African Islands and Enclaves

Before my trip to Baltimore, Washington and Delaware I decided to get caught up on reading various lengthy essays I had photocopied. I didn’t want to be midway through a book on that trip, since I was travelling with only carry-on luggage and space was severely limited. Once I finished an article, I could dispose of it. Among the essays I read prior to my trip were two on enclaves, and I pored over the lists of sources used for both. One of them cited from African Islands and Enclaves, published in 1983. I obtained this as an interloan from Queen’s University in Kingston. It was composed of ten chapters, each written by a different author, on the Canary Islands, Gambia, Equatorial Guinea, Cabinda, St. Helena, Cape Verde, Diego Garcia, Seychelles, Comoros and Mauritius. The chapter on the Comoros was written in French. The book did not start off well, as I was bored to no end by the opening chapter about the Canary Islands and its economy. The author spent more time talking about economic theory yet I only perked up when he applied it to the islands. Unfortunately the second chapter on Gambia offered no interest at all. Since each author had a specific focus for each chapter, thankfully the variety in approach meant that I wasn’t bored to tears turning 279 pages solely on economic theory.

I found the chapter on Equatorial Guinea, and the policies of its president for life, Francisco Macías Nguema, to be among the most interesting (and disturbing). Yet it wasn’t as if I had never heard of this most brutal dictator before. Without a doubt the chapter on St. Helena, written by the book’s editor, Robin Cohen, kept my interest the most. The island is a place I would like to visit, yet the author painted a disparaging portrait of the Saints as unmotivated welfare recipients. The chapter’s subtitle spelled it out in full: St. Helena: Welfare Colonialism in Practice, so I knew which direction the author was headed. For such an academic collection of essays (which nevertheless contained numerous spelling errors in English as well as French) I found the characterization of the citizens of St. Helena to be more suited to a supermarket tabloid. The chapter on Diego Garcia, and its forced evacuation of its citizens, mainly to Mauritius, to enable the US to convert the island into a military installation, was a riveting read. It left me wondering how complicit Mauritius was in allowing this to happen. Did Mauritius surrender Diego Garcia as part of its territory to the UK in order to garner its own independence?

This book, in spite of its subject matter, was unfortunately a dull read. As an enclave enthusiast I was expecting more than just an analysis of Cabinda, and mainland Equatorial Guinea was barely discussed. What a dream it would have been to read about the Malawian exclave islands of Likoma and Chizumulu, or the Spanish exclaves Ceuta, Melilla and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera on the southern Mediterranean coast. Instead the book ended with a crushingly boring chapter on the economics of Mauritius. I was so happy to close the cover and send this one back.

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