Migrations, language families and trade routes: Tore Linné Eriksen's Africa book is a door opener with its many short, thematic stories. But does he succeed in delivering what he promises?

Head of Networkers North / South and Dag Hammarskjöld program (member of MODERN TIMES's editorial board).
Published: 2020-02-05
Africa - from the first people to today
Author: Tore Linné Eriksen
Cappelen Damm, Norway

When public informer, African expert and professor emeritus Tore Linné Eriksen has mobilized his encyclopedic cornucopia and boiled Africa down to 390 pages, my expectations pop up.

I celebrated Christmas with Eriksen's formidable project Africa - from the first people to today. And of all things, I warmed up with the BBC and Professor Sam Willis' journey along the Silk Road, the trade route from Baghdad to China. Willis traces our European history in the libraries in Uzbekistan, in Samarkand and Bukhara, in Muslim academies. I did not know that Aristotle did not come to us directly from Greece, but from the booksellers in Samarkand who had preserved, translated and interpreted the "forgotten" sage. And I learned that "algorithm" comes from the mathematician al Khwarizmi in Uzbekistan, one of the "cities" that in western heads has been reduced to "something" by terrorists and broken communism. From Uzbekistan straight into Silicon Valley and Facebook.

It is striking that the framework narratives do not have more genuine African voices.

Then Linné Eriksen met me and reminded me that Africa is close, that we find our ancestors and our history in the museums in Addis Ababa, how colonial history is linked to our own history, and I understand how embarrassed the arrogance of racism should do us.

There is a clear symbolism in the book's last, inside cover pages, an iconic map of the continent that can hold many of the world's largest countries: In Africa, the United States, China, India and most of Europe can fit. The continent is huge in scope and multifaceted in culture, language and nature.

A continent with 56 countries

But is it possible to boil the story down to 400 pages? Eriksen says "of course", if you find the long lines. He raises the list by starting 7–8 million years back, addressing all the 56 countries on the continent, and exploring broadly and deeply by highlighting culture and natural sciences, DNA and literature. He does not go over everything, but the most important thing is the ambition to bring the near-sighted history dive to life.

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The original thing about the book is that Eriksen uses, among other things, the first 11 pages to convey historianone's challenges, to believe in the value of the informed, subjective point of view. Own chapters with migrations, language families and…

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