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Africa is Not a Country: Conclusion

Dipo Faloyin’s account of African dictatorships in part four of his book is wide-ranging, to say the least. He covers specific points in their of history Somalia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Algeria, Equatorial Guinea and Libya.

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In all cases, Faloyin traces with devastating effect the trajectory from colonial rule and later structures such as the Cold War to postcolonial dictatorship. He doesn’t, however, examine failures in governance beyond dictatorship (I’m thinking of a certain small mountain kingdom not a million miles away from South Africa).

Faloyin’s concern to deconstruct stereotyping takes a lighter turn—though this turn is by no means trivial—with his parody of the depiction of Africa in Hollywood films. “Let’s follow a herd of antelopes galloping resplendently as they start their nine-to-five jobs of being a herd of antelopes that gallop resplendently.” There are pages and pages of this and it’s hilarious.

This is followed by an account of the work of Faloyin’s mentor in the smashing of stereotypes and the production of satirical hilarity, the Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina. Then comes a great deal on popular culture, for example, on Nollywood—the second biggest film industry in the world, the products of which I must admit to finding extremely tedious—and on the stereotype-challenging Hollywood film Black Panther. Nothing, though, on literature.

Part six of the book is on colonial pillage, looting and genocide. Much of Faloyin’s material here is familiar, but because the account is so condensed, the effect is of being battered by a hailstorm of horrors.

The final part of the book, “What’s Next?” looks at recent developments that hold out hope for the future: the anti-SARS protests against police brutality in Nigeria; the Hirak movement against sclerotic politicians in Algeria (one of whom was “closer to eighty than democracy”); protests against gender-based violence in Namibia; the courage and vitality of young radical politician Bobi Wine in Uganda.

All of these exemplify African populations taking command of means to improve their lives, based on their own analysis of their situation and without western help or intervention. Faloyin ends his book by embracing the idea of African unity—the Pan-African vision—and then, referring back to the sub-title of his book he signs off: “But until then.”

I’m going to stick my neck out and say that Africa is Not a Country is perhaps the finest book on Africa published in the last 20 or 30 years, which is why I’ve spent so long singing its praises—and I’m not forgetting excellent works by Kwame Anthony Appiah, Basil Davidson, Binyavanga Wainaina, Ali Mazrui and James Ferguson.

It’s published by Vintage/Penguin Books and, please, do obtain a copy if you can. If this isn’t possible but you have access to the internet, you can call up a YouTube-Talks at Google, titled Dipo Faloyin on Challenging Stereotypes of Africa, given to the UK Royal Geographical Society (and there’s an irony for you). Just Google Dipo Faloyin and you’ll find the icon next to his (lovely) mug-shots.

Chris Dunton is a former Professor of English and Dean of Humanities at the National University of Lesotho.

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