I didnt do it for you: how the world used and abused a small African nation
by Michela Wrong
Harper Perennial | July 2005 | ISBN 0007150954
Recommended by Becky Hogge: Michaela came for lunch at openDemocracy when we were planning our coverage of Africa and the G8 summit. Her passion for east Africa inspired me to read her book, which Im really enjoying.
She argues that although most people have no idea where or what Eritrea is, it has played a significant part in world history on many fronts. Not only was it the final resting place of Sylvia Pankhurst, the famous suffragette, but it provided the United States with its most vital listening post during the cold war, and it has some of the best Art Deco architecture in the world, thanks to Italian occupation.
The topography of the place seems astounding too. It is a mile and a half above sea level (the air is thin and an AM radio can pick up broadcasts from as far afield as Australia) and well above cloud cover. Her description of Asmarans watching the purple haze of evening clouds is really bewitching shes a great writer.
What the publisher says: Just as the beat of a butterflys wings is said to cause hurricanes on the other side of the world, so the affairs of tiny Eritrea reverberate onto the agenda of superpower strategists.
Eritrea is a little-known country scarred by decades of conflict and occupation. It has weathered the worlds longest-running guerrilla war, and the dogged determination that secured victory against Ethiopia, its giant neighbour, is woven into the national psyche. Fascist Italy wanted Eritrea as the springboard for a new, racially-pure Roman empire, Britain sold off its industry for scrap, the US needed headquarters for its state-of-the-art spy station and the Soviet Union used it as a pawn in a proxy war.
Michela Wrong reveals the breathtaking abuses this tiny nation has suffered and, with the sharp eye for detail that was the hallmark of her account of Mobutus Congo, she tells the story of colonialism itself. Along the way, we meet a formidable Emperor, a guerrilla fighter who taught himself French cuisine in the bush, and a chemist who arranged the heist of his own laboratory.
About the author: Michela Wrong began her career as a foreign correspondent for the Reuters news agency. She spent six years covering African affairs for Reuters, the BBC, and the Financial Times. Her first book, In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutus Congo (HarperCollins, 2001), won a PEN award for non-fiction. She lives in London and travels regularly to Africa.