FAO Quotables

"But being right, even morally right, isn't everything. It is also important to be competent, to be consistent, and to be knowledgeable. It's important for your soldiers and diplomats to speak the language of the people you want to influence. It's important to understand the ethnic and tribal divisions of the place you hope to assist."
-Anne Applebaum

Friday, November 16, 2012

7 books for a GOFO/CEO/Executive to read about Africa or Africa Starter Reading List


First off, for the uninitiated I should address the term GOFO.  GOFO stands for General Officer Flag Officer and technically it should (in my opinion) spelled GO/FO but it typically is not.

I was once asked by a flag officer to recommend three books that he should read prior to being assigned to the Africa AOR (Area of Responsibility).  I don't remember exactly what I told him but I am sure I included a few of the 6 books below.  

In recently updating my massive "THE Africa Reading List", I realized that its length can be overwhelming. For the person newly assigned to Africa, it may as well be written in Chinese (or Swahili).  

For the aspiring Africanist I have put together my completely biased starter list:  6 7 books (in no particular order) that will not only inform and educate you but more importantly will pique your appetite to read more!

1. It Happened on the Way to War by Rye Barcott
Rye wasn't a FAO (he was HUMINT) but his work in Kenya is instructive of the potential wielded by well-informed, educated and locally-connected military officers.

2. Africa Since Independence by Paul Nugent
There is no riveting history of the entire continent of 55 countries out there but Nugent does a decent job. “Decolonization could never have simply been the negation of colonization.” I have pretty extensive notes on this book here that give the big ideas of many of the chapters: 13 Pages of Notes/Summary of Nugent's Book

3. The Zanzibar Chest by Aidan Hartley.  
This was the first book I ever read on Africa.  It was recommended to me by a POLAD at a State Department function.  Hartley's writing is superb and made me fall in love with the continent.

4. The Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapuscinski.
Beautiful writing.  In the foreword to this book he writes: "Africa does not exist."

5. The Ultimate Weapon is No Weapon by Shannon Beebe and Mary Kaldor
He's got a great chapter on Africa that is challenging and thought-provoking.  Tragically, LTC Beebe died in a plane crash in August 2011.  

6. Getting Somalia Wrong by Mary Harper
Because everyone loves to talk about Somalia--now you will actually be able to speak intelligently on the subject.

7.  All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu.
This is the great African novel.  Beautifully written, comprehensive in scope--with all the timeless elements like heartbreak, identity and (lost) love.

For reference only:
Africans: The History of the Continent by John Iliffe
His thesis is heavily tied to population growth as a major variable in overall history. He places a heavy emphasis on the role of of social organizations and horizontal structures. Extensive notes available on this book here: Notes on Iliffe

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