I regarded Africa through the eyes of a journalist. That is what I am. I also looked at Africa through other eyes, those of an African American and a woman. Armed and advantaged with these many ways of seeing, I roamed Africa and gathered its stories of the profane, the sublime, and everything in between.
Born in Los Angeles, schooled in New York, sharpened as a journalist in Miami and Washington, I have written of many subjects since I entered journalism in 1984. But never has a story gripped me as Africa's did. The four years I lived and worked there were the most confounding, exhilarating, and engaging of my career. That is why I write this book.
It is based on my reporting from South Africa in the early 1990s, followed by a posting there, from 1995 to 1999, as Johannesburg bureau chief for the Washington Post. From Jo'burg, I covered much of the continent south of the equator. I chronicled President Nelson Mandela's South Africa rebuilding itself after the ravaging years of apartheid, and I chronicled the tragedy of Mobutu Sese Seko's Zaire, now named the Democratic Republic of Congo, tearing itself apart in back-to-back wars. These two stories were the bookends of my African travels, the bittersweet crosscurrents I navigated.
This impressionistic reporter's memoir does not claim to cover the length and breadth of the continent. Nonetheless, it amplifies some of the broad dynamics unfolding among Africa's 800 million people in their disparate regions, nations, and cultures. Many Africans share similar traditions and beliefs about family, society, and spiritualism. These infuse much of the continent with a collective sense of Africannes, as does the long history of conflict with and ultimately conquest by an outside world based on that pernicious invention called race.
The concept of a shared African experience can also be found in the dynamics that have defined Africa since the wave of independence from colonialism in the 1950s and 1960s; the conundrum of the colonial legacy; the onslaught of misrule and autocracy; the resort to violent repression and war; the machinations of the global Cold War and the realignment of power in Africa after its end; not to mention the ongoing push and pull of the global economy.
Some readers will rush to pin a label on this work, for American discourse on Africa tends toward stereotypes. But I am neither an Afro-pessimist nor an Afro-optimist. If you must call me anything, call me an Afro-realist. I write this book with an affectionate concern for and loyalty to the African struggle. I am guided by the legions of African people whose lives are built on extraordinary fortitude, unwavering hope, and profound humanity, despite immense odds.
Hardcover, 2003, Doubleday
Paperback, 2005, Harlem Moon