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The State of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence [Hardcover]

Martin Meredith
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 Jun 2005
Africa is forever on our TV screens, but the bad-news stories (famine, genocide, corruption) massively outweigh the good (South Africa). Ever since the process of decolonialisation began in the mid-1950s, and arguably before, the continent has appeared to be stuck in a process of irreversible decline. Constant war, improper use of natural resources and misappropriation of revenues and aid monies contribute to an impression of a continent beyond hope. How did we get here? What, if anything, is to be done? Weaving together the key stories and characters of the last fifty years into a stunningly compelling and coherent narrative, Martin Meredith has produced the definitive history of how European ideas of how to organise 10,000 different ethnic groups has led to what Tony Blair described as the 'scar on the conscience of the world'. Authoritative, provocative and consistently fascinating, this is a major book on one of the most important issues facing the West today.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1st ed edition (6 Jun 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743232216
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743232210
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.2 x 5.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 243,075 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Martin Meredith is the author of many acclaimed books on Africa including lives of Robert Mugabe and Nelson Mandela and, most recently, The State of Africa (Free Press, 2005). He lives near Oxford.

Product Description


'A brilliant and vitally important work for all who wish to understand Africa and its beleaguered people' -- Jay Freeman, Booklist

'A series of often vivid country snapshots . . . Meredith is a sure guide to this colossal, sad story' -- R. W. Johnson, Sunday Times

'A towering history . . . It is the sheer readability that makes it one of the decade's most important works on Africa' -- Publishers Weekly

'As a popular introduction to the subject it could hardly be bettered' -- Piers Brendon, Sunday Telegraph

'This book is important . . . [It] is also great narrative . . . A spectacularly clear view of the African political jungle' -- Richard Dowden, Spectator

From the Inside Flap

The fortunes of Africa have changed dramatically in the fifty years since the independence era began. As Europe’s colonial powers withdrew, dozens of new states were launched amid much jubilation and to the world’s applause. African leaders stepped forward with energy and enthusiasm to tackle the problems of development and nation-building, boldly proclaiming their hopes of establishing new societies that might offer inspiration to the world at large. The circumstances seemed auspicious. Independence came in the midst of an economic boom. On the world stage, African states excited the attention of the world’s rival power blocs; in the Cold War era, the position that each newly independent state adopted in its relations with the West or the East was viewed as a matter of crucial importance. Africa was considered too valuable a prize to lose.

Today, Africa is spoken of only in pessimistic terms. The sum of its misfortunes – its wars, its despotisms, its corruption, its droughts – is truly daunting. No other area of the world arouses such a sense of foreboding. Few states have managed to escape the downward spiral: Botswana stands out as a unique example of an enduring multi-party democracy; South Africa, after narrowly avoiding revolution, has emerged in the post-apartheid era as a well-managed democratic state. But most African countries are effectively bankrupt, prone to civil strife, subject to dictatorial rule, weighed down by debt, and heavily dependent on Western assistance for survival.

So what went wrong? How did Harold Macmillan’s ‘winds of change’ turn into Tony Blair’s ‘scar on the conscience of the world’? What happened to this vast continent, so rich in resources, culture and history, to bring it so close to destitution and despair in the space of two generations?

Focusing on the key personalities, events and themes of the independence era, Martin Meredith’s magisterial history seeks to explore and explain the myriad problems that Africa has faced in the past half-century, and faces still. From the giddy enthusiasms of the 1960s to the ‘coming of tyrants’ and rapid decline, The State of Africa is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand how it came to this – and what, if anything, is to be done.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
67 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A litany of selfish greed and power lust 1 April 2008
Few writers could do justice to the mammoth task of covering 50 years of the turbulent history of an entire continent in a single volume, but Meredith achieves just that and with considerable power and finesse. The task necessitates skipping between countries and back and forth in time but Meredith manages very successfully to bridge the potential confusion this could have created with themes that run through the post-colonial history of most of the states of Africa. Though there are variations to the theme, most African countries passed from the euphoria and hope of early independence to domination by dictators who justified their single party policies as the only answer to potential tribal conflict. Dictatorships caused unrest, which often lead to coup attempts with the coup leaders promising an end to repression and corruption, but soon falling into the same patterns as their predecessors.

The book is a litany of incompetent government, of insatiable greed and exploitation on the part of leaders and their cronies, of unbelievable power lust and the resulting repression, of megalomaniac leaders with delusions of grandeur, of ludicrous levels of corruption and of the suffering of millions of ordinary people. Meredith's coverage is comprehensive and his style is easy to read. The inclusion of fascinating details about particular events or the personal lives of particular leaders brings the narrative to life. The tales he has to tell are gripping (though horrific) and you will fly through the nearly 700 pages.

Meredith skillfully establishes the historical similarities between almost all African countries. His explanations show only too well how poor leadership and economic management has led to the continent becoming the most desperately poor and underdeveloped region on earth.
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73 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sad Sad Sad... 25 Mar 2007
Martin Meredith has written en excellent and thoughtful account of Africa's post-independence years. The book is not only well-researched but shows a familiarity with the Continent that is rare among Western commentators on Africa.

It is a stark, panoramic and forensic examination of the Continent. No country is left out. Mr Meredith captures the sense of optimism felt by many Africans at independence by painting real-life portraits of independence leaders like Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, Kwame Nkumah of Ghana and Senghor of Senegal. He brings Africa's Big Men into sharp relief. We see Nkrumah's charisma, Nyerere's singled-mindedness, Idi-Amin's savagery, Senghor's diplomacy, Lumuma's intransigience, Awolowo's tribalism and Bokassa's megalomania.

The book chronicles post-colonial Africa as a Cold War playground between the West and The Soviet Union. In Angola, Zaire and Mozambique, Western support for unsavoury leaders was seen as necessary to stop the spread of Communism. This had devastating consequences for the Continent.

On page after page the author documents Africa's woes, backed up with World Bank data: economic decline, gross governmental incompetence, patronage, destruction of civil society, neglect for the rule of law. And all for what?, he asks. So that the elite can buy luxury homes in the South of France and the send their children to Western universities. How true.

What I appreciated most about the book was Mr Meredith's remarkable insight into "African" nature. He does not diminish the African attachment to the tribe as many European writers have done in the past. He observes accurately that tribal loyalty supercedes loyalty to the newly created African nation-states.
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74 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A horror story 22 Aug 2005
Five stars for this plain, urgent, and very comprehensive account of Africa since the colonial powers packed up and left, or were booted out. And as far as I know, this is the only book which covers all of Africa in the last 50 years. But I think readers should be issued with a very strong warning. You have to ask yourselves if you have a strong stomach. Because make no mistake, this is a horror story, and it has left me, after all the Geldoff-inspired euphoria, after the recent debt-cancellations, after all those good words from Blair and Brown, close to despair. Let me give you some examples chosen at random. From page 173 : "President Omar Bongo of Gabon... ordered a new palace for himself with sliding walls and doors, rotating rooms and a private nightclub, costing well over $200 million". From page 273: "The disruption caused by the `villagisation' programme nearly led to catastrophe (in Tanzania). Food production fell drastically, raising the spectre of widespread famine.... Drought compounded the problem." From page 368: "By the mid-1980s most Africans were as poor or poorer than they had been at the time of independence." From page 460: "Over a ten-year period (in Algeria) more than 100,000 people died. Nor was there any end in sight. The violence seemed to suit both sides - the military and the Islamist rebels."
The story of each African country seems to be the same. There is the early promise of independence, the charismatic new leader (it could be Nkrumah or Kenyatta or even Mugabe, of whom Ian Smith, the leader of white Rhodesia, said : "He behaved like a balanced, civilised westerner, the antithesis of the communist gangster I had expected").
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great - must read
Great overview of the Eco-Political climate of Africa in the past 60 years.
Published 20 days ago by Kelvin Graham
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Brilliant book. True modern history of Africa. The only minus is the implication that Kwame Nkrumah was somehow corrupt.
Published 1 month ago by Robert Brace
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books I have read....ever
I love this book. It's historically accurate, easy to read and gives you a real insight into Africa. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Alex
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Historical Account of Africa
I am only half way through this but I love it. The History is conventional narrative with proper primary sources thrown in so a brilliant back to basics explain-all and no-judging... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Miss sian spurway
4.0 out of 5 stars a never ending litany of greed, murder, foreign aid and corruption...
“struggle for survival”, these are the dismal closing words summing up the current state of Africa 50 years after its struggle for independence started. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Valentini Vincenzo
4.0 out of 5 stars A Small Missionary Light for the World and for Africa
Africa and its states, according to Martin Meredith, is in a state of limbo. It laps back and forth like the waves and tides of the sea: presenting islets of hope and progress, in... Read more
Published 4 months ago by mangilli-climpson m
4.0 out of 5 stars Detailed and readable
Detailed history, yet highly readable. Makes most interesting reading. I lived in Africa for 50 years, but feel enlightened having read this book.
Published 4 months ago by Adrian Mark Dore
5.0 out of 5 stars Where does your charity contribution go?
This book is the wake up call of wake up calls. I think I knew Africa was corrupt but I also hoped it was not absolutely corrupt.
Published 5 months ago by Andratx Peter
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing and reinforcing negative stereotypes
I would agree with other reviewers who have given this book a low rating. I was brought up (in the 1960s and 70s) with a negative view from my family and the media of the ability... Read more
Published 7 months ago by M. Martin
5.0 out of 5 stars Great overview of post independent Africa
Fascinating thought provoking overview of Africa since independence. Meredith highlights various trends that emerged across the continent and which profoundly affected the... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Mike P
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