9 Books About East and Horn of Africa You Need to Read Before End of 2013


Writer and poet Taban Lo Liyong, a well known literary figure in the region, described East Africa as “a literary desert.” He made these remarks in 1969, his view being that the region didn’t produce distinguished writers, or if it did, there was no body of work worthy of artistic merit.

More than 40 years later, East Africa has dramatically changed on many fronts: political, economic, and literary. The region has become the center of attention in Africa, given its geopolitical location and the vested interests of worldly powers.

East Africa’s ascendancy and global importance is exemplified in the emerging technological hubs in Kenya and Rwanda, the discovery of oil in Kenya and Uganda and the emergence of renewable energy in Ethiopia. The region also comes into sharp focus on the security front with the rise of al-Shabaab and piracy in Somalia. In short, as columnist Charles Obbo once declared, in another 50 years, East Africa will shape the future of the African continent.

This renewed interest in East Africa has led to reflections on the region in books on a range of subjects: people, places, and companies that are shaping the region. The books are as variegated as the region – they vary in size and depth and narrate stories that humanize, that inspire, that educate – from Kenya to Rwanda to Somalia.

Sahan Journal put together a list of nine must-read books written in 2013, with a few that were published in late 2012.


Keeping Hope Alive: One Somali Woman, 90,000 Lives Changed – By Dr. Hawa Abdi with Sarah J. Robbins

This is a story of hope amidst chaos. Dr. Hawa’s small health clinic in the outskirts of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, turns into a safe haven for many fleeing the civil war and in the process provides medical attention, hope and solace to the refugees. In the book, Dr Hawa’s sheer will, effort and strength of character shine through. This is also a story about the transformative power of giving, and the unrelenting strength of the millions of uncelebrated Somali women who have borne the brunt of the two-decade war. In Dr Hawa’s story, the cliche, one person can change the world, is brought to life.

A House in the Sky: A Memoir – By Amanda Lindhout with Sarah Corbett

You are kidnapped. You are beaten. And starved. For a record 15 months. That was the reality that Amanda Lindhout, a Canadian waitress-turned-journalist experienced in Somalia, alongside freelance photojournalist Nigel Brennan. An adaptation of the book was published in the New York Times as “12 Minutes of Freedom in 460 Days of Captivity” and instantly captured the attention of readers across the world.

Al-Shabaab in Somalia: The History and Ideology of a Militant Islamist Group, 2005 – 2012 – By Stig Jarle Hansen

Over the last 7 years, the militant group al-Shabaab has captured the attention of not only the East African region, but the world. Stig, a Norwegian academic, has put together a book that chronicles the rise of al-Shabaab from the Islamic Courts Union phase, its active insurgency against the Ethiopian occupation, its tenacity in the face of international efforts to eradicate the group, and the current difficulties facing the group.


The Ghosts of Happy Valley – The Biography – By Juliet Barnes

Wanjohi Valley in the Kenyan Highlands is a place where the Happy Valley set – a community of wealthy, bohemian, flamboyant, philandering British and Anglo-Irish aristocrats – settled during the colonial era. Kenyan writer Juliet Barnes takes us on a journey to find the remains of the happy valley set’s grand homes beneath mountains and verdant valleys. She converses with local elders to reconstruct the period and the confusing cast of characters hoping to find answers for mysteries such as the murder of the dashing Lord Erroll, a serial bed-hopper.

In the House of the Interpreter: A Memoir – By Ngugi wa Thiong’o

This is the second volume of Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s memoirs following his bestseller, Dreams in a Time of War. Ngugi is in boarding school in the 1950s, and he intricately reconstructs his life story during this time as Kenyans are fighting for sovereignty in the Mau Mau revolt.

Kwani? 07 – edited by Billy Kahora

The United States has for a long time been a dream destination for many Africans, particularly during the 1990s. This collection of pieces, edited by Caine Prize nominee Billy Kahora, gives an imaginative view of the tales and experiences of an African diaspora that seeks its identity abroad.


Land of Second Chances: The Impossible Rise of Rwanda’s Cycling Team – By Tim Lewis

Adrien Niyonshuti is a cyclist competing for a position in the 2012 London Olympics for his country Rwanda, where he lost six members of his family to the genocide when he was seven years old. But his supporting cast, despite having plans for a prosperous Rwanda, face myriad setbacks that might undo their goodwill.


A Good African Story: How a Small Company Built a Global Coffee Brand – Andrew Rugasira

Good African Coffee, a ten-year-old company, is helping thousands of farmers in Uganda sustain their lives as it roasts, packs and brands the coffee for the global market. Its owner, Andrew Rugasira, observes that in contrast, Africa has received over $1 trillion in aid over the last 50 years, yet poverty still remains. Through his remarkable personal story on his successful business enterprise, the entrepreneur tells Africa to shape its own destiny.


Massacre at Wekidiba: The Tragic Story of a Village in Eritrea – Habtu Ghebre-Ab

The last great book we read on Eritrea was Michela Wrong’s “I Didn’t Do It For You: How the World Used and Abused a Small African Nation.” But Prof. Ghebre-Ab’s documentation of the massacres inflicted upon the Eritrean people in his new book, and especially in the village of Wekidiba, is a must-read for anyone interested in the Horn of Africa nation.

Image of Dr. Hawa Abdi courtesy of NPR

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