Dictatorland: The Men Who Stole Africa by Paul Kenyon (Book Review) | Sarah Stook


Africa, with its 54 nations, is not a monolithic place, however, many of its countries are bonded by dictators, national resources, and corruption. This is what drives Paul Kenyon’s book.

Divided into several chapters, one from each country plus the odd ‘pre-dictatorship’ section, Dictatorland dedicates itself to telling us intertwining stories. From Nigeria to Equatorial Guinea, the reader is placed in presidential palaces, prisons, and oil fields.

There is a similar timeline within each country- colonialism, discovery of a natural resource, a revolution, dictatorships, coups and a lot of corruption. Whilst some may think this sounds a bit dull, it is in fact the complete opposite. As Kenyon takes us through the recent history of some remarkable countries, it’s incredibly eye opening.

These countries don’t often make the news, which makes the stories even more compelling for those who don’t know much about them. It is shocking to see how the people have suffered, from suppression under colonialism to fear under dictatorships. One will likely wince at seeing how these dictators and their cronies are worth billions whilst people suffer. They live in palaces; their wives buy Gucci and their children party in the West. They have used their positions to line their pockets. Meanwhile, the common folk live in a poverty we could never understand.

It’s also fascinating to see how the paths diverge. Equatorial Guinea has had the same leader since the 70s, whilst Nigeria saw assassinations and coups aplenty. This book is a fascinating lesson in history, culture and politics. Rarely have I ever read a book that has made me want to research more about the issues. I was constantly putting the book down to Google names and places. My knowledge of Africa and her dictators was fairly limited, but the book explained it in a way that was both thorough and fascinating.

Kenyon has a new book coming out in a few months about Romania and its leaders, something I will definitely purchase. He not only uses history, but also his own experiences across the continent. These personal stories allow us insight into the people who are influenced by these events, something that is especially important. I easily give this book 5 Stars.


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