Academic journal article African Studies Review

Twilight on the Zambezi: Late Colonialism in Central Africa

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Twilight on the Zambezi: Late Colonialism in Central Africa

Article excerpt

Eugenia W. Herbert. Twilight on the Zambezi: Late Colonialism in Central Africa. New York: Palgrave, 2002. xxii + 196 pp. Maps. Photographs. Bibliography. Index. $39.95. Cloth.

Those who are already familiar with Eugenia Herbert's work will not be disappointed in this, her latest innovatively written history. With a style combining a dramatic "you are there in 1959" news broadcast with a page-turner novel, Herbert has produced a gem in Twilight on the Zambezi. With astute and carefully researched historical insight, as well as with a delightful drollness, Herbert relates the occurrences of 1959 in south central Africa. She uses 1959 because, as she explains, this is the last year when hope still glimmered on the part of Her Majesty's government that Great Britain might achieve a beneficial mission in the Upper Zambezi region (xx).

The book captivates the reader as does a fairytale with all the classic characters: the heroes and heroines, the corrupt, the inept, the misguided, the well-intended. Unlike most fairy stories, however, after the scariness of the tale there is no happy ending, unless one finds solace in the last line of the book where an indigenous (Lozi) individual expresses relief that at least the whites no longer run things (170).

In the the introduction and the epilogue, Herbert appropriately provides a "before" and "after" historical context for the events on which she focuses. In the introduction we learn about the early history of the Lozi heartland, called Barotseland by the British, and now incorporated in the western part of present-day Zambia. The epilogue brings the reader up to date, politically and economically, in terms of the larger contemporary areas of Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi.

The core of the book concentrates on four geographical locations and the perspectives of each of the main groups and individual characters who operate from these places. Chapter 1 takes us in 1959 to Kalabo (in what is now Zambia), the site of the British colonial administration ("the boma") and where we also find the indigenous African "messengers" who do the legwork for the colonials. We witness the daily routines of colonial officials and their wives, even accompany them on their district tours. Chapter 2 elucidates the world of the Barotse Native Authority headquarters at Libonda (Zambia), where in 1959 the litunga, the traditional ruler of the Lozi nation, still enjoys wealth and privilege. …

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