Africa South of the Sahara 1998

Article excerpt

This book, now in its 27th edition, must be considered indispensable for anyone who has an interest in sub-Saharan Africa, whether they are a beginner in the field or an expert of long standing. Indeed, Africa South of the Sahara is probably the one book which by itself could replace an entire bookcase of lesser tomes about Africa.

Look at what it offers. There are three main parts to the book: part one has 'Background to the Continent'; part two has 'Regional Organisations'; and part three offers a survey of each individual country in the region, including physical and social geography, recent history, economy, statistical survey, directory, and bibliography. In a word, the continent is covered, whether as a whole or in its various national parts.

To be sure, there are some gaps. In a book this complex one would ordinarily like to see an index. That would enable the uninitiated to access the information the book has to offer more easily. Thus, if you do not already know where Cheikh Anta Dop University is, there is no way to find out except by reading the entire 1,000 odd pages of the text. And you would have a very long read before finding the first reference on page 871 -- in the recent history of Senegal section.

Moreover, while the book does provide a line map of Africa divided into its separate nations, it lacks an overall map of Africa, as well as maps of individual countries detailing important demographic, geological, and political features. This is a significant drawback, preventing the less knowledgeable from envisioning exactly where any particular feature, such as a country's major agricultural fields, stands in reference to any other feature of the country. More important, it prevents readers from grasping the geo-political significance of a nation's major economic or political assets (or liabilities) in connection with its neighbours. Thus, a series of maps, even smallish ones, would enable the publishers to convey even more information than they already do about individual countries and their relations to one another.

But, having introduced the book's shortcomings, one must still stand back in awe of its achievements. …