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Dictatorland

Narrated by: Hamilton McLeod
Length: 19 hrs and 20 mins
Categories: History, Africa
4.6 out of 5 stars (50 ratings)

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Summary

A vivid, heartbreaking portrait of the fate that so many African countries suffered after independence.

The dictator who grew so rich on his country's cocoa crop that he built a 35-storey-high basilica in the jungles of the Ivory Coast. The austere, incorruptible leader who has shut Eritrea off from the world in a permanent state of war and conscripted every adult into the armed forces. In Equatorial Guinea, the paranoid despot who thought Hitler was the saviour of Africa and waged a relentless campaign of terror against his own people. The Libyan army officer who authored a new work of political philosophy, The Green Book, and lived in a tent with a harem of female soldiers, running his country like a mafia family business. 

And behind these almost incredible stories of fantastic violence and excess lie the dark secrets of Western greed and complicity, the insatiable taste for chocolate, oil, diamonds and gold that has encouraged dictators to rule with an iron hand, siphoning off their share of the action into mansions in Paris and banks in Zurich and keeping their people in dire poverty.

©2020 Paul Kenyon (P)2020 Booktrack

Critic reviews

"A breathtaking account...Paul Kenyon is a brilliant writer who's been there and tells a story of unparalleled greed and western complicity in vivid detail." (Michael Buerk)

“It is [the] minute observations that make Mr Kenyon's book so hard to put down." (Economist)

“Highly readable.... A chapter on the rise of Félix Houphouët-Boigny is especially vivid." (The Times)

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    3 out of 5 stars

Some embarrassing lapses in research

While most of the book is insightful and informative, when it comes to his analysis of the Rhodesian impasse and UDI he makes some assumptions which are reductive at best. There was racial segregation in Rhodesia, but nothing like what was happening in South africa at the time. The author erroneously says tat cinemas and buses were segreagated in RHodesia - this is not true;, private schools were non-racial as was the university. One is not defending segrgation but Mr Kenyon should have informed himself better rather than go on a white-bashing spree. The Jameson raid he says was in 1896, when in fact it was in 1895; He mentions the discovery of diamonds in South Africa and asserts that the Transvaal was trumped by British colonial interests. The president of the Orange Free State, president J.H. Brand tried to oppose the annexation of Kimberley to the Cape Colony; the Transvaal or Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek did not. If such a lack of attention to detail is missing in just these two areas, Rhodesia and South Africa, one wonders how much else can be taken seriously in the book. As regards the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, Kenyon asserts that the British government favoured it in order to control the recalcitrant white-settler government. He does not mention that the idea of Federation was already mooted before WWII and that after the Afrikaner Nationalist victory in SA in 1948, the British, government, according to some sources, wanted the Federation to to be a bulwark against Afrikaner Nationalism and the apartheid system. Rhodesia was not perfect, of course not, but more thorough research would have avoided some embarrassing porkies...

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Wonderful book about a very sad topic

This book puts lots of different events in a wider context. I don’t know what to take away from this book. I’d say the most shocking revelation would be how quickly people are willing to turn to oppression of others.

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  • Buretto
  • 26-07-20

Compelling stories of despotism, narrowly focused

The book is quite engrossing in telling the stories of primarily post-colonial dictatorships in Africa. And it focuses mainly on the quest for oil, diamonds and cocoa. That may be the reason some prominent figures of recent African history may not feature in this book. There are several of the familiar suspects, however, and the stories of the rise, reign and fall (of most) of these authoritarian regimes succeeds in holding the listener's attention. The author seems to have put a great deal of effort into several precise countries and individuals. I would definitely be interested in another volume covering those who were passed by this time. What this book is not, thankfully, is a kind of rationalization for European colonialism, genocide and opportunism. I had feared that may have been the case when I started, and judging by some Amazon reviews, a few people have mistakenly taken that from the book. To be clear, the focus of the book is on dictators of African descent, but it in no way ignores or mitigates European transgressions. A decent amount of time is devoted to those backstories. In any case, there are many other books that chronicle that immense topic, King Leopold's Ghost being one of the best. Similarly, the book is not myopic on ideology as cause for despotism. Each case has its own genesis, whether it be rooted in European subjugation of indigenous people, American capitalist opportunism, or Marxist revolt, or possibly all of the above. Overall a very good effort. However, some odd pronunciations and unnecessary, generic accents distracted slightly.

5 people found this helpful