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A Letter From The Publisher: Jan. 16, 1984

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TIME Correspondent Marsh Clark, who originated the idea of a cover story that would survey Africa a quarter-century after independence, has worked in the southern part of that continent for three years. He is not one of journalism’s “old Africa hands,” but he thinks he knows the type well. They are, he explains, “the ones who have suffered Africa’s bureaucratic indignities, its frustrations and inefficiencies, and its occasional dangers, but who still believe that the continent’s shortcomings are far outweighed by its virtues: its heart-stopping beauty, its hospitable people, its primitiveness.”

For the preparation of this week’s story, which included reporting from the majority of countries in black Africa, Clark was able to work alongside five old Africa hands. Correspondent James Wilde, who covered Africa for TIME from the mid-1960s to 1971, including the Biafra revolt in Nigeria, was back in that country last week to report on the sudden military coup. He got there, barely, in a small chartered plane from the Ivory Coast. “Over Lagos,” says Wilde, “the harmattan, a dust-laden wind blowing from the Sahara, had reduced visibility to 500 yds. On our first try at landing, one wing nearly scraped the runway; we began to stall. But our nerveless Ivorian pilot gunned the motor, and the plane lifted, shuddering. We made it on the second pass and emerged, wobbly with fear.”

Wilde recently took over the post of Nairobi bureau chief from John Borrell, a correspondent in Africa for twelve years, who joined TIME 15 months ago. Borrell visited half a dozen countries for the story, and even made his way to Timbuktu, the remote Malian walled city that for centuries has conjured up exotic images among non-Africans.

Peter Hawthorne has spent 29 years in Africa and has covered everything from Kenya’s Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s to the violent transition of Rhodesia into Zimbabwe. With Nairobi Reporter Alastair Matheson and Capetown’s John Platter, the five have accumulated a total of 110 years’ experience living and working in Africa.

The main cover story was the work of Associate Editor Russ Hoyle, who has written often on African affairs. Senior Writer Bill Smith, who wrote the accompanying story on the Nigerian coup, was Nairobi bureau chief from 1962 to 1964 and again in 1969. In 1972 Random House published his biography of Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, We Must Run While They Walk.

Says Smith of Africa: “The excitement of the early 1960s is long since past, and the task of building independent Africa has taken a lot longer and been far more painful than anyone in the beginning imagined.”

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