Overland from Cairo to Cape Town

A book by Paul Theroux.

In Dark Star Safari, Paul Theroux describes a journey he made, across Africa from Cairo to Cape Town, using local transport like trains and buses and hitchhiking on cattle trucks and with whomever will take him.

Safari is a Swahili word meaning long journey, and it is well chosen. His journey takes Theroux through Egypt, the Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and finally South Afrika. During this trip he visits many places he has been thirty years before, when he worked as a teacher in Malawi and other places. This gives him the perfect opportunity to observe what had happened in Africa in four decades of independence.

These observations are mostly witty and interesting, but they are also what made the book a rather depressing read to me. For Theroux's conclusion is that in fourty years of independence and several decades of help from first world countries, the situation has in most cases only worsened. People are still poor or even poorer than they were, schools have been abandoned and cities have become more violent.

This leaves Theroux (and the reader) to wonder if there is anything the developed countries can actually do to help Africa, since so far all tries have only helped the situation get worse. Many African people don't feel the need to do anything about their situation, but instead feel they have a right to be helped out by others.

A good example of this attitude is when Theroux visits a white farmer in Zimbabwe, parts of whose land have been taken over by blacks as part of Mugabe's land reforms. When Theroux talks to the black farmer it turns out that this person feels he is perfectly entitled to take whatever land he wants. However, as he has little experience in farming, he had planted his maize too late and it will never become ripe in time. The farmer expects no hunger however, for he is sure that the government will give him money and next year the white farmer will come and help him grow food and lend him his machines. The suggestion that others might come and take over his land sets him off in fits of rage, for surely others have no right to his lands?

Dark Star Safari gives a good idea of what everyday Africa is like, in the places where the safari tours don't come. It describes Africa as a beautiful place, where there are lots of problems. It also invites you to think in new ways as to the solutions to those problems. An interesting book.

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