In the end of 2019, I made one year in Nairobi. It has been an intense year travelling across East Africa, trying to understand complex contexts and meeting incredible people. Reading helped me a lot in this journey, so I want to share with you some of the books that I liked.
I can only start with Martin Meredith. ‘The state of Africa’ is a very comprehensive account of the independence struggle in Africa and the decades that came later. I am now halfway with ‘The fortunes of Africa’ and it is also a nice read about the period before.
One of my obsessions when I started was Ethiopia. The second most populated African country is in a very volatile moment. This book was useful to submerge into the intricate history of kingdoms, the ethnic mélange and contemporary conflicts and deep political changes.
Also about the only African country that never was colonized: ‘The Emperor’. It is a thrilling short book by the great Ryszard Kapuscinski that unveils how the court of Haile Selassie worked until the last Ethiopian emperor was ousted from power.
Often described as the African North Korea, Ethiopia’s neighbor Eritrea remains a very enigmatic country. Martin Plaut is possibly one of the few persons that have managed to provide some light with his book ‘Understanding Eritrea’.
2019 was a happening year for Sudan, now in political transition after nearly 30 years of dictatorial rule by Bashir. ‘Sudan’, by former correspondent Richard Cockett, may be a bit old but it is a solid journalistic book touching upon the key issues.
Who knows what will happen in Somalia? Will the country find its way or will remain a failed state affected by jihadism, internal disputes and lack of governance? Mary Harper provides an insightful view of the society and Harun Maruf does the same with one of the most prominent Islamist armed groups of the last decade.
Despite I am based in Nairobi, my work has to do more with the surrounding countries. Ngugi Wa Thiongo’s books transport you to a different but still recent Kenya. ‘It’s our turn to eat’ by Michela Wrong scrutinizes the corruption, but not only.
I close the list with the fascinating figure of Julius Nyerere, the iconic nationalist and socialist Tanzanian leader that ruled the country for over two decades from before its independence to the mid-1980s. His struggle, sucess and failure, dilemmas and approaches deserve some time.
In my wish-list for 2020 there are many pendings… but I would certainly like to read more and better about South Sudan, re-read some of the incredible work of Kapuscinski and literary legends like Hemingway.