With The Mind of the African Strongman, Herman J. Cohen, career ambassador and former Assistant Secretary of State, takes a look at what has helped and what has hindered economic development and democracy in Africa since the end of colonialism.
Despite access to vast natural resources and decades of international development aid, why have so many African countries failed to keep the promises made to their people?
With wit and a sharp analytical eye, Ambassador Cohen reflects on nearly four decades of work throughout the continent, sharing stories of his personal encounters with some of Africa’s most legendary leaders. From Nelson Mandela to Muammar Gaddafi, Cohen gives readers a never-before-seen look at the men who defined modern Africa, as well as a behind-the-scenes account of dealing with U.S. Presidents, Secretaries of State, and other key leaders shaping U.S. foreign policy toward Africa in the the post-colonial / Cold War era.
Ambassador Cohen’s historical analysis shows how today’s African leaders can fulfill the continent’s economic and democratic potential.
“...provides insight into the tension between dictatorship and democracy in post-colonial Africa...this often entertaining survey of recent African political history should interest both scholars and laypeople.”
“[Cohen] has written a fascinating and clear-eyed book…a great read – I did so in a single sitting because I could not put it down. Africa watchers will delight in Cohen’s subtle pen portraits of Africa’s big men. Through him, the reader feels he or she actually participates in conversations with personalities as variable as Congo’s Mobutu or Nigeria’s Babangida.”
"For half a century, Hank Cohen has probed Africa’s most intimate secrets as a diplomat and foreign policy analyst. From the Congo to the Comoros, he has seen it all. Now, with an incisive book rich in insight and vivid color, he emerges as a master storyteller. To understand African leadership, past and present, you need this book."
– Mort Rosenblum, author of Squandering Eden: Africa at the Edge, and former editor of the International Herald Tribune
"Ambassador Cohen shows diplomacy at its best: flexible, creative, and empathetic when necessary, tough if need be…This book tells the story of a versatile, talented and creative diplomat. It makes an invaluable contribution to our understanding of the United States' relationship with Africa in the final three decades of the twentieth century."
"Many of his portraits are unflattering, but Cohen is capable of real empathy, even when he is quite aware of a leader's failings...Diplomatic historians will value the book's substantive details. Other readers will be tickled by some of Cohen's revelations."
“Cohen’s cogently argued analysis of Africa’s first generation of post-colonial leaders will provide both experienced Africa hands and new readers useful insights into the major transitions underway in Africa and the continually evolving US role there.”
“Ambassador Cohen illustrates the story of Africa’s post-independence era with insightful, candid, and often witty portraits of the continent’s most magnetic leaders. For the most part, it’s a sobering tale of men whose misguided ideologies and hubris dragged their young nations into economic crises from which they are only now beginning to emerge. But what’s most striking about Ambassador Cohen’s account is how his diplomatic options were so often constrained by U.S. policies that were dominated first by Cold War calculations, then by Afro Pessimism and an excess of caution.”
– Richard Downie, Deputy Director and Fellow, Center for Strategic and International Studies Africa Program
“There are few who match Hank Cohen in terms of the length and breadth of his experience in and engagement with Africa, both within government and, subsequently, in the private sector. Even those who find themselves at disagreement with one or another of the author’s conclusions will nevertheless find the stories of his dealings with some of the most famous (and infamous) African leaders of the period fascinating and the insights of these historical figures which he recounts an invaluable resource.”
– J. Peter Pham, Director of the Africa Center, Atlantic Council, and Editor-in-Chief, Journal of the Middle East and Africa
"Wise observations...insight of the many difficulties of achieving prosperity for the people and also the many barriers to development and real democracy...will make for exciting and insightful reading."
“Hank Cohen's experience in Africa and access to a wide array of historic African leaders are unparalleled. This unique book provides important lessons from the continent's past and insights for its future.”
– Kenneth L. Brown, former U.S. ambassador to Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, and Republic of Congo and president, Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training
“That individuals often do make a difference is the thesis of The Mind of the African Strongman. Based upon his unrivaled experience as an American diplomat in Africa, Hank Cohen's collection of conversations with Africa's Big Men is invaluable to anyone interested in that continent and its tumultuous modern history.”
— Edward Marks, Minister-Counselor (ret.), U.S. Foreign Service
“Secretary Cohen is a master storyteller who has made it easier for Africans to form a broad historical perspective through his revealing tales about their rulers.”
– Ahmadu Abubaker, Nigerian lawyer active in sub-Saharan Africa development issues