Modern African Political Leaders

With his selection of eight African leaders whose countries reflect the diversity of the continent, R. Kent Rasmussen presents a richly illustrated book which introduces the reader to these influential men. Each entry is well-researched, informative, and written in an accessible style.

All chapters of MODERN AFRICAN POLITICAL LEADERS begin with a crucial moment in the leader’s life, ranging from Senegalese Leopold Senghor’s near execution by the German invaders of France in 1940, to Nelson Mandela’s dramatic release from a South African prison in 1990. This is followed by a chronological portrayal of each man and the recent history of the country he had come to lead. For six men, this meant guiding their country into independence from colonial rule after World War II, with all its attendant problems.

Rasmussen chronicles the achievements and challenges faced by each man once in power. Too often, economic problems exacerbated by a leader’s flirtation with Marxism present a big challenge. Their generally autocratic rule also becomes a focus of concern, leading to the ousters of Haile Selassie and Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, who was deposed while visiting Communist China in 1966.

All biographies are well-balanced and provide personal quotes by the leaders, as well as references for further study. For Robert Mugabe and Nelson Mandela, who lead their countries as of the publication of this work, the reader can speculate how their experiences will shape their future actions.

Overall, MODERN AFRICAN POLITICAL LEADERS focuses on generally successful men; this may be a reason for the omission of Idi Amin of Uganda. Rasmussen’s biographies are full of information and insight, and nicely introduce readers to eight fascinating lives.