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Basil Davidson
Born Basil Risbridger Davidson
(1914-11-09)9 November 1914
Bristol, England
Died 9 July 2010(2010-07-09) (aged 95)
Occupation Historian

Basil Risbridger Davidson MC (9 November 1914 – 9 July 2010) was a British historian, writer and Africanist, particularly knowledgeable on the subject of Portuguese Africa prior to the 1974 Carnation Revolution.

He wrote several books on the current plight of Africa. Colonialism and the rise of African emancipation movements were central themes of his work. He was an Honorary Fellow of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.


Born in Bristol, England, Davidson was a reporter until 1939 for the London Economist in Paris, France. From December 1939, he was a Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) / MI-6 D Section (sabotage) officer sent to Budapest to establish a news service as cover. In April 1941, with the Nazi invasion, he fled to Belgrade, Yugoslavia. In May, he was captured by Italian forces and was later released as part of a prisoner exchange.[1] From late 1942 to mid-1943, he was chief of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) Yugoslav Section in Cairo, Egypt, where he was James Klugmann's supervisor. He parachuted into Bosnia on 16 August 1943, and spent the following months serving as a liaison with the Partisans, as he would describe in his 1946 book, Partisan Picture. Davidson moved east into Srem and the Fruška Gora. He was nearly captured or killed several times. SOE higher-ups sent him to Hungary to try to organize a rebel movement there, but Davidson found that the conditions weren't ripe and crossed back over the Danube into the Fruska Gora. The Germans encircled the Fruška Gora in June 1944 in a last attempt to liquidate the Partisans there, but Davidson and the others made a narrow escape. After the Soviets moved into Yugoslavia, Davidson was airlifted out. Davidson had enormous appreciation for the Partisans and Tito.

From January 1945 Davidson was liaison officer with partisans in Liguria and Genoa, Italy. He was present for the surrender of the German forces in Genoa on 26/27 April[2] to these same partisans also known as the CLN. After the war, he was Paris correspondent for The Times, Daily Herald, New Statesman and the Daily Mirror.[citation needed] From 1951, he became a well-known authority on African history, an unfashionable subject in the 1950s. His writings emphasised the pre-colonial achievements of Africans, the disastrous effects of the Atlantic slave trade, the further damage inflicted on Africa by European colonialism and the baleful effects of the nation state in Africa.


Davidson's book The Lost Cities of Africa won him the 1960 Anisfield-Wolf Award, for the best book that dealt with racial problems in creative literature. He was the recipient of the 1970 Haile Selassie I Prize Trust award for his works on African history. The prize of a Gold Medal and Eth $40,000 was presented to him at a ceremony in Addis Ababa by Emperor Haile Selassie on 2 November 1970.[3]

In 1976, he won the Medalha Amílcar Cabral. He received honorary degrees from the Open University of Great Britain in 1980, and the University of Edinburgh in 1981. For his film series Africa, he won the Gold Award, from the International Film and Television Festival of New York in 1984. He also won various other awards.[citation needed]


Davidson died on 9 July 2010, aged 95.[4]

Selected books

  • Partisan Picture. Bedford: Bedford Books, 1946
  • African Awakening. London: Cape, 1955
  • Black Mother: the years of the African slave trade. Boston: Little Brown, 1961.
    • African Slave Trade: precolonial history 1450-1850. Boston: Atlantic-Little Brown, 1961.
  • The African Past: chronicles from antiquity to modern times. London: Longmans, 1964
  • Africa: history of a continent London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1966
  • The Africans: an entry to cultural history. Boston, Mass: Little, Brown, 1969
  • Special Operations Europe: scenes from the anti-Nazi war. London: Gollancz, 1980 ISBN 0575028203
  • Let Freedom Come: Africa in modern history
  • The Black Man's Burden: Africa and the curse of the nation-state;
  • A History of Africa
  • Lost Cities of Africa
  • African Kingdoms. Time-Life International (Nederland) N V, 1969.
  • African Civilization Revisited: from antiquity to modern times
  • Old Africa Rediscovered
  • The Africans
  • The Liberation of Guine, 1969
  • In the Eye of the Storm: Angola's people
  • Africa in Modern History
  • Golden Horn (novel)
  • Black Star
  • West Africa Before the Colonial Era


  1. Special Operations Europe: Scenes From the Anti-Nazi War, 1980 pgs 87/88
  2. Special Operations Europe: Scenes From the Anti-Nazi War, 1980 pgs 340/360
  3. FCO 31/784, Ethiopia: Annual Report - 1970, National Archives
  4. Brittain, Victoria (9 July 2010). "Basil Davidson obituary". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 1 October 2012. 

External links

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