Martin Meredith: The State of Africa

A history of 50 years of Independence in Africa

A thorough historical, economical and political look at all the nations of Africa over the past 50 odd years. From dictators to AIDS/HIV, from disappointed hopes to fears of the future… realistic, scary and insightful. In my opinion this is THE book to read about where Africa is at.

In The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence you’ll learn how hunger is the result of bad politics, not just climate. How wrapped up poor beginnings are with misuse of power and lack of accountability. Thoroughly human this book doesn’t stay on the surface of politics, but makes the realities of war, chaos and international support gone wrong come home.

Martin Meredith has written a few biographies before coming out with this book and it shows: ‘The State of Africa’ reads as a sad biography of several of the main characters of Africa’s independence. Enlivened with pictures of these prominent and infamous men, we really get a glimpse into another world. A world in which might is not checked and government is more evil than is easily imagined in the West.

The best line ever:

Time and again [Africa’s] potential for economic development has been disrupted by the predatory politics of ruling elites seeking personal gain, often precipitating violence for their own ends. […] After decades of mismanagement and corruption, most African states have become hollowed out. They are no longer instruments capable of serving the public good.

Telling the whole story of Africa is pretty impossible

In a book of a mere 752 pages (including index) it’s impossible to tell the story of a whole continent. The result is not an encyclopedia: there is no attempt to deal with every country equally. Instead we learn much more about Congo/Zaire than about Morocco for instance. This is a good thing: better a few stories told well, than all stories told superficially.

Still: Meredith does well in giving the whole African continent it’s space. Starting out with detailed maps at the beginning of the book, few countries are left out altogether.

Is the situation in Africa hopeless?

I am in two minds about this. On the one hand I think that trade barriers should be lowered to give African farmers an equal playing field. There are just too many agricultural subsidies warping the market and making it impossible for African farmers to get a fair share of the market.

And yes: I do think it would be heartless to give up on the continent. However, help has so far not proven very effective.

I have to admit that The State of Africa has left me even more pessimistic about the continent than I already was. It’s possible only Chinese style buying things up can help the continent develop. I worry though that this strategy leaves the continent out of the hands of its citizens and in the power of a country that is not doing so well in terms of environmental protection at home. Will they ruin the last content that still has large wild spaces? And what will that in turn do to our worldwide ecology? 

Posted on Categories Smart People