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The Mind of the African Strongman

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The Mind of the African Strongman — Conversations with Dictators, Statesmen, and Father Figures

“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, formerly U.S. Ambassador to Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Republic of Congo and President Emeritus, Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training

Ambassador Herman J. “Hank” Cohen decided early in his 38-year career in the U.S. Foreign Service to specialize in African affairs. He made that decision in the late 1950s when the majority of the African nations were transitioning from European colonial rule to sovereign independence. His service in five U.S. embassies in Africa and his appointment by President George H. W. Bush as Assistant Secretary of State gave him unique opportunities to engage in private conversations with African heads of state. Many considered him to be not only an official representative of the United States government but a trusted informal counselor to them as well.

These conversations offer a colorful and penetrating look at African cultural norms and imperatives at the core of African political and economic performance over the past half-century. Despite billions of dollars of international development assistance poured into Africa since 1955, and despite huge earnings from commodity sales, Africa has lagged far behind most other emerging regions in economic growth and poverty reduction. Through these conversations, Cohen provides an opportunity to the African leaders he knew to tell us personally why the initial enthusiasm that accompanied independence went so badly awry.

A new third generation of African leadership is now coming to the fore. The key question is, can they and the international donor community learn from and overcome the negative legacies of their predecessors?

“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. 

Herman J. Cohen served in the U.S. Foreign Service for 38 years. In Africa, he was posted to five U.S. embassies and served as ambassador to Senegal. In Washington he was Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs under George H. W. Bush and Special Assistant for African Affairs to Ronald Reagan. Among other honors, he received the French Legion of Honor and the Belgian Order of Leopold II. Since 1994, Cohen has been active as president of Cohen and Woods, an international consulting firm specializing in assistance to American corporations doing business in Africa. He is the author of Intervening in Africa: Superpower Peacemaking in a Troubled Continent, which received the American Academy of Diplomacy’s 2000 Douglas Dillon Award for best writing about diplomatic practice.

Read an excerpt on the Ivory Coast’s Félix Houphouët-Boigny.