” we wrote in a review, the author “stitches together the fragmentary memories and experiences of a single woman.”

The Fate of Africa. By Martin Meredith. PublicAffairs; 768 pages; $23.99 and £12.99

To get a broader sense of the momentous change that swept through Africa as its states won freedom from their colonisers, turn to this majestic work. It offers a wide-angled view, taking in the most important events over roughly half a century. But it also delights the reader with glimpses into the lives and personalities of its leaders with memorable anecdotes, each of which is a nugget for the reader to casually slip into conversation at a dinner party. One, indeed, involves a dinner party. Martin Meredith recounts how Jean-Bédel Bokassa, the brutal and corrupt dictator who ruled the Central African Republic from 1965 and 1979, casually turned to a French politician at the end of a state banquet and said, “You never noticed, but you ate human flesh.”

Do Not Disturb. By Michela Wrong. PublicAffairs; 512 pages; $32. Fourth Estate; £20

Whereas Mr Meredith cast his eye over a whole continent, Michela Wrong zoomed in with laser focus: on Paul Kagame, who has called the shots in Rwanda since 1994. Many African and Western leaders have praised Mr Kagame for having built an efficient and functional state from the ashes of genocide, while quietly conceding that he is also a ruthless autocrat. It is the latter quality that Ms Wrong’s book examines in forensic detail, largely through an examination of how his regime has hounded and intimidated dissidents around the world. She centres her book on the life and death of Patrick Karegeya, a former head of Rwanda’s foreign intelligence service. Once one of Mr Kagame’s closest confidants, Karegeya fled Rwanda in 2007 and later spoke out against him, making himself a marked man. In 2013 he was strangled to death in a luxury hotel in Johannesburg, in a murder that Ms Wrong argues was linked to the Rwandan state. We reviewed her book here.

The Promise. By Damon Galgut. Europa Editions; 256 pages; $25. Chatto & Windus; £16.99

Any tour of African literature, however brief, must include a stop at the continent’s southern tip, which has produced two Nobel laureates in the field. “The Promise”, which last year won the Booker prize, Britain’s most prestigious literary award, is the wrenching story of a white South African family that steadily disintegrates in the years after the end of apartheid, or white rule. The moral decay of most members of the family reflects not just on the injustices of apartheid but also on the erosion of optimism in a country that became a beacon of hope on the continent when it achieved democracy against great odds. We reviewed it here. To avoid slumping into melancholy, this book is best read to the sounds of Hugh Masekela, a jazz trumpeter and songwriter, whose life we remembered in this obituary, and the songs of his frequent collaborator and (for a time) his wife, Miriam Makeba (whose obituary is here).

Our Africa editor argued, in a seven-chapter special report in 2020, that Africa is fast becoming too big and influential for the rest of the world to ignore.■


Do you have your own recommendations? Send them to with the subject line “Africa” and your name, city and country. We will publish a selection of reader suggestions.

尼日利亚的生活。尼日利亚 拉各斯 人们在尼日利亚拉各斯的Jankara市场工作。扬卡拉是拉各斯最大和最繁忙的市场之一。
2022年6月14日 (2022年6月22日更新)

这篇文章是我们夏季读物系列的一部分。请访问我们的收藏,以发现 "经济学人读物 "指南、特邀文章和更多季节性的分心。



非洲人口最多的国家在1960年脱离英国殖民统治独立前的几十年里,被当时的尼日利亚主要政治家奥巴费米-阿沃洛沃(Obafemi Awolowo)总结得很精辟。"他说,"尼日利亚不是一个国家。它仅仅是一种地理表达方式"。当欧洲列强在他们之间划分非洲的地图时,他们武断地不理会已经生活在那里的人。他们大笔一挥,将250多个民族塞在一起,称他们为一个国家。难怪尼日利亚似乎经常处于分裂的边缘。1967年,当东南部的伊博人试图分离,引发了一场残酷的内战时,它几乎做到了。如今,这场冲突在很大程度上被外界所遗忘,但其遗留问题仍然影响着尼日利亚。奇玛曼达-阿迪奇的小说生动地描绘了一个被种族和宗教紧张关系拉开的国家,创建分离国比夫拉的最初兴奋日子,以及战争的残酷非人化和比夫拉最终的屈服。我们的姐妹刊物《1843》写了与阿迪奇女士共度时光(和购物)的故事。

- 我们的巴特比专栏作家解释了如何避免商业中最常用的词汇
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- 大流行病给经济学家带来了新的生机
- 维多利亚时代英国最重要的无赖Flashman将成为一名伟大的记者


当你还沉浸在尼日利亚的时候,请你的耳朵听听非洲节拍的声音,这是一种非洲节奏、爵士乐、灵魂乐和放克乐的混合。它的创始人是费拉-库蒂,他不仅因其音乐天赋而被人记住,而且还是一位直言不讳的政治活动家,其反对军事统治的抗议歌曲激励了一代人。这张专辑是以其第一首歌命名的,这首歌将听从独裁者命令的士兵描述为 "僵尸"。这首歌激怒了政府,以至于警察在1977年入侵他的院子,狠狠地打了他一顿,据说还把他的母亲从一楼的窗户扔了下去。当他在加纳表演这张专辑时,爆发了一场暴乱,导致他被禁止再次进入该国。阅读关于他的生活的电影评论。

妻子的故事》。一段个人历史。作者:Aida Edemariam。哈珀;314页;26.99美元。第四产业;16.99英镑

在用非洲节拍的声音刺激感官之后,前往非洲人口第二多的国家埃塞俄比亚,感受其香料和炖菜的气味和味道,以及吃因特拉(一种美味的海绵状扁面包,可作为勺子使用)的感觉。在这些美味之间,是作者祖母生活的动人故事,它概括了埃塞俄比亚过去一个世纪的大部分历史,因为她经历了殖民征服、解放、帝国的衰落和残酷的共产主义独裁政权的崛起。"我们在评论中写道:"作者没有对埃塞俄比亚动荡的现代历史进行编目,而是 "将一个女人零碎的记忆和经历拼接起来"。


要想更广泛地了解随着非洲国家从殖民者手中赢得自由而席卷整个非洲的巨大变化,请看这部宏伟的作品。它提供了一个广泛的视角,涵盖了大约半个世纪以来最重要的事件。但它也通过令人难忘的轶事让读者对其领导人的生活和个性有了更多的了解,每一个轶事都是一个小插曲,可以让读者在晚宴上随口一说。其中,确实涉及到了一个晚宴。马丁-梅雷迪思讲述了让-贝德尔-博卡萨(Jean-Bédel Bokassa)是如何在1965年至1979年期间统治中非共和国的残暴和腐败的独裁者,他在一次国宴结束时随意地转向一位法国政治家,说:"你从未注意到,但你吃了人肉。"

请勿打扰。作者:Michela Wrong。PublicAffairs;512页;32美元。 第四产业;20英镑

梅雷迪思先生将目光投向了整个大陆,而米切拉-赖恩则用激光聚焦:1994年以来在卢旺达呼风唤雨的保罗-卡加梅。许多非洲和西方领导人都称赞卡加梅先生在种族灭绝的废墟上建立了一个高效和实用的国家,同时也悄悄地承认他也是一个无情的独裁者。Wrong女士在书中对后者进行了法医式的详细研究,主要是通过研究他的政权如何在世界各地围攻和恐吓持不同政见者。她的书以卢旺达外国情报局前局长帕特里克-卡雷吉亚(Patrick Karegeya)的生与死为中心。Karegeya曾经是卡加梅先生最亲密的心腹之一,2007年逃离卢旺达,后来公开反对卡加梅,使自己成为一个受人瞩目的人。2013年,他在约翰内斯堡的一家豪华酒店被勒死,Wrong女士认为这起谋杀案与卢旺达国家有关。我们在这里回顾了她的书。

承诺》。作者:达蒙-加尔古特。Europa Editions;256页;25美元。Chatto & Windus;16.99英镑

任何非洲文学之旅,无论多么短暂,都必须包括在非洲大陆南端的一站,这里已经产生了两位诺贝尔文学奖得主。"去年获得英国最负盛名的文学奖--布克奖的《承诺》,讲述了一个南非白人家庭在种族隔离或白人统治结束后的几年里不断解体的动人故事。这个家庭大多数成员的道德败坏不仅反映了种族隔离制度的不公正,也反映了这个国家乐观主义的侵蚀,这个国家在克服巨大困难实现民主时成为非洲大陆的希望之光。我们在这里回顾了它。为了避免陷入忧郁,这本书最好在休-马塞克拉(Hugh Masekela)的歌声中阅读,他是一位爵士乐小号手和作曲家,我们在这份讣告中回忆了他的一生,还有他经常合作的人和(有一段时间)他的妻子米莉亚-马凯巴(她的讣告在这里)的歌曲。



你有自己的建议吗?请将它们发送到,并注明主题 "非洲 "和你的姓名、城市和国家。我们将公布部分读者建议。
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