Nanjala Nyabola didn’t leave Kenya till the age of 20, but since then she has travelled widely for both business and pleasure throughout the world, with the privileges that come with being an educated, middle-class African. However, this 2020 book by writer, political analyst, human rights activist and advocate Nyabola is not an account of her holidays – although it was nevertheless shortlisted for the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year in 2021.

Instead it is something of a polemic. Nyabola is perfectly placed to detail the inconsistencies that come with travelling as a Black woman. Warned off travelling to countries such as Burkina Faso and Haiti, she was able to ‘pass’ as a member of those societies, and see the behind the negative press (though Haiti has surely tipped much closer to being a failed state in the time since the visit she discusses in the book):

The Otherness that led to racial abuse on the subway in New York … had given me an inroad that seemed inaccessible to my blan [white] colleagues … I was much more quickly able to access a Haiti that is warm and welcoming, rather than strange and fearful.


My guidebooks, with all their warnings of violent thugs and itchy fingers, need their presumed readers to be afraid of Africa. They are written for people who have a significant amount of privilege and power, more than most of the people in the communities they plan to enter.”

Her smooth prose covers subjects as diverse as African literature – particularly the writing of Bessie Head, the failings towards desperate refugees of the EU’s Schengen Convention, and the varying manifestations of racism, not just in the West, but throughout the world.

In one discomfiting scene, as Nyabola observes desperate, shell-shocked refugees being unloaded from ships in the Italian port of Palermo, she becomes aware that she is “secretly and shamefully” concerned the security personnel might mistake her for a migrant. The book provides a critique of the inhumanity of Western politics and dismembers the cruelties of EU immigration policy.

This book was an erudite, thought-provoking and informative read, and ends with a plea to rethink prevailing views on migration:

Travel has taught me that a different world is possible and even attainable, and that, even though the beast is large and its tentacles are long, there are enough of us to do something meaningful towards destroying it.

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    1. I thought this might be on your radar! It’s a heavier read than I was perhaps expecting, but very clearly argued and deserves a much wider readership than it will probably get.


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