Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles by Richard Dowden

By Richard Dowden

After a lifetime’s shut commentary of the continent, one of many world’s most interesting Africa correspondents has penned a landmark booklet on existence and loss of life in glossy Africa. It takes a consultant as observant, skilled, and sufferer as Richard Dowden to bare its truths. Dowden combines a novelist’s reward for surroundings with the scholar’s seize of old switch as he spins stories of cults and trade in Senegal and standard spirituality in Sierra Leone; analyzes the effect of oil and the net on Nigeria and reduction on Sudan; and examines what has long past so badly flawed in Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Congo. Dowden’s grasp paintings is an try and clarify why Africa is how it is, and allows its readers to determine and comprehend this spectacular continent as a spot of concept and great humanity.

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The question is posed rhetorically whether whites could think, or imagine, a way through estrangement and find a passage out of their current deracination. The search by a few to find common ground and engage with blacks in pushing for government accountability and constitutional reform is then described. Thus, in large measure, this is a study of Zimbabwe’s borders and boundaries from 1980 to 1999, all in one way or another informed by memories of Rhodesia’s colonial period. Where some had a taxonomic clarity, others were more a matter of personal definition.

Female memories such as these were described as ‘just like yesterday’ and ‘still too raw’ to express or confide more freely. Domestic help played an important role in making this pleasant, sociable lifestyle possible. Usually, there was one worker in and one outside, but the number depended on family size and the presence of young children. Outside staff deferred to those inside. Female domestic workers, known as maids, wore crisp cotton uniforms with doek (headscarf), a new style released each year, anxiously awaited and available in town at the Farmers Co-op, later known as Town and Country.

Colonial landmarks and symbols linking Rhodesia’s history to the territory were revised during the 1980s and early 1990s, eradicating from the landscape social knowledge that privileged white identity, decentring the settlers and denaturalising their presence. Whites, contesting this, produced an alternative metaphysics of European settlement—also identified in this chapter—which served to root them firmly and legitimately in Zimbabwean soil. With the removal of white knowledge, the question of what was now to be remembered about the colonial era proved critical to the decolonisation process.

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