Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Political Reading

I Didn't Do It for You: How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation by Michela Wrong

It has been a few years since I first heard about Eritrea but I am willing to bet there are plenty of people out there who still have never heard of this African country. But what reason would people in the West (or the rest of the world for that matter) have to hear about this tiny country? While the western media isn't busy reporting on incidents right out of 1984 or filling space with popular culture references, there really isn't much else to report on. And when it comes to international nations, silence is the key behaviour. Unless, ofcourse that other nation has something to offer (resources which can be exploited or threat which can be used to keep the local population under fear). I can't help but think of Kapuściński at this moment -- more than anyone else, he understood the value of silence in international politics, especially in Africa.

On paper, the tiny nation of Eritrea appears to be silent. But that is where the misconception lies. It isn't and never was silent. In fact, as Michela Wrong so beautifully shows, that if ever there was a place where the rest of the world's noise can be heard, it is from Eritrea. And this is what precisely drew the US to this land. But I am getting ahead of myself and jumping a few decades in time. Long before the Americans learned of this Eastern African country's juicy benefits, the Italians and the British had their way with her. To each his own, as they say. Each European nation equally used and abused Eritrea for their own needs. Ofcourse, if foreigners can rape and pillage, then what of the neighbour? Ethiopia jumped into bed as well and tried to have its way. And before one knew what time it was, the Cold War had begun. This meant yet another country would be a pawn in the international game of espionage. But what could Eritrea offer? As it turns out, the Hamasien Plateau in Eritrea is one of the best (or even the best as Michela Wrong finds out) places on the planet to listen in on radio waves from all over the world. Hmmm...what better way to spy on the Russians than from here? Funny how a tiny geographical gift like that could turn a tiny country into a giant toy.

The radio-wave/cold war segment is only a tiny fragment of this well written and researched book. Michela Wrong does a great job of laying out the country's history, from the early colonial past to even the modern times when once again, things in Eritrea are not right. She starts each chapter with her personal travel experiencs before diving into the nation's history. This makes for an interesting read and prevents the book from being a dull history recount. Her writing is so poetic at times that I want to visit Asmara and see this wonder-land for myself.

The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq by George Packer

George Packer's book is just one of several books about Iraq in current circulation. 4 years ago when the lies were on the air-waves, nothing negative was written about Iraq. But after its invasion the truth, which always existed, started to come out slowly by slowly. It all started in the summer of 2003 when the first wave of independent journalists and filmmakers headed to Baghdad. The documentaries shot in 2003 made the festival rounds in early 2004 and since then, many more TV and theatrical doc films have been produced & released. But when it comes to books and newspapers, it seems a lot of the same stories are doing the rounds. Ofcourse, when only a few people were in the know and responsible for this mess, it should not be surprizing that multiple authors would churn out their version of the truth. Just some extra sources or quotes are changed from book to book.

If I had not read any other book on Iraq or seen any of the several documentaries, then George Packer's book would be a good read. But given the amount of material out there, a large portion of the book seems repeated. That being said, it is still a captivating read especially when Packer starts recounting more of his personal travel experiences from Baghdad.

1 comment:

The Beach Bum said...

Although Ms. Wrong made me the antagonist of chapter 10 of this book, I still consider her to be a friend.

She is currently barred from several African Nations - meaning that they will not grant her an entrance Visa.

She is in the process of writing her third book about Africa.

The Beach Bum