Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town

Paul lived and taught in Africa during his youthful years. After thirty-five years, he returns to Africa – traversing from Cairo to the cape of Africa in smelly matatus (mini-buses), taxis, cattle trucks, canoes, and a ferry for this travelogue. Starting off by engaging in touristy activities in Cairo, where the locals don’t consider themselves part of Africa because they believe Africa is underdeveloped and dangerous. He traveled through the remotest villages and occasionally made quick stops in the cities, authentically sharing his experiences and stories.

Paul does take the reader on the road less traveled in Africa, a road different from the popularized Safari, boat cruises, and fancy resorts. He presents another side of Africa; the African strangle to better themselves, the history, failed governments, and ordinary people’s stories. He shares firsthand accounts of his expeditions through Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. He shares the friendliness of the people, magnificent sunrises, and the dark side of Africa related to the run-down infrastructure, vast unemployment, crime, and the Aids epidemic, particularly in Zambia.

Dark Star Safari - Paul Theroux

The dark star safari is informative, entertaining, engaging, and hard to put down. I liked Paul’s courageous and daring move to travel through the remotest and most dangerous parts of Africa – mainly without a plan. His ability to speak some local languages was impressive and enriched his overall experience and the ability to engage and tell an authentic story of his characters in the book.  Though some areas were slow and felt like he lingered on too long in some places, I liked reading about my beautiful Uganda. Of course, because I am Ugandan. It was interesting to see how far Uganda has come in his eyes from the ’60s to early 2000.

His story presents a shared struggle for a better life and community and how the locals, especially in the smaller cities, sustain themselves through self-sufficiency and sustainable farming to replace the lavish imprint of the colonial past.

Throughout the book, he persistently expresses his disgust for charities and aid organizations in Africa which raises curiosity for the role of charity organizations in most developing countries. Are charities doing more harm than good? Have they contributed to the hand-me-down culture of dependency that seems prevalent in most African countries, and have charities and aid programs turned African problems into permanent conditions? This is something to ponder about.

“In my view, aid is a failure if in forty years of charity the only people still dishing up the food and doling out the money are foreigners. No Africans are involved — there is not even a concept of African volunteerism or labor-intensive projects”

Most of us are stuck with itchy feet and cannot travel because of the ongoing pandemic; Paul’s narrative will transport you to those places. I have not been back home in over three years, and reading Dark star safari presented some little comfort of somewhat being at home. Reading his stories helped me to see Africa particularly Uganda through the eyes of a foreigner.  It was the next best thing to being in Uganda.

Although this was an interesting and engaging read, I can’t entirely agree with some of his perspectives because part of me feels his experiences are coming from a privileged point of view.


Dark Star Safari - Paul Theroux