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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining book with all the strength and failings of the Economist magazine, 16 Nov 2009
This review is from: The Shackled Continent: Africa's Past, Present and Future (Paperback)
Robert Guest is a skilled writer with a great deal of journalistic experience from the Economist magazine's Africa desk. His book is therefore well written in snappy prose and peppered with informative insight.

However, like the Economist itself, Guest's book suffers from an ideological bias akin to religious fervor, waxing lyrical about capitalism's undeniable theoretical strengths and real-world success stories while dismissing or glossing over its failings, if mentioned at all, in single sentences. Guest talks about unbridled capitalism almost as if it were a magic bullet to solve the world's problems. Like the Economist, this faith seems founded on a precocious though superlative command of GCSE economics.

For example, in talking about people who work as security guards as being 'the least intelligent', Guest wrongly infers an exclusive relationship between social status and intelligence. Similarly, in assuming that the products of elite institutions and professions are the best and brightest, Guest wrongly conflates 'most intelligent' with 'most socially advantaged'. We need look no further than Yale's presidential alumni, or the City of London, to see that the highest paid graduates of the world's top universities are not as clever as Guest seems to believe.

While sub-Saharan Africa has undoubtedly become much poorer since independence, Guest's reliance on per capita GDP as a measure of wealth fails to take into account median incomes or purchasing power parity - for example he cites central America as a capitalist success story while failing to mention that GDP growth there has been massively concentrated in the hands of small oligarchy while the social dislocation resultant of unbridled capitalism has seen violent crime in countries such as Mexico rocket. Similarly, the USA has seen steady per capita GDP growth over the past thirty years while wages have stagnated and educational inflation has put an good college education beyond the reach of many middle class Americans.

For all that, Guest does make a lot of very valid simple observations about what is wrong with Africa, primarily that many African leaders continue to blame the West for the continent's glaring failings and refuse to take responsibility for their failure to provide the very basics of a functional nation-state (i.e. basic law and order, education, infrastructure and health care), while the West's primary modern failing lies not in a lack of aid but in its continued undermining of Africa's primary export potential by blocking African farmers from Western markets through tariffs and domestic subsidies (such as the French led EU 'Common Agricultural Policy').

Guest's book is an entertaining and informative read, but as a capitalist polemic it should be read critically.
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Location: London, UK

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