67 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A litany of selfish greed and power lust
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...
Published on 1 April 2008 by Gordon Eldridge
65 of 75 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars To be honest, it's not that good...
I studied African politics at university, and to be honest this isn't that helpful if you really want to have a good grasp of politics in Africa. It's openly journalistic: Meredith's background is as a journalist, and he doesn't reference his claims or assertions in the book, though there is a chpater by chapter guide to further reading at the back. The lack of proper...
Published on 30 Dec 2006 by E N Cuentro
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67 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A litany of selfish greed and power lust,
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. He leaves it to others, however, to attempt to explain why it is that almost all African countries should have taken such similar and devastatingly violent historical trajectories and why the necessary leadership to break the cycle has not been forthcoming.
73 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sad Sad Sad...,
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. He does not write out of pity but from genuine empathy with the ordinary African. This style contrasts sharply with other Western writers who seek to impose their arm-chair liberalism on the reader.
He keenly observes that the legacy of colonial rule was not to develop the conquered peoples but to extract the wealth of the country for the benefit of its rulers. It was a legacy that Africa's post-colonial leaders inherited. Mr Meredith concludes that the root cause of Africa's malaise is not lack of resources but a crisis of leadership. It is a view that I, as an African (a Nigerian), concur with.
Forget all you think you know about Africa and read this book. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
74 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A horror story,
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"). There follows corruption and megalomania - palaces built, roads to nowhere commissioned, Swiss bank accounts opened, the president's tribal associates given all the top jobs. The president bans all political parties except his own, because multi-party democracy is not the African way and just plays into the hands of unscrupulous tribal leaders (but of course it is the President himself - and in Africa there has never yet been a herself - who's the biggest player of tribal politics). Then comes twenty - sometimes thirty - years of tyranny, with all political opponents jailed and tortured, and the country bankrupted. Then comes the military coup with the idealistic young military leader declaring a Council of National Salvation and a raft of anti-corruption laws. A few years later, the same young military leader (could be Samuel K Doe of Liberia, could be Yoweri Museweni of Uganda) has turned into a clone of the tyrant he deposed.
Slavery in Africa was followed by colonialism, and once that was ended, by Cold War proxy wars, and once they were over, by Aids. You would think that - plus the endemic disease and drought of course - was enough. But no, Africa suffers from another disease just as debilitating - the infestation of their own "vampire-like" ruling classes. By the end of Martin Meredith's book the horrors were not diminishing. We had had the Rwandan genocide, the children's armies of Liberia (ten year old kids high on cocaine shooting each other with Armalites) and the Lord's Resistance cult in Uganda. Still it goes on. "When Abdou Diouf of Senegal accepted defeat in an election in March 2000 he was only the fourth president to do so in four decades." And again: "The World bank estimates that 40% of Africa's private wealth is held offshore.".
The author leaves no room for any false optimism. I salute every aid agency and every politician willing to even try to improve the dire situation. But if they read this book they will be wondering where to begin.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good overview of Africa since independence,
Africa is, correctly, perceived as one of the greatest problems areas in the world today - the only major area of the world where the quality of life is getting worse rather than better for many.
This book gives a very useful, chronological, factual account of all the major events since the European colonial powers began to pull out in the 1950s. It is, sadly, a very depressing story in many instances and the clear, unemotional, matter-of-fact style of the author, makes it obvious, without throwing it at us, what are many of the reasons for this.
It is difficult to hope that any enormous change for the better will occur any time soon. Perhaps the only thing I found lacking in the book was an overall assessment of the period in the Continent as a whole in, say, economic, political and demographic terms.
If you want however in a reasonably short and easily readable form to find out why Africa is having the problems it has, I would strongly recommend it.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely well-written recent history that makes you sad and mad,
In only 688 pages Martin Meredith succeeds in capturing the recent history of more or less the whole of (sub-Saharan) Africa, throwing in a few countries above the Sahara for good measure. After a brief introduction, he starts off at independence of most countries, and what you read does not make you happy. With only very few exception new rulers with initially good intentions turn within no-time into greedy, ruthless killers that divide the loot (read "the treasury"and "the natural resources of their countries") among themselves, their close familiy, their tribe and their cronies. When things get too obvious, a military coup follows, after which the new leaders do exactly the same. And in the meantime the common people suffer, be it from the lawlessness of Somalia, the genocide in Rwanda, the economic ruins in Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe, or the denial of Mbeki in South Africa that HIV causes AIDS. And these are only a few of the countless examples that make you feel quite depressed. Despite all the foreign aid that is being poured into a continent that has such rich resources (gold, diamonds, oil and a host of minerals), the economic situation of most people has only deteriorated since independence. and this is also in stark contrast to for example Southeast Asia that has gone through an economic explosion.
I regularly work in Africa in collaborative scientific research projects on infectious diseases and I see abysmal hospital facilities, people (including colleagues) dying from diseases that can easily be cured and hot-shots whose only attitude is "what is in it for me?" (and they are so shameless that they actually ask you that question). But I also see tons of very dedicated people -mainly in the lower echelons-, trying to make the best of the meagre resources they have available, people who thoroughly know how to enjoy life and are as hospitable as can be. I always tell them that they are too friendly and slightly naive in believing the promises made. If in the west we would have a ruler like Mugabe, we would have kicked him out years (and put him in prison for good measure).
In my opinion education is key to solving the problems of Africa: educated people are people who can make their own decisions, are able to critically evaluate their options and ultimately can decide together what is best for their country. And yes, maybe in some instances it will be necessary to re-consider borders so that they coincide better with historical delineations between tribes and religions. But it will ask for vision, courage and patience and the question is whether there will be sufficient time available...
40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A comprehensive history of Africa,
This was an excellent book covering the history of Africa from just before independence right up to the present day. It explored some difficult concepts, which at times demanded some rather gruesome descriptions, but the writing did not sensationalise the history.
I found it very well-written, and not too heavy, making it easy for a non-specialist such as myself to read it.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, but strengths contribute to it's weaknesses....,
A fantastic book to serve as an introduction to the complex issue of Africa post World War 2. What makes it such a great book is how straightforward and easy to read it is. However this proves to be it's weakness at times as well, as often it feels like certain issues, in particular economic analysis feels like it is being brushed over in order to make the book easier to read.
Which is a harsh critique, but I cannot pay the book any more of a compliment then stating how much of an eye opener the book was and how it has asked many questions, questions I seek to answer by reading more books about topics covered in the text.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars well written,
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There isn't much written on Africa's more contemporary history as comprehensive and interestingly as this book. In that way, I found the book to be an important book, since it puts the political, social and economic struggle African countries have gone through since WWII, into a larger as well as more easily comparable historical context. This is very important, since to understand the problems of African countries today, one has to understand the more recent past as well, and not only the historical legacies which are so often (albeit rightfully) brought forward as the ONLY root to all evils in Africa.
Martin Meredith's book is besides this very well-written, and one gets a clear idea of the men that formed Africa. Having lived in Ghana, I was of course very interested in the parts talking about Ghana's struggle for independence and the challenges it faced after. The portrayal of Mr. Nkrumah is thereby more sober than that which is often given in Ghana itself, where he is either revered or not (although only quietly).
I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Africa, or even, more generally, for a well-written history book.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Recommended,
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I've been waiting for this subject matter to be covered in a single volume for ages - this book hasn't disappointed. I do not need to describe the scope of the text in detail, except to say than many aspects of the history of the African countries are covered (e.g. economics and development, health etc) in addition to the political and military history.
The writing style is accessible and occasionally cutting and / or humorous. It is an achievement that such a large volume is so easy to read and not at all dull. The progression is largely chronological but the author has skilfully managed to group issues, e.g. US involvement in Somalia, into chapters that can serve as interesting stand alone 'mini-histories'. This has been achieved without the loss of between-chapter continuity.
This book is what I really wanted when I purchased and read 'Africa: A Biography of the Continent' by John Reader - very dry by comparison but worth a look if you want history from year zero.
'The State of Africa' is highly informative, almost unique in coverage, good value and very enjoyable - what more can you ask of a history book?
43 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Continent in ruins,
This impressive history of Africa is a thorough and detailed investigation of the reasons for the continent's dismal failure. Although filled with facts and figures, the work is quite accessible and readable as it charts the bitter history of 50 years of independence from its hopeful beginnings to today's total despair, in just 2 generations.
Ghana was the first African state to gain independence in 1957; it was ruined within 8 years. Today the whole continent produces less than Mexico. Upon taking power, African leaders appointed their cronies in government instead of properly trained civil servants, of which there weren't many anyway. These ruling elites indulged in corruption, oppression and bribery from the beginning.
The continent has been cursed with corrupt, incompetent and greedy leaders who never cared for their subjects. There have been at least 40 successful and many more unsuccessful coup attempts these 5 decades. The latest fashion is to hold sham elections. In oil producing countries like Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Nigeria and Cameroon, all the oil money ends up in the pockets of small ruling cliques while ordinary people subsist in misery.
The chapters are arranged according to this rogue's gallery of leaders like Amin, Bokassa, Mobutu, Nyerere, Banda, Mugabe, Kaunda, Kenyatta, Mengistu, Nasser, Nguema, Nkrumah. Other reasons for the failure are also considered, for example the rapid rise in population and unfavourable trade terms with the West.
But always the pattern repeats: coup d'etat, cruelty, misery, murder, refugees and the collapse of infrastructure. No matter how much money the West throws at the problem. Africa has had the equivalent of six "Marshall Plans" but the money ends up in Swiss bank accounts. Since independence, the Nigerian elites have stolen about $350 billion.
Meredith also looks at the exceptions like Botswana, South Africa and Senegal. These countries are multiparty democracies with well-run economies. They represent some hope that Africa might one day join civilization.
I also recommend The Shackled Continent by Robert Guest. Like State Of Africa, it can be heartbreaking at times, but the overall tone is optimistic, and realistically so. The book leaves an impression of hope and the reader can only pray that good government may eventually come to Africa.
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The State of Africa: A History of the Continent Since Independence by Martin Meredith (Paperback - 14 Mar 2013)