Review: Mandela, Mobutu, and Me: A Newswoman's African Journey
As the Washington Post's Johannesburg bureau chieffrom 1995 to 1999, Duke covered some of the bloodier postcolonial wars of southern Africa as well as one of the most constructive struggles: the shaping of a postapartheid government. Her interviews with Mandela and Mobutu "bookend" even more eye-opening conversations with common folk: township women struggling for clean water, AIDS nurses battling superstitious villagers and even a quiet old Zulu man impressed to meet his "first foreign black folk."
A consummate journalist, Duke gives readers concise but thorough background briefings on a country's relevant history before cutting to the chase: who's taken control now, why, and what that means for the balance of power. Except for some passing comments, it's not until the end that Duke explores her own complex relationship with the Africa she so clearly loves. As an African-American, she feels connected with the struggles she's reporting, while aware that being black does not make her Angolan, Ugandan or even African. She admires the positive - Mandela's commitment to peace, Tutu's spiritual force - but is equally willing to condemn the negative - Mbeki's blind eye to the AIDS epidemic, Kabila's opportunism, Hutu genocide squads, etc.
As a frontline reporter, Duke never forgets "when the elephants fight, the grass suffers": political struggles on top often mean death and destruction for the ordinary working people down below. She deftly combines solid information and personal perspective to produce a powerful, readable chronicle.
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