Title: The Challenge for Africa
Author: Prof Wangari Maathai
Publisher: Arrow Books, 2009
Reviewer: Manuel Odeny
“Africans must make a deliberate choice to move forward together toward more cohesive macro-nations, where all can feel free, and at peace with themselves and others, where there is no need for any group to organize violence against their neighbors, then everyone would begin to reap the benefits of unity in diversity” Prof Maathai summarizes the book.
Born in Nyeri, Kenya in 1940 Prof Wangari became among first African elites who, alongside Barack Obama Snr benefited from airlift to study abroad before their hope for a better Africa against colonial governance was swept away to disappointments by the old guards guided by greed and otiose tribalism.
As an elite and a university lecturer the author could have easily joined or turned her face away from poor governance, massive land grabbing and environmental abuse by the political elites in Kenya, but she didn’t.
Through the establishment of Green Belt movement in 1977 she worked in trenches at grass root to plant over 30 million trees to bring peace, justice, and end poverty and ignorance against violation of human rights, corruption and save the environment. It is in this period that the author observed some colleagues leaving the trench to follow their own dreams while other ended up in jail, exile or as refugees.
Although she became the MP for Tetu in 2002, environment assistant minister, a Nobel peace prize winner in 2004 who have dined and wined with presidents, celebrities and powerful people Prof Wangari is still humbled to work with common wanainchi.
It is this aspect that makes the book special in a reader’s bookshelf from connecting ordinary African lives, policy of government and their effects to the world.
Sadly, Africa in the foreign press has been described in the nth world; poverty, war, disease, ignorance and poor leadership. The image carried across is that of absurdity and paradoxical of extreme wealth and extreme poverty.
Celebrities, NGOs and foreign correspondents calling themselves experts writing about the continent ignorantly like Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, pessimistic like Blaine Harden’s Africa: Dispatches from a fragile continent, with atavistic awe like Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa or slightly balanced like Martin Meredith’s State of Africa: A history of fifty years of African independence.
But when an African 2004 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Prof. Wangari Maathai’s writes The Challenge for Africa it offers a new breathe of life into viewing the continent from an indigenous eyes who have spent her life making it a better place, and not a detached foreigner with patronizing air.
The facet taken by the author is optimistic on the enduring spirit of Africans, using culture, environment, self belief and positive leadership to bring light to the beleaguered continent.
Former Britain Prime Minister Gordon Brown, UN former Sec Gen Koffi Annan and South Africa’s Nelson Mandela writing on the book’s review sees Prof. Wangari’s book as an inspiration to the world by championing for humanity whose message of hope need to be supported by the world.
“I have written for The Challenge for Africa for all those with an interest in the fate of the African continent” the author writes in the introduction “I hope to explain, elucidate, engage, and, perhaps most important encourage all concerned to grapple with the challenges facing Africa today”
Divided tightly into 14 chapters, the book offers insight into the state of Africa as affected by international affairs like colonialism, Aid dependency syndrome and the unfair trade balance which has, though partly, negatively affected the beleaguered continent.
From the African perspective, the author shed a light in leadership skills, democratic space, sustainable and accountable management of natural resources, peace and justice. Additionally, the author links culture, African family, tribalism and environmental conversation by craftily intertwining them to the hope for Africa.
The Challenge for Africa is dedicated to all people of Africa by the author is a beautiful read that shapes the readers perception about the continent. Prof Wangari Maathai is also the author of Unbowed: A Memoir, The Green Belt Movement: sharing the approach and experience and Replenishing The Earth: Spiritual values for healing ourselves and the world.
An observation though is that Meredith’s book State of Africa: A history of fifty years of African independence is wrongly quoted as The Fate of Africa: From the Hopes of Freedom to the Heart of Despair by the same author and the indexing is shallow although these do not add a major flaw to the book.