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Roger John Maudsley (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

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The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence
The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence
by Martin Meredith
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Devil Take the Hindmost, 26 Jan. 2008
I knew the post-independence years in Africa were bad, but didn't realize how bad. Never perhaps has Lord Acton's comment that "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" been applicable on a wider scale.

A clear justification for dealing with a whole continent in a 750-page book is to allow the emergence of common traits across dozens of countries. The quote from Nigerian Claude Ake sums up a major general point: "The problem is not so much that development has failed, as that it was never really on the agenda in the first place". What seems to have been on the agenda in most countries was power and riches to us and ours and the devil take the hindmost.

The chief surprise is the almost total absence, over dozens of countries, along some five decades, of even reasonable government; only Nelson Mandela, forced to attain "maturity" in prison, and obliged by age to curtail his moment on stage, comes across as a great leader.

Given the size of the book it is a bit surprising that the author decided to lump together "Black" Africa with the Arab north: although the de-colonization process occurred in the same period the two areas have very distinct traditions. Concentration on one or the other would have allowed more space for analysis.

There is a damning account of the role of foreign governments and institutions, but if there is anything to criticize in the book's general orientation it is in relation to its cursory coverage of the illegal activities of multinational companies. By furnishing the instruments of war on one hand and ready cash on the other two key groups intensified conflict and magnified the impact of corruption: arms suppliers and minerals purchasers. This is important because it removes another piece of blame from the African governments themselves.

There is not the shadow of a doubt that this is essential reading for anyone with a serious interest in contemporary Africa. However, while Meredith's writing is concise and as clear as crystal, only someone with a very specific interest will want, for example, to wade through the complexity of years of Nigerian politics. But there is something for everybody: having lived in Kenya and the then Rhodesia, and travelled through most of eastern Africa in the early 70's, the book filled in hundreds of blank spots for me.

On the other hand, while the work could usefully serve as a reference for particular countries, I do not think it suitable for someone wanting a general introduction to post-independence Africa: the level of detail is too great.

A final word about the title, which seems inappropriate. No one yet knows the "Fate of Africa" and we won't discover it from reading the book which concludes, not with a bang, but with the wimper "In reality, fifty years after the beginning of the independence era, Africa's prospects are bleaker than ever before". So what's new!

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