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on 30 October 2016
I read this book shortly after finishing "The Scramble for Africa" by Thomas Pakenham. Together, they make for a grim telling of the history of Africa in the last 150 years.

"The State of Africa" is arranged more or less chronologically, starting with the story of how the Gold Coast broke away from British colonial control and finishing in the penultimate chapter with the transition of power from Mbeki to Zuma in South Africa before a final, brief chapter in which the serial wrongs and excesses of Africa's "Big Men", imposed on their fellow citizens, are reviewed. It is sobering, repetition of early hope followed by cruelty, greed and ultimate despair with only the slightest sign of hope in post-apartheid South Africa.

I have first-hand knowledge of South Africa and am impressed by the even-handed and acute discussion of that country's governance under the neo-conservative Nationalist governments of the 50s - 80s and the transition to power under the ANC led by Mandela. On that basis, I assume Mr. Meredith's writing on other countries and aspects of the continent's recent history are equally balanced and insightful. His description of the Rwandan genocide is particularly noteworthy for the gutless way in which the United Nations acted .... or rather didn't act ... and the equally craven behaviours of the USA, UK and Belgians.

Indeed, this is a recurring theme of the book - the indifference of Western powers, with occasional intrusions when it suited their perceived strategic needs, without any seeming regard for the rights and needs of the local populace. After all their excesses and wrongs of the Scramble for Africa, it's hard to understand that the European powers in particular still felt they had any role to play other than help rebuild and compensate for past wrongs, But this is clearly not the case.

That being said, the worst excesses were those committed by Africa's own warlords and "politicians" on their own peoples. It beggars belief reading the way in which almost every country in Africa endured the same pattern of a rise to power by some factional leader, the ruthlessness with which power was consolidated through placement of family and tribal supporters in key roles and then the economy used as a plaything for the leader and his acolytes. Along the way, torture, murders and often civil war became tools to cement power.

Grim, sobering reading and Mr Meredith is to be complimented on his ability to remain objective.

My only criticism concerns the all too brief final chapter. There appears to be one minor but telling typo: Nigeria's leaders are accused of stealing $220M over a forty-year period". Given the wealth accumulated by Nigeria's oil and minerals industries, I suspect this figure should be $220B. $5.5M per annum is almost insignificant compared to the excesses of Africa's other "Big Men".

But more important than this minor mistake (if it is that) is the lack of analysis as to how all this has happened. It is a question I have asked myself many times and I am no closer to an answer now. Perhaps this is just the way in which new nations emerge from totalitarian control but for every example of a nation which shifted from one to a different form of totalitarian control, I can think of another where the transition was much more progressive. But I cannot think of any example where every country in a continent followed the same, regressive and ultimately doomed path. If there were a second edition of this book, I believe it would be strengthened by the author's thoughts on this issue.
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VINE VOICEon 6 September 2012
Want to know the grusome story of how Africa decended into madness over the last 50 years? This is a good place to start. A wonderfully detailed account which covers all the major incidents which have shaped modern Africa history. At various times the book is rather harrowing (especially the latter chapters which deal with genocide in Rwanda etc) and enforces a sad truth about the continent. This truth is that individuals, clans etc did whatever was necessary to gain power, wealth etc and would do everything they could to hold on to it, no matter what the cost.

I did feel there was a slight anti-French theme to certain chapters of the book but perhaps this stems from the various mistakes the French made to consolidate their power base on the continent. Many shady dealings were made with questionable characters but this is hardly a shocking truth. However Meredith deals with the facts themselves thus the UK is hardly shown in a great light either. The various failures of the UN are sadly similar to the events which took place in the Balkans during the end of the 20th century. The book it amazing to say the least. The whole of Africa is covered (some countries more than others and I found that perhaps parts of North and West Africa are skirted over at times). The sad truth is that tyrants and strongmen where allowed to ride roughshod over the various countries and plunge them into poverty, famine, war and ruin all for financial gain or tribal disputes.

Its a great book to start with if you want to discover more about the politics and history of Africa.
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on 7 October 2017
A real eye opener into Africa. Unfortunately there a very few positive stories to tell in the developing Africa. Whilst the level of corruption is massive and the ultra rich who benefit from this cancer the so called developed world is only too happy to continue to poor their bribes into the corrupt leaders bank accounts often hidden in the developed western countries. Will Africa ever be anything different, one can only hope for the downtrodden that one day something changes.
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on 8 July 2015
Gives a historical perspective of Africa since the colonial time. Looks at each country and the challenges. Easy to read and understand though I have to say that I encountered the most number of new words ever in any book (impressive).
As an African, who never liked history in school, I found the book extremely educational and on different levels, it explains the African psyche and greed, which appears to have been exacerbated by the greed and inhumane attitude of the West.
I recommend this book to Africans primarily, and anyone else interested in understanding the Africa challenge. Clearly Africa is a gem, which the West chose to exploit at the detriment of the indigenes. It is time for Africans to learn from history in order to change the future.
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on 27 April 2008
'The State if Africa' is an extremely detailed account of African politics in the last 50 years. It looks at the whole continent in a roughly chronological order and has some wonderful photo plates to illustrate the various 'dictators' and issues explored. I found some chapters more engaging than others and these provided explanation of key events in good detail to provide an in-depth understanding. Other chapters sadly were bogged down in acronyms and detail that only true African scholars would find of interest (hence the 4 stars). Overall, this is a well researched and presented introduction to post independence Africa that sadly leaves you feeling not a great deal has changed and that this is a continent left ravaged by tyranny and corruption. Not a particularly positive book, but an in-depth and well articulated one.

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on 22 May 2016
I have lived and worked in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe and spent extensive time in many other African countries over a period of 40 years. I have experienced two wars, at least 7 coup d'etat attempts [some successful], and several assassinations of political and military figures, experienced economic disintegrations and resulting privation. This book is [ regrettably], totally accurate in relating the experiences of the Continent. The avarice and ruthlessness of its leaders, the resulting plight of its people.
It is a brilliant work.
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on 25 October 2015
Fascinating and highly readable book. Has helped me piece together some of the stories I only knew small bits of from the newspaper/ bbc. A good overview of the disaster and tragedy brought to this amazing continent by a string of corrupt and incompetent leaders.
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on 8 June 2014
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 historical account of the State of Africa. Plenty of solid facts and figures very little of the authors personality is seen in this book which for me who was taught History from a Marxist perspective ,is brilliant. I hate all that Marxist nonsense about self-reference and pseudo-psychology in historical narrative. This book is just a really good old-fashioned historical account of a terrible history but a very informative and interesting read - you will learn a lot and be very, very surprised. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in modern history- a must read and a must buy.
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on 14 January 2018
Great book in the detail it gives on each of the many countries covered. I would recommend it to anyone who want to gain an understanding of Africa, and the leaders who really have held it back through their greed.
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on 30 March 2016
A very interesting and well written book! Martin describes the situation in Africa in great detail and has obviously done an amazing amount of research work! The story is very real and a sad reflection on the continent as a whole. So many dictators and tyrants that only think of themselves despite the often vast valuable internal natural resources that could be used for the benefit of the populous! Sadly it continues to this day. A huge opportunity missed so many times!
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