Ringtone and the Drum, The
Life, death and a brush with insanity in Africa's wild, forgotten West.
Tucked away in a remote, volatile part of West Africa, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and Burkina Faso, three of the world's poorest countries, are in the throes of great upheaval. Globalization has shown their people that a more comfortable life is possible, but as they strive to attain it, climate change, the population boom, the tyrants of the old guard and the firm grip of tradition block their way. The clash between old and new is explosive: civil wars erupt without warning, with drugged up rebels fighting over blood diamonds, gold or a humble bowl of rice; Al Qaeda has infiltrated Burkina Faso and threatens to extend its jihad across the region; Colombian drug gangs have overrun Guinea-Bissau; and Christian and Muslim fanatics battle for African souls, preparing their converts for Armageddon. In The Ringtone and the Drum, Mark Weston dives into this maelstrom. In an often-unsettling adventure, he travels around the three countries and immerses himself in local life. Combining the remarkable stories of those he meets with his deep knowledge of Africa's development, the book sheds new light on a neglected but increasingly important corner of the globe.
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'A travelogue that is incredibly sensitive to nuance and detail. As much about the impression of travel in West Africa as the nuts and bolts of day-to-day routine, the book is structured around short, essay-like chapters and the dates, even the year in which Weston and Ebru travel is never mentioned. This gives the book an almost timeless quality that might help it last as a treatise on globalisation in the developing world.The questions of deep faith raised by the unending poverty, coupled with the lack of trust people have for human systems, are dealt with artfully – becoming a central theme of the book. Whether it is Christian or animist, Weston’s attempt to surrender his Western mind to the magic and superstition of West Africa is a core theme throughout. By the book’s conclusion I began to understand why Weston referred to West Africa in such mystical terms at the outset. The care he has taken along the way leaves a well-crafted travel memoir that appreciates the complexity of countries that have received little mainstream traveller attention.' ~ African Arguments, Royal African Society
'One of the things I like most about Mark Weston’s book ‘The Ringtone and the Drum’ is the honesty of the emotional reactions to being a foreigner in a foreign – in every way – country. Mark has no delusions about what he’s doing there. He’s an observer. He tells people’s stories honestly, respectfully and without an agenda. And he’s open about his own reactions – the difficulty of it all, the time wasted, the physical discomfort, and the emotional strain. In fact, he’s pretty self-revelatory on that front, in a way that I found immensely sympathetic. And as always, talking to people, taking them seriously, and writing it down, gives you endlessly fascinating stories, and also offers a number of challenges to assumptions prevalent in the development business.’ ~ Claire Melamed, Overseas Development Institute
'Fuses the traditions of great travel writing with a deep and sophisticated knowledge of the fast-changing politics and cultures of West Africa. The result is a truly engaging and informative book that provides a rare tour of one of the world’s poorest and least understood regions.' ~ Doug Saunders, Globe and Mail, Canada
'The Ringtone and the Drum is high-energy food for wanderlust. Teeming with interesting facts, it turns Weston's perspicacious eye on some of the least visited countries on earth. The result is an accessible, unique and enchanting account. But beware: it will tempt even the least daring to pack their bags for West Africa!' ~ David Bloom, Professor of Economics and Demography, Harvard University
'A wise and compelling book, which offers a real picture of what daily life is like in West Africa. Weston is a brave and resourceful traveller, who has entered the heart of some of the most fascinating and least visited parts of the world.' ~ Toby Green, Author of Meeting the Invisible Man: Secrets and Magic in West Africa
'The Ringtone and the Drum is a description of the people of West Africa, their daily struggles, hardships and hopes. The book tells the story of the poor in these countries, hawkers, coffee-sellers, market-stall owners trying to survive by working in the largest employment sector in the region, the informal economy. The lives of the people Weston meets are told with sensitivity and compassion. He shows that the poor of the region are like us, deserving of the same interrogation and expressing the same hopes…The Ringtone and the Drum helps us to understand West Africa, with a deeply humane rage against poverty in a region – and world – of abundant wealth.' ~ Leo Zeilig, Socialist Review
'A fascinating and very readable book.' ~ Alex Cobham, Research Director, Save the Children
‘The Ringtone and the Drum’ reminds us of our affluence and privilege as well as taking us on a fascinating journey through West African history and geography. As with any policy review, our response should not simply be to agree to keep giving aid, but to rigorously review to whom and how are we giving. This is not about the powerful making decisions on behalf of the poor and creating dependency, but understanding that the poor have a huge burden of taking responsibility for everything in their lives, much of which we, the wealthy, don’t have to. Therefore our aid needs to relieve some of the burden (such as providing education and healthcare) as well as giving people productive assets. ~ Julia Manning, Daily Mail
'Reading Mark Weston’s The Ringtone and the Drum: Travels in the World’s Poorest Countries shortly after Hotel Africa, I was struck by the echoes of this dilemma. Weston and his wife set out on an ambitious journey through West Africa, but somewhere in Burkina Faso, his mental state begins to deteriorate. For a journalist or a human rights advocate, the consequent loss of objectivity might be disastrous, but the travelogue format gives Weston the leeway to engage his breakdown directly. Instead of minimizing it, or alternately, presenting West Africa as the monolithic “thing that drove him crazy,” he uses it to shrink the distance between himself and his subjects, generating real insight into the emotional lives of the individuals with whom he interacts. The book is full of rich detail and interesting historical anecdotes (as well as a surprising amount of political economy shout-outs) about a part of the world that most readers will never see, but its real value lies in Weston’s success at communicating exactly what he set out to discover: “a better idea of how the world’s poorest people make it through the day.” Worth a read.' ~ Kate Cronin-Furman, Wronging Rights
‘Have you heard about the story of the aid worker who traveled in Africa? Why yes, that is pretty much every book about aid. So you can excuse me for being a bit jaded when approaching Mark Weston’s book that recounts his travels with his wife to the West African countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and Burkina Faso. Weston’s The Ringtone and the Drum opens in a way that makes the reader feel as if they are about to read a self-indulged account of his travels through some of the worst countries in the world. That initial impression was dead wrong. The exposition section acted less as a set up and more like a series of information that Weston wanted to shed as quickly possible. Make no mistake about it, the book is about him. However his role is that of the storyteller who happens to be in the story, rather than the main character. Weston is the connective tissue of the stories of the people that he interacts with across the three countries. Weston resists the temptation to fit the people he meets into a neat story about progress or development. Rather, he shares their stories as a way to show the complex ways that the lives of the poor cannot be packaged into a neat box. Readers will likely feel helpless if looking to the book for solutions, but will be better off for having come to understand how life is far messier than we imagine it to be.’ ~ Tom Murphy, www.humanosphere.org
'This is a courageous book, which sheds much-needed light on a corner of Africa that rarely gets media attention. Weston's first hand reporting and analysis will help anyone seeking to understand how poor countries work and poor people live.' ~ Seth Kaplan, Author of Fixing Fragile States
'Weston’s strength is his observation, which brings the region to life with portraits of individuals, snippets of history and local colour. He dwells on the physical aspects of West Africa: the corrugated-iron roofs and papaya trees of Guinea-Bissau, the cockroach-covered table in the first-class lounge of the ferry to Sierra Leone, the seediness of Freetown in whose City Hotel Graham Greene set The Heart of the Matter and the mud walls of Burkina Faso. He builds up a picture of the region through the circumstantial situations he finds himself in and the people he happens to encounter. We are left with an impression of the everyday life of Africans who possess little in relation to Westerners but make the best of the lives they have been given. Weston is a writer and policy adviser specialising in international development who has advised the UK Government on West Africa. His many insights recall Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth and bring West Africa to Western attention. I recommend this book to all who would like to know more about this neglected region.' ~ Nicholas Hagger, author of The Libyan Revolution and Last Tourist in Iran