Zimbabwe: Years of Hope and Despair, by Philip Barclay, Bloomsbury RRP£17.99, 256 pages

Philip Barclay was a British diplomat in Harare from 2006 to 2008 – the tumultuous period that saw Zimbabwe come so close to achieving democracy.

His book – half memoir, half reportage – gives a vivid insider’s account of the 2008 elections that tipped from hope, when a defeated Robert Mugabe seemed on the point of resigning, to terrible tragedy, as ZANU-PF militias effected a murderous crackdown on opposition MDC supporters in order to ensure victory. Then came the aftermath: a cholera epidemic, ludicrous hyperinflation, and the farce of the power-sharing government that is all too slowly bringing the nation back from the brink.

Barclay tempers this objective account with his own personal feelings for this “strange and wonderful” country where, he says, he once felt “safer and freer than I have ever felt”. His book is an excellent guide to this awful period of Zimbabwe’s sad decline.

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