Among the most cogent responses to Conrad is Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and the rest of his African Trilogy. Many more books have been written by African authors, from a myriad of African experiences.

It’s time to stop using Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ as a guidebook for the Congo
The Congo River today.
Image: Reuters/Thomas Mukoya

Jasanoff at least talks to the locals she shares the boat with. But that’s part of what makes her insistence on introducing her essay with a description of bush meat so perplexing—this is a well-worn literary stereotype, along with witchcraft, that’s meant to expose how primitive Africans are. Yet she has shown she is capable of a far more nuanced uderstanding of the past and present. She was awarded the Windham-Campbell non-fiction prize this year for her “vivid, superbly researched” historical writing.

African stereotypes continue to dog the continent perhaps because they still reward the European and American journalists who trot them out. Just recently, the New York Times’ East Africa bureau chief Jeffrey Gettleman wrote a memoir that showed how “ooga booga” journalism made its way into his own Pulitzer-winning reporting.

Fortunately, as the outrage over Jasanoff’s piece shows, the subjects of these Africa memoirs are no longer as silent as they were in Conrad’s day. They respond through their own books and reporting, as well as through increasingly powerful social media. Foreigners trying to sell their still colonial-minded views of Africa are being forced to apply much more nuance than they were a century ago.

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