Diverse destinies

COUNTRY PROFILES SERIES. MALI: a prospect of peace? By Rheal Drisdelle.

KENYA: promised land? By Geoff Sayer.

THE PHILIPPINES: In search of justice. By Charlie Pye-Smith.

AFGHANISTAN:a land in shadow. By Chris Johnson.

Oxfam Pounds 5.95 eachOxfam, co BEBC, PO Box 1496, Parkstone, Dorset BH12 3YD.

Development education often suffers from a surfeit of generalisations. If the term "developing countries" is deployed too frequently, it can seem to denote some sort of monolithic bloc, endowed with uniform characteristics. A similarly spurious precision hangs around phrases such as "sustainable development". Possibly the most valuable contribution made by Oxfam's flourishing Country Profiles series (currently 17 titles) is to remind us of the diversities too often obscured by generalisation.

These 70-page books aim to provide succinct, up-to-date accounts, written by people with extensive non-tourist, non-journalistic experience of the countries described. A firm editorial line ensures that authors eschew the colourfully exotic, the calculatedly compassion-arousing, in favour of a dispassionate analysis of contemporary political and economic situations. Only the emphasis on self-help organisations reminds us of the aid agency provenance of these books.

Of these latest titles, only one, Kenya, deals with a country reasonably established on our mental maps by a combination of wildlife TV, literature,tourism and sporadic media coverage. Mali, the most desperately poor, interestingly has the most positive prognosis, while the bleak prospects for the avage inequalities of the Philippines, and the endemic gun-dominated instability of Afghanistan, are unsentimentally set out. Each book balances the dismal portrayal of political realities with accounts of individual and group initiatives.

These Country Profiles would add flesh and blood to the austerities of development studies at A-level and beyond. Travellers to Kenya, the Philippines, Mali or Afghanistan should add a copy to their Rough Guides.

Michael Storm

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