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The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence

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"The fortunes of Africa have changed dramatically in the fifty years since the independence era began. As Europe's colonial powers withdrew, dozens of new states were launched amid much jubilation and to the world's applause. African leaders stepped forward with energy and enthusiasm to tackle the problems of development and nation-building, boldly proclaiming their hopes "The fortunes of Africa have changed dramatically in the fifty years since the independence era began. As Europe's colonial powers withdrew, dozens of new states were launched amid much jubilation and to the world's applause. African leaders stepped forward with energy and enthusiasm to tackle the problems of development and nation-building, boldly proclaiming their hopes of establishing new societies that might offer inspiration to the world at large. The circumstances seemed auspicious. Independence came in the midst of an economic boom. On the world stage, African states excited the attention of the world's rival power blocs; in the Cold War era, the position that each newly independent state adopted in its relations with the West or the East was viewed as a matter of crucial importance. Africa was considered too valuable a prize to lose." "Today, Africa is spoken of only in pessimistic terms. The sum of its misfortunes - its wars, its despotisms, its corruption, its droughts - is truly daunting. No other area of the world arouses such a sense of foreboding. Few states have managed to escape the downward spiral: Botswana stands out as a unique example of an enduring multi-party democracy; South Africa, after narrowly avoiding revolution, has emerged in the post-apartheid era as a well-managed democratic state. But most African countries are effectively bankrupt, prone to civil strife, subject to dictatorial rule, weighted down by debt, and heavily dependent on Western assistance for survival." "So what went wrong? What happened to this vast continent, so rich in resources, culture and history, to bring it so close to destitution and despair in the space of two generations?" Focusing on the key personalities, events and themes of the independence era, Martin Meredith's narrative history seeks to explore and explain the myriad problems that Africa has faced in the past half-century, and faces still. The Fate of Africa is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand how it came to this — and what, if anything, is to be done.


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"The fortunes of Africa have changed dramatically in the fifty years since the independence era began. As Europe's colonial powers withdrew, dozens of new states were launched amid much jubilation and to the world's applause. African leaders stepped forward with energy and enthusiasm to tackle the problems of development and nation-building, boldly proclaiming their hopes "The fortunes of Africa have changed dramatically in the fifty years since the independence era began. As Europe's colonial powers withdrew, dozens of new states were launched amid much jubilation and to the world's applause. African leaders stepped forward with energy and enthusiasm to tackle the problems of development and nation-building, boldly proclaiming their hopes of establishing new societies that might offer inspiration to the world at large. The circumstances seemed auspicious. Independence came in the midst of an economic boom. On the world stage, African states excited the attention of the world's rival power blocs; in the Cold War era, the position that each newly independent state adopted in its relations with the West or the East was viewed as a matter of crucial importance. Africa was considered too valuable a prize to lose." "Today, Africa is spoken of only in pessimistic terms. The sum of its misfortunes - its wars, its despotisms, its corruption, its droughts - is truly daunting. No other area of the world arouses such a sense of foreboding. Few states have managed to escape the downward spiral: Botswana stands out as a unique example of an enduring multi-party democracy; South Africa, after narrowly avoiding revolution, has emerged in the post-apartheid era as a well-managed democratic state. But most African countries are effectively bankrupt, prone to civil strife, subject to dictatorial rule, weighted down by debt, and heavily dependent on Western assistance for survival." "So what went wrong? What happened to this vast continent, so rich in resources, culture and history, to bring it so close to destitution and despair in the space of two generations?" Focusing on the key personalities, events and themes of the independence era, Martin Meredith's narrative history seeks to explore and explain the myriad problems that Africa has faced in the past half-century, and faces still. The Fate of Africa is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand how it came to this — and what, if anything, is to be done.

30 review for The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    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 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 with a feeling close to despair. Let me give you some examples chosen at random. From 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 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 with a feeling 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 from 1960 to 2000 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. Then, 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 only once been a herself - who's the biggest player of tribal politics). Then comes twenty - sometimes thirty - years of tyranny by the big man, 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 USA/USSR 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" (Meredith's term) ruling classes. By the end of Mr 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. Or how about this : 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 and how they could possibly summon up the energy to try. **** Having reread the above and updated it slightly, I need to indicate at least two books which offer a different perspective : http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Craig Werner

    The problems with this book begin with the second word of the title, recur in the subtitle and never diminish until Meredith limps home with a final paragraph attributing the problems of what he might as well just call "the dark continent" to the personal failures of Africa's leaders and elites. I'll detail these criticisms in a moment, but first I want to identify the book's fundamental failure: it gives no attention to *Africans* as anything other than a faceless mass; to make matters worse, The problems with this book begin with the second word of the title, recur in the subtitle and never diminish until Meredith limps home with a final paragraph attributing the problems of what he might as well just call "the dark continent" to the personal failures of Africa's leaders and elites. I'll detail these criticisms in a moment, but first I want to identify the book's fundamental failure: it gives no attention to *Africans* as anything other than a faceless mass; to make matters worse, he's not particularly adept at decoding the significance of the statistics he sprinkles in from time to time when he can tear himself away from recounting the excesses of Mobutu or Amin or Toure (most of which are real enough). He doesn't seem to know anything, or give a damn, about ordinary Africans. He misses everything that made the two weeks I spent in Tanzania a couple of years go fascinating and, despite the chaos of trying to figure out when the next bus might arrive, etc., not entirely dispiriting. I want to make it clear that I'm not romantic about Africa. I know too many Africans and too many people who have spent extended time in various places on the continent, to downplay the many many things that have gone wrong. It can be very difficult to recover any of the hope that greeted independence when looking into the near- or mid-future. On that level, I'm not disputing some of what Meredith, a journalist who spent many years in Africa, concludes. Nonetheless, I'll stand by the one star. As I probably should have done before reading this book, I've consulted colleagues who know more about the literature of Africa than I do, and been informed that I should have started with Frederick Cooper's history of the same time period. It's up next. Now to the specifics behind the snarky first sentence. The invocation of "fate" is part and parcel of what seems to me a fundamentally dishonest intellectual strategy based on downplaying the importance of a global political economy in which the interests of the African people were, at best, secondary. His presentation of the colonial order is borderline nostalgic: while he's at least sharp enough to figure out that Belgium didn't do a good job in the Congo, he gives the British high marks for their treatment of their colonies, gives the French slightly grudging respect--he is, after all, British--and pays next to no attention to the impact of international markets on African economies. Although he gives passing attention to the scramble for Africa and the absurdity of the national boundaries imposed on the continent--which created many of the problems that render a "nation" like Nigeria ungovernable--he largely ignores them once the magic moment of "independence" arrives. From that point on, Africa's problems are attributed to the bad behavior and flawed character of its leaders and the unbridled greed and stupidity of the elites (which pretty much deserve his scorn). His rhetoric is contemptuous, dismissive; he lavishes endless paragraphs on details concerning the palaces and cars, and the brutality with which the leaders treated their opponents. He clearly takes great pride in debunking the status of almost every one of the leaders who brought Africa out of the colonial era. He's ever so pleased with himself that he doesn't believe a single good word about Nkrumah or Kenyata. Meredith has a bit more trouble condescending to Tanzania's Nyerer, who he's forced to admit was not personally corrupt or stupid. But he manages well enough. He repeatedly glosses over complex historical situations by attributing all of the problems to the character of leaders. One of many many examples is his treatment of the Six Days War between Egypt and Israel, which receives less than a paragraph. He's utterly incoherent in his treatment of Mobutu, who he praises as an ally of the US who established stability in the Congo just a few pages before returning to the Friday Night Creature Features festival on the beasts of Africa. I finished reading this because I'm looking for factual information; there's a bit mixed in with the drivel. But it would have been a much better idea not to have picked up the book in the first place.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

    There are history books written by historians, and there are history books written by journalists. Martin Meredith is first and foremost a journalist, and this book focuses on telling stories and bringing the expansive personalities of African big men to the fore. Yet Meredith doesn't skimp on the statistics and the "hard facts," although I do wish he had a few more citations. And many of the standard criticisms of history can be leveled against this work: it tells the story of the elite, and There are history books written by historians, and there are history books written by journalists. Martin Meredith is first and foremost a journalist, and this book focuses on telling stories and bringing the expansive personalities of African big men to the fore. Yet Meredith doesn't skimp on the statistics and the "hard facts," although I do wish he had a few more citations. And many of the standard criticisms of history can be leveled against this work: it tells the story of the elite, and covers less on the commoners; hardly any women are mentioned. It is the story of African political leadership and conflict, though, and in that, this work excels. If you want a complete understanding of how Africa came to be so poor and so prone to violence, this book is indispensable. Meredith doesn't dwell on colonialism, and hardly mentions the slave trade. It doesn't try to pin all of Africa's woes on nefarious westerners, a tropical climate, or any other factory beyond its control. It certainly does not let European and American leaders off the hook, but they play supporting roles, complicit in the massacres and economic disasters rather than instigating them. So The Fate of Africa may offend some who want to see Africans as victims. The stories that come out of this book are the stories, mostly, of brilliant but brutal men, charismatic leaders who emerge from chaos (first at independence, but then later in the wake of coup after coup) and use all means at their disposal to exert their will. He tears apart heroes like Nkrumah, Nyerere, Senghor, and Houphouët-Boigny, exposing their follies and their autocratic tendencies. He recalls, in detail, so many ugly and horrific occurrences that by halfway through you'll find yourself saying, "Well, only 20,000 died. That's not so bad." And the story you'll find is that African leaders have, since independence, been primarily responsible for the suffering of this continent. Which is true. One final note: this book complements John Reader's book Africa: biography of a continent extraordinarily well. Reader's 700 page masterpiece tells how African cultures developed from the first man to modern times, and highlights all the ways that African cultures have been victimized and misunderstood by the West. Meredith picks up where Reader left off, taking another 700 pages to explain how, for the last 50 years, African leaders have failed their peoples.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Martin Budd

    I consider myself a fairly cynical grounded middle aged adult male. Born into a mining community, started my working life in a tough factory as a fork truck driver. But reading this book made me feel weak,impotent and utterly helpless in the face of the litany of misery, murder and mayhem that has been the lot of the continent of Africa over the last 50 years.I cannot even begin to imagine how the living hell of so many African people can be made easier - nothing seems to work. The book itself is I consider myself a fairly cynical grounded middle aged adult male. Born into a mining community, started my working life in a tough factory as a fork truck driver. But reading this book made me feel weak,impotent and utterly helpless in the face of the litany of misery, murder and mayhem that has been the lot of the continent of Africa over the last 50 years.I cannot even begin to imagine how the living hell of so many African people can be made easier - nothing seems to work. The book itself is a really accessible read, that rolls forward at a good pace. One of the things I loved most about it is the lack of preachy political agenda - after reading this book I still have no idea who the writer would vote for - where credit is due he gives it - from either end of the political spectrum. A fine book well worth a read, I am donating a copy to my College library in the hope that one of our students may one day be part of the solution to the problem that is the astonishing,amazing, horrifying continent that is Africa.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    A history of the fifty years of independent Africa was never going to be a pretty read but I have to say it was traumatic in the extreme. Meredith is an incredibly well informed and articulate writer who dissects and analyses the debacle of the descent of a whole continent into misery and terror. The initial hope-filled rush to Independence was swiftly tripped up by incompetence and inexperience, the fault of which has to be laid heavily at the feet of the ex-colonial powers of Europe, but the A history of the fifty years of independent Africa was never going to be a pretty read but I have to say it was traumatic in the extreme. Meredith is an incredibly well informed and articulate writer who dissects and analyses the debacle of the descent of a whole continent into misery and terror. The initial hope-filled rush to Independence was swiftly tripped up by incompetence and inexperience, the fault of which has to be laid heavily at the feet of the ex-colonial powers of Europe, but the kicking of the creature when it had fallen and the stamping on its face and hands until they bled and were useless can only be lain at the feet of the brutal, vicious, self centred fucks who took the countries from understandable confusion and ill-prepared governance to rape, pillage and emptiness. Each chapter unfurls a little more of the useless mess and like some sort of monstrous tapestry you get more and more glimpses of the inevitable. Most of these nations began their freedom joyous if hamstrung by inexperience but that was no fault of the people themselves but was rather the blind stupidity and arrogance of the colonial powers who had ruled paternalistically for decades but without any real approach to prepare the actual Africans to take over. These European Powers had swept in to sometimes ancient kingdoms and tribal lands and had imposed artificial structures and boundaries and had forced into nationhood men and women who had no fellow feeling beyond being human. Then after forty or fifty years of this enforced subjugation there was a rush to withdraw from responsibility and leave. In fairness sometimes the European powers did try to help and supprt but understandably the new nations wanted support not rule, suggested options not imposed advice. From the moment the 'independences' began inept and ill-thought out plans, coups and countercoups, murder and oppression became the norm. Towards the end of Meredith's account he points out the ridiculous fact that 'When Abdou Diouf of Senegal accepted defeat in an election in March 2000, he was only the fourth African President to do so in four decades'. The lining of pockets, the corruption and repression, the living in obscene wealth in farcically expensive palaces whilst milions of your countrymen, the people for whom you had supposed responsibility, starved was so commonplace it was like the refrain of some apalling children's nursery rhyme where the same few sentences occur at the end of each page so as to enable a child to learn. The rampantly depressing thing about this refrain is nothing was learnt. These men, and they were with a few exceptions mostly men though their wives and daughters violated and benefited just as much, simply took up the reins of greed and violent oppression that their overthrown and hopefully brutally murdered predecessor had dropped. Re-reading that last phrase I realize it is totally out of order and unworthy but i have to say the apalling brutality and uncaring greed of these bastards has really shocked me. Equally shocking is the turning a blind eye which seems to have been the common pose of so many Western leaders for so long as the brutes were useful to them. I am not going to begin to quote exmples and lay out statistics because once started I would find it hard to stop. Each example wuld simply lead on to another and each time I would think no I must put that one in too. The best thing is to encourage you to read this. It made me so angry on so many levels; I find it hard to understand how any person can be so uncaring of the oppressed who are literally living just outside your home. I appreciate the reality of poverty and wealth differentials, I accept that these things exist but when millions upon millions of aid is siphoned off to pay for a lifestyle for you and your support system whilst your country careers off the road into not penury but total ruin, my mind cannot grasp that. I appreciate war and battle is sometimes tragically the way of nations but when leaders purposefully sabotage peace discussions or slaughter by the thousands innocent men and women purely to stay in power, my mind melts. This was not a book of celebration. Initially, when I began I knew there would be horror and tragedy but I had hoped there would be accounts of success and cultural riches and a hope on the horizon but so much of this well written study underlines the uselessness of leadership in Africa. A vicious circle of greed and embezzlememt. Where will the genuinely caring leaders come from? What example have the new generation been set ? From this account I can see very little. This is a story of real sadness but that just makes me even more admiring of the actual people of the many nations of Africa who continue to hope and befriend and move forward. I realize Meredith was writing from one very specific direction, of the uslessness of Governance and that there is a good deal more to be said of the wonder of the people themselves, of the way they continue to rise up and start again but this book just made me wonder how the corruption at the heart of governement can be removed. Everytime one thief and murderer was ovrthrown he was invariably succeeded by another just the same but with a different name or army rank. This has been a rant rather more than a review for which I apologize but sometimes things get you like that and having read this I do not think i could have written anything else. The last paragraph says it all 'Time and again, its potential for economic development has ben disrupted by the predatory politics of ruling eltes seeking personal gain, often precipitating violence for their own ends. The Ngerian academic Claude Ake observed ' The problem is not so much that development has failed as that it was never really on the agenda in the first place'....African States have become hollowed out........African governments and the vampir-like politicians who run them are regarded by the populations they rule as yet another burden they have to bear in the struggle for survival'.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Justin Evans

    From now on, when I'm trying to explain to someone what 'irony' does not mean, I'll use this example: while I was on a plane between LA and Phillie, the entire world was watching a half hour documentary about a repulsive lunatic, and being encouraged to start a war in Uganda (i.e., the wrong country) in order to 'bring him to justice.' I finished this book just as we landed (I'd started it before I flew; it's very, very long), checked my email, and... you can guess the rest. That is not irony. From now on, when I'm trying to explain to someone what 'irony' does not mean, I'll use this example: while I was on a plane between LA and Phillie, the entire world was watching a half hour documentary about a repulsive lunatic, and being encouraged to start a war in Uganda (i.e., the wrong country) in order to 'bring him to justice.' I finished this book just as we landed (I'd started it before I flew; it's very, very long), checked my email, and... you can guess the rest. That is not irony. It's just sad. This book should be mandatory reading for human beings. Meredith writes beautifully about the twentieht century's biggest cluster-cuff, patiently showing how pretty much everything that could have gone wrong for Africa did go wrong; how almost every legitimate attempt to help out was ruined by African politicians, Western politicians and businessmen, and Soviet/Chinese politicians. It's incredibly depressing, but you know what? It is depressing. It's no use banging on about how 'we have to believe in hope' and 'you shouldn't deny Africans' agency'. Of course we do. But the history of Africa's problems is complex, and so is the present; part of that complexity is the fact that the heads of state in Africa are almost inevitably 'cut the Gordian knot' types; that type of person tends to deny the 'agency' of his/her population. Hope without some understanding of the situation leads to... Kony2012. It's a little frustrating that Meredith offers no solutions to even localized problems, but it's also to his credit that he avoids simplistic solutions or explanations. Creating 'civil society' won't help much when rich countries pay their farmers to produce food that could be produced more cheaply, for export, in Africa. Cutting those tariffs won't do much good unless someone puts a stop to the insanity that is African politics. Improving leadership won't do much good if 'investors' continue to treat the continent like their own private money tree. And so on. This is not a rejection of hope, it's a demand that *everyone* accepts their part of the blame, and works to pay off their debts to the unluckiest people on the planet. Note: there's a new edition of this book out, which, as far as I can tell, lengthens the chapters on Sudan, Zimbabwe and South Africa, for obvious reasons.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    I went into this knowing little about Africa's history, whether before or after independence; now I have a better idea about the political events that followed the latter. The author, Martin Meredith, focuses on this angle more than any other. Focusing on one state at a time, he establishes the conditions of the state on the eve of independence, then describes the action of the leaders that took power and the subsequent consequences. Given that nearly every leader took full control of executive I went into this knowing little about Africa's history, whether before or after independence; now I have a better idea about the political events that followed the latter. The author, Martin Meredith, focuses on this angle more than any other. Focusing on one state at a time, he establishes the conditions of the state on the eve of independence, then describes the action of the leaders that took power and the subsequent consequences. Given that nearly every leader took full control of executive affairs and hijacked the economy, this means that much of Meredith's narrative follows a depressing pattern. This is not a happy read. At first, I had trouble understanding how individuals, however charismatic or terrible they were, could damage entire states for decades on end before being deposed by old age or uprising. How, I kept asking myself, could anyone put up with such abuse for so long? Then it occurred to me that I don't understand the countless African tribes and their history well enough to even begin to ask that question. I need to learn more, and while this book was a good starting point, I will have to seek out others to do so. I do recommend this to casual readers of history and those desiring to learn more about a country they know little about. This is written by a Westerner with an approach and structure that Westerner's can readily relate to. Meredith's choice to focus on one state at a time was a wise one, and allows the reader a chance to cover Africa's complicated territory one piece at a time. I am very glad that I read this.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Vicky Hunt

    'Like Laying Down a Track in Front of an Oncoming Express' The Fate of Africa is a monumental survey of Africa's modern post-colonial history. It reads like a political play-by-play of the rise and fall of a series of African leaders presented chronologically in loose 'generations.' But, the reader will not lose sight of the fact that this work is a textbook level presentation of the continent's current state of affairs. And, it is huge, both in size and impact. To clarify up front the reason for 'Like Laying Down a Track in Front of an Oncoming Express' The Fate of Africa is a monumental survey of Africa's modern post-colonial history. It reads like a political play-by-play of the rise and fall of a series of African leaders presented chronologically in loose 'generations.' But, the reader will not lose sight of the fact that this work is a textbook level presentation of the continent's current state of affairs. And, it is huge, both in size and impact. To clarify up front the reason for my rating of four stars, though it is an essential work on understanding Africa today, and it flows in a highly readable format; it would benefit from a few basic tables presenting an overview of some of the reams of information presented. For example: a table of leaders of the different countries would be a huge benefit. And, it is somewhat lacking in structural helps such as an introduction and conclusion. So, the quip the author includes about the Gold Coast Experiment (which I made the title of my review) holds true for this book as well. The reader will find himself on an express train around and around the continent as tracks are laid in every country. "By the end of the 1980s, not a single African head of state in three decades had allowed himself to be voted out of office. Of some 150 heads of state who had trodden the African stage, only six had voluntarily relinquished power. They included Senegal’s Léopold Senghor, after twenty years in office; Cameroon’s Ahmadu Ahidjo, after twenty-two years in office; and Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, after twenty-three years in office." "Benin thus became the first African state in which the army was forced from power by civilians and the first in which an incumbent president was defeated at the polls." I think this style of writing history serves the purpose well in this case. Though it was a whirlwind ride, I learned an immense amount of history in a relatively short time. The book begins with the first generation of leaders who take over as the nations achieve their independence from colonial leaders. It points out the fact that the continent's own native leadership had been exterminated. Many individuals who were protesting colonial indignities were imprisoned to quash rebellions. So, by the time colonialists handed over government control, it usually meant releasing the elected president from prison. "It was to become a familiar experience for British governors in Africa to have to Come to terms with nationalist politicians whom they had previously regarded as extremist agitators." From there, the author follows waves of corrupt dictatorial leaders who never step down willingly, nor allow anyone to run against them, while siphoning as much wealth into their offshore accounts as possible. Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, Abdel Nasser in Egypt, Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya, Felix Houphouet-Boigny in Cote d'Ivoire, Kasa Vubu, and then Mobutu in the Congo, and many more leaders fill the pages. Leopold Senghor in Senegal, a poet, was the first African ruler to voluntarily give up power for an election. "The loss of so many productive adults through illness and death had a profound impact on every level of society, leaving households and communities struggling to cope with a stream of orphans and cutting into national reservoirs of skilled personnel – teachers, doctors, nurses, administrators and industrial workers." "Botswana stands out as a unique example of an enduring multiparty democracy with a record of sound economic management, that has used its diamond riches for national advancement and maintained an administration free of corruption." I was entranced and then shocked to hear the story of the reign and end of Ethiopia's Haile Selassie. The book covers famine, disease, revolts, coups, and revolutions; the 'too little/ too late' intervention of the UN & US in Somalia, the Arab Spring, the Rwandan Genocide, and other events of these decades. I also was mesmerized by the story of Nelson Mandela. Needless to say, I highly recommend this book as a basic macro account of modern African history. "Some $850 billion of Western aid has been sunk into Africa, but with little discernible result." "Although Africa possesses enormous mineral wealth, its entire economic output is less than 2 per cent of world GDP." I read this for my stop in Cameroon on my Journey Around the World in 80 Books for 2019. But, there is much about every country on the continent. I started with the Audible and a hardback copy from the library, but quickly downloaded the Kindle for the search features. The Audible is narrated well. And, the Kindle solves the problem of the lack of charts somewhat. Both the hardback and the Kindle include numerous photos that are intriguing. My next stop is Gabon.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    A Very Powerful Book This is a history of Africa since the end of the colonial era. The author does not tread lightly on Africa's rulers' since that time. The level of brutality and corruption is exposed and elucidated relentlessly. Crimes against humanity are so common that one wonders why the cycle is so self-perpetuating. Although statistics and trends are analyzed the main focus is primarily on the personalities - history is made by people. Chapters are well sectioned and the writing is very A Very Powerful Book This is a history of Africa since the end of the colonial era. The author does not tread lightly on Africa's rulers' since that time. The level of brutality and corruption is exposed and elucidated relentlessly. Crimes against humanity are so common that one wonders why the cycle is so self-perpetuating. Although statistics and trends are analyzed the main focus is primarily on the personalities - history is made by people. Chapters are well sectioned and the writing is very clear and to the point. Although the book is 'long' (close to 700 pages), it did not take me long to read it - it is a page turner. Nelson Mandela is one of the few personalities who stands far above and beyond the rest of the African leaders - most of whom are tyrants at best and megalomaniac sadists at worst. One dictator after another is shown as un-caring for his people; most use tribal nationalism for their own benefit. There is a line in the movie "Gandhi" where the great leader says: "An eye for eye and the whole world goes blind" - this is currently happening in Africa. Fortunately Nelson Mandela has shown magnanimity towards his fellow man, so maybe this ruthless pattern can be changed? As we sit reading this book comfortably in our living rooms in North America and Western Europe, one is reminded of the quote by John Dunne; "No man is an island ...never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee".

  10. 5 out of 5

    Michael Perkins

    I read this book in 2005 when it first came out. It fits all the stereotypes of how Africa (treated as one big country, not a diverse continent) is falsely written about. Kenyan writer and intellectual, Binyavanga Wainaina, calls out the stereotypes in this article..... https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsand... The unspoken thesis of "The Fate of Africa" is that post-colonial Africa (all lumped together) is a failure. Africa's "Big Men" have taken over and old tribal conflicts have emerged, I read this book in 2005 when it first came out. It fits all the stereotypes of how Africa (treated as one big country, not a diverse continent) is falsely written about. Kenyan writer and intellectual, Binyavanga Wainaina, calls out the stereotypes in this article..... https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsand... The unspoken thesis of "The Fate of Africa" is that post-colonial Africa (all lumped together) is a failure. Africa's "Big Men" have taken over and old tribal conflicts have emerged, wreaking havoc. (Interesting to note that when I saw this book at the Capetown airport, it had a different title there, "The State of Africa'). ========= I read the last book by Hans Rosling and saw how it called into question the accuracy of the Fate book. Too many generalizations and the false notion that the past is prologue to more of the same. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3... Also true of Thomas Sowell's "Ethnic America" which indulges in stereotypes and seems to lock people into some kind of cultural determinism.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jericho

    A great history reference but gets stuck on the narrative of Africa being so victimized that it neglects the hope somewhere in there and intentionally or not, seems to throw its hands up in surrender. And maybe that's part of the point of the book, but I refuse to believe that an entire continent and its people are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the colonists and corrupt governments over and over again. It's likely unfair of me to judge it based on that since the author specifically points out A great history reference but gets stuck on the narrative of Africa being so victimized that it neglects the hope somewhere in there and intentionally or not, seems to throw its hands up in surrender. And maybe that's part of the point of the book, but I refuse to believe that an entire continent and its people are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the colonists and corrupt governments over and over again. It's likely unfair of me to judge it based on that since the author specifically points out what time periods he was writing about, but I had such a strong reaction to the book's determination to paint the continent as a pit of misery -- and I'm in no way denying or minimizing that many regions of the continent have been witness to unimaginable horror due to its colonial past and corrupt governments -- but there's light there too, and it's to the book's detriment that it ignores that throughout its entirety.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Nelly Thoithi

    For the most part, I thought this was an excellent book. A comprehensive account of 50 years post-independence for an entire (extremely diverse) continent. Meredith is a story teller and links various events across the continent in a way that makes one have several Eureka moments while reading as he provides sufficient context with his facts. My criticism of him would be his Afropessimism, for lack of a better word. There’s no denying Africa has been more than “blessed” with greedy, corrupt, For the most part, I thought this was an excellent book. A comprehensive account of 50 years post-independence for an entire (extremely diverse) continent. Meredith is a story teller and links various events across the continent in a way that makes one have several Eureka moments while reading as he provides sufficient context with his facts. My criticism of him would be his Afropessimism, for lack of a better word. There’s no denying Africa has been more than “blessed” with greedy, corrupt, self-serving leaders. However his tendency to demonize all of them was off-putting. He highlights individual’s flaws with little mention of the systemic challenges that are a direct product of colonialism. More could be done to celebrate the African states that are not in complete chaos: Botswana, Senegal... He doesn’t adequately mention Western governments propping up multiple dictatorships across the continent. He is obviously biased against the East/ Soviet and attacks African individuals affiliated with them. The last chapter, Out of Africa, is almost completely pessimistic and his attempts to offer hope are wanting. (I also think the book’s title is a massive generalization but I can’t tell you what a better alternative would have been) Overall, this book is great. I learned a whole lot about my own continent from a non-African of whom I was skeptical. If able to read past the biases and tones of disillusionment, and take the facts for what they are, it really is a must read for all Africans and non-Africans alike. I hope he writes a more up-to-date version as a lot has happened since this edition- Arab Spring, South Sudan cessation, Mbeki and Zuma being recalled, Mugabe being overthrown...

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Keating

    This is a very large book and goes over the history of many African countries since independence in the 50's and 60's. Very depressing. Bottom line is that corruption has quickly taken hold of almost all of the new nations (and S. Africa and Rhodesia after white rule was ended) and robbed the people of any chance to succeed in the world. The story is repeated ad nauseum. "Big Men" take over, drag their cronies with them, loot the economy and send profits to personal overseas bank accounts, all This is a very large book and goes over the history of many African countries since independence in the 50's and 60's. Very depressing. Bottom line is that corruption has quickly taken hold of almost all of the new nations (and S. Africa and Rhodesia after white rule was ended) and robbed the people of any chance to succeed in the world. The story is repeated ad nauseum. "Big Men" take over, drag their cronies with them, loot the economy and send profits to personal overseas bank accounts, all the while blaming the western neo-colonial powers for their plight. There is plenty of blame to go around for the western powers, but this book focuses on the African side of the equation. It briefly mentions that China is moving in and getting influence by being deliberately anti-political (in other words, supporting the cronies) and seen as a non-meddling super-power.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Bob

    The author tries to argue that colonialism in Africa ended sooner than it should have. It neglects two facts one that colonialism should not have happened in the first place because it short circuited the development process that was already taking place albeit at a slow pace. Secondly he glosses over the atrocities of colonialism, the looting of African wealth, the beheadings, mental colonialism and social disintegration. He then presents the mistakes of post colonial African governments as a The author tries to argue that colonialism in Africa ended sooner than it should have. It neglects two facts one that colonialism should not have happened in the first place because it short circuited the development process that was already taking place albeit at a slow pace. Secondly he glosses over the atrocities of colonialism, the looting of African wealth, the beheadings, mental colonialism and social disintegration. He then presents the mistakes of post colonial African governments as a failure of Africans to lead themselves ignoring the ever present neo colonial sword of Damocles that these leaders have had to contend with. You will learn nothing about Africa by reading this book. In Zimbabwe, the land reform program is producing more food than was produced by the colonial farmers and this is despite the racist sanctions and economic sabotage by the white power structure. What is indeed true as reflected in the book and of Africa in general, is that the colonial governments mostly transferred power to former collaborators who ensured that the colonial state structure remained intact and continued to service the interests of the masters rather than their people. The struggle for power that followed was more about personal privilege not about the peasant and certainly no developmental ideology. There is however a need to understand whether these leaders were driven by ill-motive at the onset or were overwhelmed by the challenges they faced? African leaders are awaking up to the need to free their people from exploitation but the challenges to the nationalistic programs, the external debt burden, huge skills deficit and the naysayers like Meredith makes it difficult to attain Asian levels of transformation in a short time. In conclusion, this book is misleading because it creates an impression that despite the good will from the world at large to uplift the African continent from the current situation, the Africans are an “unhelpable” lot. The white man’s burden.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Susan Stuber

    I am amazed at how Meredith was able to put this book together in a way that made it half-way readable, taking into account all the different countries involved. What a task! But he does an admirable job, incredible research, and if some parts the reader finds too detailed, well he can skip that and go on. Generally speaking, it is a pretty sobering read. There was so much energy and hope evolving when the African countries, one after another, gained their independence, but the great majority of I am amazed at how Meredith was able to put this book together in a way that made it half-way readable, taking into account all the different countries involved. What a task! But he does an admirable job, incredible research, and if some parts the reader finds too detailed, well he can skip that and go on. Generally speaking, it is a pretty sobering read. There was so much energy and hope evolving when the African countries, one after another, gained their independence, but the great majority of them ended up with corrupt, greedy and extremely brutal governments. Some would be tempted to say they were better off under colonial power...It is true that with all the wealth they have from land and natural resources, they should be much better off than they are. What is it that blocks them? Is it because there were, from the very beginning, so many diffrent tribes and languages? I compare them in this way, for example, to England, which had English as the official common language since around the year 1000, which was similar for most other European countries. One could also speculate that a similar situation existed in North America before the Europeans arrived (that is, many different tribes with many different languages). This is a must read for anyone wanting to get a grip on the history of Africa from the era of independance until recent times.

  16. 5 out of 5

    GWC

    This book covers African states from independence to the present in a fairly straightforward narrative. Political instability is stressed to the point that a more appropriate title might be "What Went Wrong in Africa". The story is told in a generally matter-of-fact, journalistic style and concentrates on failed states. By concentrating on the coups and dictatorships the book leaves out important and possibly revealing counter-examples. Botswana, for example, enjoyed decades of stable democracy This book covers African states from independence to the present in a fairly straightforward narrative. Political instability is stressed to the point that a more appropriate title might be "What Went Wrong in Africa". The story is told in a generally matter-of-fact, journalistic style and concentrates on failed states. By concentrating on the coups and dictatorships the book leaves out important and possibly revealing counter-examples. Botswana, for example, enjoyed decades of stable democracy and economic growth before the HIV pandemic began to affect the economy. Was this the result of demographics, their path to independence, relationships with other countries, or something else? What about Equatorial Guinea and Gabon? Leaving out the relatively successful African states makes understanding the failures very difficult. I also find it surprising that Africa's massive health problems (AIDS, malaria, etc) are hardly mentioned. I find it difficult to believe that the last 20 years of African political history can be understood without taking such immense economic forces into account.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Dylan Groves

    puzzle: why is it called the state of africa in britain and the fate of africa in the united states? a totally fine run through of major developments in african politics since independence. because it is mostly a narrative of the proximate causes of political events (X dude overthrew X dude), it privileges leadership-focused explanations. its long but I kind of wish it was a bit longer. three takeaways: 1 - its difficult to distinguish between poor leadership (incompetence, incapacity) and malicious puzzle: why is it called the state of africa in britain and the fate of africa in the united states? a totally fine run through of major developments in african politics since independence. because it is mostly a narrative of the proximate causes of political events (X dude overthrew X dude), it privileges leadership-focused explanations. its long but I kind of wish it was a bit longer. three takeaways: 1 - its difficult to distinguish between poor leadership (incompetence, incapacity) and malicious leadership (corruption, abuse), but they often fuel each other. 2 - there is very little correlation between the stated ideology of a leader and the outcome of their rule. 3 - personal wealth and the the trappings of power are often much more important to leaders than actual material power over their people. leaders often chose the former at the expense of developing the latter.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Chris Barry

    A pitifully biased synopsis. Reading this was likened to a government social worker scolding its recipient. It troubles me that Mr. Meredith summarizes this continent so bleakly. I wonder if he would recommend re colonization as a solution. The real issue here is not how corrupt some of these governments have been, but why has corruption been so profitable. It is easy to conclude failure when that is what the money giver expects. I implore those reading this to also look into the developments A pitifully biased synopsis. Reading this was likened to a government social worker scolding its recipient. It troubles me that Mr. Meredith summarizes this continent so bleakly. I wonder if he would recommend re colonization as a solution. The real issue here is not how corrupt some of these governments have been, but why has corruption been so profitable. It is easy to conclude failure when that is what the money giver expects. I implore those reading this to also look into the developments and projects in Africa now funded by non colonial powers. Progress can be made when it is expected.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ebookwormy1

    Meredith's journalistic style makes his excellent historical account more readable, even if his subject matter is extremely difficult to digest. Other books may provide more detail, but this is the only book I've found that gives insightful overviews into what has happened across countries in Africa. I would like to own a copy myself to use as a reference for future consultation. After reading the entire work cover to cover, I had to ruminate on it a bit before I was able to pull together these Meredith's journalistic style makes his excellent historical account more readable, even if his subject matter is extremely difficult to digest. Other books may provide more detail, but this is the only book I've found that gives insightful overviews into what has happened across countries in Africa. I would like to own a copy myself to use as a reference for future consultation. After reading the entire work cover to cover, I had to ruminate on it a bit before I was able to pull together these thoughts. The centerpiece of Africa's degradation is revealed to be it's own governments, or rather the megalomaniac leaders who gained control, and their hang ons that form elite classes, for the accumulation of wealth and power. After reading Tokunboh Adeyemo’s “Is Africa Cursed?” (see my review at https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), I have started to see this mismanagement as a continuation of traditional practices, rather than an aberration. It almost seems that Africa’s traditional patchwork kingdoms limited the impact of militaristic and/or greed driven rulers. The accelerated nationalism of post-colonialism (along boundaries that did not consider previous ethic or jurisdictional designations) created a breeding ground for nihilistic rulers to consume their own kingdoms. Starting with a minuscule amount of intellectual assets, these despots eliminated the educated, democratic minded, skilled professionals upon whom successful modernization would have been dependent by either forcing them (the lucky ones) into exile or simply killing them, to consolidate their own power. Numerous wars were fought, with outside sustenance by foreign powers (specifically, the UK, USA, France and Russia, as well as regional powers within Africa) both in hopes of freeing countries from tyranny and in promoting the interests of said former powers. The French come out looking horrible, the Russians opaquely culpable, the US a bit better (probably due to lack of colonial responsibility), and the English somewhat pragmatically principled (which could be colored by the author’s English descent). Billions of dollars of humanitarian aide are showered upon Africa by the western powers, particularly the US and Europeans, not to mention the lives and livelihoods of the missionary population and aide professionals. Additionally, investors the world over gamble on emerging countries time and again. All of these well meaning individuals and entities eventually have to face the challenge of either supporting the tyrants or losing their ministry, investment or aide portal via failure to comply. And those that do accommodate, et cetera are eventually disenfranchised by changing schemes of the tyrants to further enhance their control (such as nationalizing or de-nationalizing utilities, mines, etc.). Relief for the destitute is ultimately inhibited by the sovereignty of African states held captive by own their rulers. Millions have perished. Millions more suffer. I have come to believe there are three segments to the challenge of Africa, though I cannot determine the weight of each factor. Colonialism obviously comes to mind, and the continuing world system that favors the stronger countries and locks out African competition in the global market (I found this discussion on pages 684-687 to be very interesting and wish I understood it better), as well as inhibits Africa's ability to procure life saving medications. Africans, however, those in government and those who help them retain power, are also part of the challenge. The injustice runs deep. The revival of South Africa stands out as the only country able to even begin binding it’s deep wounds and end the warring among factions, though the current leadership appears to lack the wisdom of Mandela who started the peace process. Finally, there is the natural factor. While Africa is blessed with tremendous natural resources, disease, drought, and extreme climates have all played their part in the devastation of the continent. Amidst all of this, two things stand out to me; 1) Is the struggle of Africa really unique? Surely Europe went through it’s difficult ages of war, horrible rulers with absolute power, plague and devastation. The US had the colossal struggle of the Civil War, Asian and South African kingdoms have risen and fallen, many or most of which were not known for servanthood toward their subjects. And while history has preserved the story of the elite with greater clarity, the reality is that most people in the history of this world defined success as mere survival. For thousands of years there has been a struggle between good and evil, selfish indulgence of leaders and the needs of the people, health and disease, life and death, peace and war. Truly the wickedness of sin is confined neither to a single time nor place. I’m not trying to minimize the magnitude of Africa’s challenges, or deny the need for action, but to put in perspective humanity’s recurrent penchant for evil’s enticements and the reverberating affect this has on people and government throughout the ages. And, 2) Can anyone really deny the innate human capability for evil, Biblically known as sin? Honestly? A debate that even contemplates the possibility man could be innately good seems the luxury of individuals preserved by the triumph of good over evil in previous generations. The cruelty of injustice is vivid in the story of Africa. The thoughts of Elizabeth van Lew, a southern woman who spied for the Union during the Civil War have come back to me. Her observation of the corrosive affect of injustice on the OPPRESSOR, as well as the oppressed was so insightful. While it may appear that some are weak and overcome while others are strong and triumphant, Van Lew hit upon the destructive impact of injustice upon all individuals in society. In the end game, the weak may lose their lives, but the strong lose their souls as well as threaten the prosperity of future generations by bringing about the collapse of the society they seek to dominate. While she was locked in the struggle of the Civil War in the USA, I think her wisdom also applies to the current state of Africa. "Succession represented for Van Lew... both a catastrophe and an epiphany. Van Lew's critique of slavery, forged in the firestorm of secession, was a cost accounting of the price white Southerners paid to maintain the system of human bondage. Slavery, she attested, had made Southern whites anti-democratic, coercive, intellectually backward, and dangerously self-righteous... Van Lew wrote, "Slave power is arrogant-- is jealous, and intrusive-- is cruel -- is despotic." Until the secession crisis, she had taken refuge, as so many "gradualists" did, in the notion that time was on the side of slavery's opponents -- that "slave power was losing strength before the increasing influence of honest and enlightened free labor." But secession illustrated just how far slavery's partisans were willing to go to maintain their power [willing to fight a war, demanding independence from the Union, intimidating any who dared speak moderately against the absolute assertion that slavery, under the guise of rights of state, must be maintained:]. Watching helplessly as moderate Virginia politicians... were ushered off the political stage [by being minimized or imprisoned:], Van concluded that "slave power crushes freedom of speech and opinion." She was appalled to see how quickly the press and the pulpit were co-opted by the disunionists... The "Origin of Secession," Van Lew was convinced, lay in the "false teaching-- false preaching-- corrupt press" of the "slave power"." — Elizabeth Varon, "Southern Lady, Yankee Spy: The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew…” Is Africa Cursed?, Adeyemo, 2009 https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... Southern Lady, Yankee Spy: The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew, Varon, 2005 https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

  20. 4 out of 5

    Melhim Bou Alwan

    Masterpiece. A very sad and thorough journey through Africa. It took me months to read as the enormity of the events that happened is hard to digest swiftly.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Frank Stein

    A shockingly comprehensive, well-written, and insightful look at Africa over the past 50-odd years. The author somehow succeeds in covering just about every African country's history while keeping a general narrative of Africa and its troubles always in sight. And this IS overwhelmingly a story of Africa's troubles. Although he notes the many advancements made by the continent, especially the fall of white regimes in Rhodesia, Angola, Mozambique, and, finally, South Africa, and the moderate rise A shockingly comprehensive, well-written, and insightful look at Africa over the past 50-odd years. The author somehow succeeds in covering just about every African country's history while keeping a general narrative of Africa and its troubles always in sight. And this IS overwhelmingly a story of Africa's troubles. Although he notes the many advancements made by the continent, especially the fall of white regimes in Rhodesia, Angola, Mozambique, and, finally, South Africa, and the moderate rise of democratic politics since Benin's election in 1991 (the first EVER where an African leader stepped down after a negative vote), this is mainly a book about misplaced hopes and failed dreams. The innumerable acronymic political parties that assume power for months or years in African countries are shown time and again to produce nothing but rhetoric and succeed only in replacing every old bureaucracy with the "slime" of a new one. To a point it's repetitive, but the iterations are endlessly fascinating. As the story goes on the adjective "psychopathic" is increasingly applied to the petty dictators who assume power, and rightfully so. Francisco Macias Nguema, who ruled Equitorial Guinea from 1968 to 1979, had little to no education and therefore harbored a deep aversion to any sort of "intellectual." So he closed all libraries in the country, banned all newspapers, and even prohibited the use of the word "intellectual" in public. In at least two documented instances he had all the former lovers of his mistresses killed, all while demanding that people memorize slogans such as "There is no God other than Macias". Mobutu of Zaire gave himself the long Ngbendu name which translated meant, "The warrior who knows no defeat because of his endurance and inflexible will and is all powerful, leaving fire in his wake as he goes from conquest to conquest," all while instituting the study of "Mobutuism" and demanding that the television news be preceded by the image of him descending the clouds from heaven. In 1977 the Central African Republic's Jean-Bedel Bokassa, a violent maniac, declared his impoverished country of 2 million people an "empire" and himself an emperor. At the coronation he wore a 20 foot-long ermine-trimmed cloak and carried a diamond-encrusted scepter. The coronation took place at the Palais des Sport Jean-Bedel Bokassa, on Bokassa Avenue, next to the Universite Jean-Bedel Bokassa. Its not an exaggeration to say that what could be called certifiable madness was a consistent problem with many African leaders. Although all the Western countries and foreign aid agencies who propped up these madmen get their fair share of ribbing (the US's support of Mobutu was particularly egregious), the French come in for the most. The "francophone" countries were seen as France's last bastion of global influence and consequently they made a habit of sending troops and aid to prop up corrupt tyrants like Bokassa in CAR and Habre in Chad. Also, I had no idea the depth of their support for the "genocideries" in Rwanda, when the French government went so far as to send troops to protect the murderous Hutu armies while they rampaged through the villages, and then to evacuate the genocide's leaders to comfortable retirement in France. Overall, this an amazing and tragic story well told, with much of the gory and seedy detail that seldom gets into the Western press (for all the legitimate complaints about the press only focusing on Africa's troubles, how often in stories about Charles Taylor's rampages through the Ivory Coast (of "Blood Diamonds" fame), did you hear reports about mass cannibalism, and of naked, armed soldiers smeared with white paint roaming through the cities convinced that spells made them immune to bullets?). This book will permanently shape my view of what remains the world's most troubled land.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Vandita

    The state of Africa’ by Martin Meredith is a sweeping 700 pages excellent tome covering the 50-60 years of post WWII history of Africa till early 2000s and commentary on the landscape and issues that nations in this continent are grappling with. Thus it capturing last leg of the colonial phase, struggles of independence, problems with low administrative capacity or infrastructure and democracy experiments, endemic corruption and its impact, national resources dividend/curse dilemma, issues of The state of Africa’ by Martin Meredith is a sweeping 700 pages excellent tome covering the 50-60 years of post WWII history of Africa till early 2000s and commentary on the landscape and issues that nations in this continent are grappling with. Thus it capturing last leg of the colonial phase, struggles of independence, problems with low administrative capacity or infrastructure and democracy experiments, endemic corruption and its impact, national resources dividend/curse dilemma, issues of constructing social and cultural fibre from diverse ethnic and tribal heritages across different African nations. Exhaustive and gripping, Martin Meredith captures and documents the evolution of each country in Africa in a comparative decade by decade narrative which ensures that we get a sense of what was happening in each corner at that time in history and who the key players were and how they influenced /competed with each other. Colossal work both in its scope as well as in its successful effort to weave the history of the continent which is perhaps the least researched or stereotyped. You can not imagine the future, if you don’t know the past - Hence highly recommend to anyone interested in reading just one book on African recent history.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Antonio Nunez

    Meredith's Fate of Africa is a superb book that successfully delivers on the great expectations it builds up. It tells the story of all or most African countries since the struggle to end colonialism started in the 1950s. Most colonial nations had not intended to leave Africa and therefore did not prepare Africans to take over. Although some leaders were intelligent and well prepared (like Côte D'Ivoire's Houphouet-Boigny or Nyasaland's Hastings Banda) most where low level military personnel Meredith's Fate of Africa is a superb book that successfully delivers on the great expectations it builds up. It tells the story of all or most African countries since the struggle to end colonialism started in the 1950s. Most colonial nations had not intended to leave Africa and therefore did not prepare Africans to take over. Although some leaders were intelligent and well prepared (like Côte D'Ivoire's Houphouet-Boigny or Nyasaland's Hastings Banda) most where low level military personnel (like Equatorial Guinea's Macias Nguema, Uganda's Idi Amin, Central African Republic's Bokassa or Ethiopia's Mengistu). In the end, it made no difference. Outside of extraordinary men like Mandela and competent managers like Uganda's Museveni or visionary if rather inept leaders like Kenya's Kenyatta, most of Africa fell in the hands of corrupt kleptocrats like Egypt's Mubarak, Tanzania's Nyerere, Zaire's Mobutu or Nigeria's Abacha or homicidal sociopaths like Liberia's Charles Taylor (who, by the way had studied in the US) or Zimbabue's Mugabe, who from good beginnings quickly degraded into what he is today. There are few heroes in the story. Even admired early leaders like Patrice Lumumba or Haile Selassie or Gamal Abdel Nasser are shown to have been deeply flawed. In every page of the book there are wars, famines, invasions, interventions, massacres, plagues, rapine on a huge scale, dozens or hundreds of dead. Virtually all leaders degraded as they held power for decades, sometimes into their nineties. One of the tragedies of Africa, its seemingly invincible tribalism is also evident throughout. Whenever Meredith sketches the profile of a leader he invariably indicates the region and tribe where he hailed from, an item that often will explain many of his later actions. And yes, I wrote "he", not their, because all the leaders discussed in the book are men. The book can make one angry as one contemplates the extraordinary ineptness of Belgium as a colonial power, since its three colonies in Africa (Congo, Rwanda, Burundi) ended in disaster; France's boneheaded interventions usually on the wrong side of each conflict; South Africa's Mbeki overseeing a million AIDS dead because of unwillingness to engage with reality and rejecting science in favor of magical thought (rather like American Republicans with Global Warming). The book does not end on an optimistic but rather on a sobering note. The African crisis is so huge, so deep and so terrible, and there is so little commitment to helping among G-20 countries, there doesn't seem to be a way forward.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Tim Martin

    _The Fate of Africa_ by Martin Meredith is a impressively through (688 pages) and yet highly readable account of the history of Africa - all of Africa, including North Africa - since independence, beginning (after a good introductory chapter on general African history) with the independence of the Gold Coast (becoming Ghana) in 1957 all the way up until events in the mid 2000s, including such issues as the genocide in Rwanda and Burundi, the civil wars in Liberia and Angola, the collapse of _The Fate of Africa_ by Martin Meredith is a impressively through (688 pages) and yet highly readable account of the history of Africa - all of Africa, including North Africa - since independence, beginning (after a good introductory chapter on general African history) with the independence of the Gold Coast (becoming Ghana) in 1957 all the way up until events in the mid 2000s, including such issues as the genocide in Rwanda and Burundi, the civil wars in Liberia and Angola, the collapse of Joseph Desire Mobutu's Zaire, Nigerian delta oil politics, the genocide in Darfur, Robert Mugabe's ruinous reign over Zimbabwe and his seizure of white-owned farms, the AIDS epidemic, the advent and role of conflict diamonds, and post-Apartheid and post-Mandela politics in South Africa. Though this book could have been a sprawling if interesting mess, trying to cover fifty years of history of a huge continent, it isn't, as Meredith did a good job with the material. Part of it is from his excellent writing style and his vivid and engrossing portrait of Africa's often quite colorful leaders, but part of it is sad to say from a theme that gets hammered home again and again with many examples from fifty years of African history. With a special emphasis on the role of African leaders and their role in the fate of their countries, Meredith examines why, "after the euphoria of the independence era, so many hopes and ambitions faded and why the future of Africa came to be spoken of only in pessimistic terms." Though acknowledging the diversity of Africa, he noted that African states have much in common in terms of their origins and the problems they face. Time and again, Meredith in his country by country history of the continent provided tragic examples of states with vast economic potential being ruined by the "predatory politics of ruling elites seeking personal gain," often exploiting ethnic tensions for their own ends (it was sickening to read the political and economic motivations of those who helped fan the flames of genocide in Rwanda for instance, or how Mugabe essentially ended up ruining Zimbabwe, blaming and in the end chasing away the vital white farmers in order to cover up his own massive mistakes). Many though not all colonies at independence were often able to produce nearly all their own food and had a functioning infrastructure of roads, bridges, hospitals, schools, and a civil service as well as in many cases a thriving export industry, but after often epic mismanagement and corruption, massive embezzlement, squandering of national budgets on useless prestige projects, and ruinous involvement in foreign wars, most African states "have become hollowed out," no longer able to provide basic services, able to feed themselves, mired in debt, dependent upon international aid, the only ones in the country wealthy are governments themselves and the "vampire-like" politicians who run them as personal fiefdoms and who come to regard the populations they rule over "as yet another burden they have to bear in the struggle for survival." You can count on one hand the number of times African leaders have peacefully allowed themselves to be voted out of office, and even when regimes do change, as the result of either a military coup or a popular uprising, that despite initial hope and euphoria, the only result is a different group of politicians and their friends siphoning off a nation's resources and often times a different ethnic group being persecuted. Africa in the 1980s was dominated by Big Men, dictators who tolerated no opposition or dissent and whose faces appeared on currency notes and their faces looming over stores and offices. While many dictatorships in Africa fell in the early 1990s, a new breed of dictators emerged, adept at maintaining the appearance of a democracy in order to appease foreign aid donors while maintaining the same systems of patronage and autocratic rule of their predecessors, replacing "Big Man" rule with "Big Man democracy." Even attempts at reform backfired; when the IMF and the World Bank pushed African states towards parastatal reform, notably the privatization of public companies and factories, what instead emerged was "Crony capitalism" as government assets were instead sold off to select businessmen and friends on highly favorable terms (often ruinous to the government). In worse cases "cannibal capitalism" emerged as state-controlled industries were looted for the gain of politicians (so bad was the plundering in Zaire for instance of state-owned mining companies that copper production fell from 450,000 tons in the 1970s to 30,600 tons in 1994 and diamond production was nearly halved). Much of the book as noted is a country by a country account of the main points of recent African history. Some of the events might be fairly well known to the general reader, such as Algerian war of independence in the 1950s and 1960s and the 1980s famine in Ethiopia (though I wager many of the details will be quite surprising). Other events a good deal less so, such as the insane regime of Francisco Macias Nguema in Equatorial Guinea (among other things, he personally hoarded all foreign currency, ordered foreigners ransomed to generate income, banned the use of the word "intellectual," and decreed that priest must reiterate slogans such as "There is no God other than Macias"), Julius Nyerere's socialist experiments in 1960s and 1970s Tanzania (which included mass nationalization and a gathering of the scattered rural population into poorly planned and poorly run communal "ujamaa" villages, a movement of some 11 million people, the largest mass movement in African history), and how the Rwandan genocide and resulting conflict's aftermath lead to a massive four year war in the late 1990s in Zaire in which 3 million people died and "like vultures picking over a carcass," Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Angola, and Zimbabwe engaged in a scramble for "the spoils of war," tearing apart the country fighting each other and trying to secure Congolese mineral wealth and their own private business empires.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Laura-Liisa

    Excellent crash course on African history. I was sceptical at first - even considering the considerable length of the book - 700 pages - it seemed impossible to cover the whole continent in one book. Nevertheless, instead of trotting through each country one by one, the author managed to logically link the events in different countries, draw parallels and point out differences. This made it much easier to see the bigger picture. What I did miss though was the story of Botswana - despite brief Excellent crash course on African history. I was sceptical at first - even considering the considerable length of the book - 700 pages - it seemed impossible to cover the whole continent in one book. Nevertheless, instead of trotting through each country one by one, the author managed to logically link the events in different countries, draw parallels and point out differences. This made it much easier to see the bigger picture. What I did miss though was the story of Botswana - despite brief references to its unique success in development and democracy, there was not much written on it. Would have loved to get better insight into the background and reasons of Botswana's success.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nora

    A truly depressing read, very hard to get through. It presents an unreletingly miserable and bleak account of how poorly Africa has fared since independence. Positive examples, if there are any, are not covered in this book. Neither does it give much hope for improvement. The author sums it up as follows: "Indeed, far from being able to provide aid and protection to their citizens, African governments and the vampire-like politicians who run them are regarded by the populations they rule as yet A truly depressing read, very hard to get through. It presents an unreletingly miserable and bleak account of how poorly Africa has fared since independence. Positive examples, if there are any, are not covered in this book. Neither does it give much hope for improvement. The author sums it up as follows: "Indeed, far from being able to provide aid and protection to their citizens, African governments and the vampire-like politicians who run them are regarded by the populations they rule as yet another burden they have to bear in the struggle for survival."

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    This book is frustratingly short-sighted on analysis. Meredith goes all in on proximate cause, focusing almost exclusively on dictatorship and corruption within the first generations of African leaders following 20th century independence. The majority of the book describes what happened and lovingly details atrocities committed by despotic African regimes and paramilitaries. Only in the last, very short chapter do we get to the why, with major amnesia around the oppression, disenfranchisement, This book is frustratingly short-sighted on analysis. Meredith goes all in on proximate cause, focusing almost exclusively on dictatorship and corruption within the first generations of African leaders following 20th century independence. The majority of the book describes what happened and lovingly details atrocities committed by despotic African regimes and paramilitaries. Only in the last, very short chapter do we get to the why, with major amnesia around the oppression, disenfranchisement, arbitrary divisions of territorial and geographic lines designed to enrich Western governments, etc., committed by colonizers right up to the point of independence.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Repp

    I read this book for quite a while and I learned quite a lot. I am not attempting to write a long text, because it would not do neither this book nor the newer African history justice. Let's just say, its immensely complicated - and no, it's not all "colonialism". Just read the book.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Adham

    Very superficial book. For the countries I know well, it has no more than some anecdotal value. I imagine that for the other countries it is not much better. Abandoned mid-way.

  30. 4 out of 5

    nick

    What do you get when a journalist writes an historical overview about a complex and diverse continent? You get sensationalism, still Martin Meredith leaves me with a mixed feeling. On the one hand I was irritated the way he deliberately and skillfully subtle left out parts of modern African history to suit his story (to bad for him I got on quite quickly) while at the same time he managed to have detailed and nuanced reports on other aspects of African history to an extent I had not thought What do you get when a journalist writes an historical overview about a complex and diverse continent? You get sensationalism, still Martin Meredith leaves me with a mixed feeling. On the one hand I was irritated the way he deliberately and skillfully subtle left out parts of modern African history to suit his story (to bad for him I got on quite quickly) while at the same time he managed to have detailed and nuanced reports on other aspects of African history to an extent I had not thought possible in a mainstream history book. As with any historical overview you are left with choices and regrets, what do you emphasize and what do you mention on the side and what do you leave out? This is a matter of choice in even the most limited of historical overviews, you can't have it all so I don't as a matter of rule disapprove having a few preferences as a writer. What I do disapprove is the motivation. Martin Meredith wanted to write a sensationalist and easy to grasp history book of Africa. Why am I convinced of this? For one Meredith reduces African history to the political leaders of the last 100 years and the nation states they led or the regions they were active within those nation states. On the one hand I accept the importance of figures like Mobutu and Mugabe as well as Nkrumah and haile selassie and Nelson Mandela; in truth it would be impossible to write a history book about Africa without them, but did we really need to know that Nkrumah's dog was scared of ghosts living in his masters bedroom? The state of Africa is full of these little odd observations and they serve the purpose of explaining their policies. At least 60% of this book is dedicated to analyzing political leaders and reducing various countries to these personalities ironically Martin Meredith only enforces what he blames African's woes upon; these big men who apparently were the suns their societies revolved around. It makes it seem as if societies are weak and without any agency of their own and so little in this book is dedicated to analyse the dynamics of African societies except in their relation to these big men. To make matters worse, Martin Meredith does not give all of these big men the same amount of time. The more bizarre the anecdotes, the more repulsive the personality the more pages they get while others who did not have particular vices get but a few lines. Leaders such as Kenneth Kaunda and Rawlings who failed in managing their countries but could not be made obvious bad guys. To be fair he also spent a lot of time on Mandela and Senghor as exemplary leaders whose personalities seem to be the sole reason of their countries better lot and again Martin Meredith seems immune even to his own writing as he mentions how Mandela was so uneasy how much focus was put upon himself as a person while the hard work of so many other ANC activists remained ignored. I am at a loss for words how Martin Meredith did not after writing that down reflected on his work and thought "gosh isn't that what I am doing?" Some countries did obviously present a problem for Meredith, Botswana was doing fine the 20th century and yet it lacked a visionary exemplary leader, Meredith solution? Just mention it was doing fine in a sub paragraph and move on. Malawi did reasonably well even if it had a president autocrat with several odd perks and little obvious exemplary traits, solution? forget to explain why Malawi was managing fair enough with an eccentric president. Namibia that had a complex history and a revolutionary guard as political leaders that accepted democracy? Well ignore that off course, that would confuse the readers who have to be fed a clear message. These alongside, Gambia, Gabon, Cameroon, the Western Sahara, Congo Brazzaville, the cape-Verde islands and Madagascar are deemed uninteresting and irrelevant for readers and some of which such as Madagascar and the Cape-Verde are not even mentioned once in this history of the whole of Africa. But what really set me on edge was how he blatantly ignored those leaders that did not fit in his story and in particular Thomas Sankara. Not even once was this man even mentioned and barely was his country Burkina Faso discussed while this man was in his time considered by millions of Africans to be Africa's Ché Guevarra. Why did he not mention this man? For he does not fit in his presentation of African leaders with a military background who came to power with a coup and ended up being ogres that gluttoned themselves on money and blood. Thomas Sankara who came to power at the time Meredith rather correctly indicated as the lost decade for Africa (80ties) did not get rich, he did not kill thousands of his people, he did not neglect the woes of the people or the continent, he wasn't adamant on seeing his face on all wall, he did not embark on megalomaniac projects failed fake development. Thomas Sankara even if Autocratic, actively and successfully improved the lives of the people of Burkina Faso (the land of upright people a name he had chosen to replace the old colonial upper Volta) achievements praised by the UN organisations WHO and WFP. He was even loved by women over the continent for being the first head of state to seriously promote women rights. He did make mistakes as did any political leader and no he was not advocating liberal parliamentary democracy, but omitting him and his short yet inspirational government is unforgivable. For an objective analysis of this unique African Leader I advice this documentary https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kItKe... Having said all that, I have to give him credit on other subjects and his summaries of colonial states are decent. Even if I do give him credit for presenting a reasonably balanced image of the colonial states discussed. His analysis of the anti colonial struggle as well focus a lot on the figures who would become political leaders and again one get's the impression by his story that only strong leaders can ever accomplish anything in the world and all the rest of us are destined to be either tools or obstructions for their visions. I had not expect the strong chapters on Algeria, Somalia, Rwanda and the great African war centered on the Congo. These were strong chapters where the obvious scapegoating was nearly absent and political leaders had the role they deserve; as important but not all encompassing figures. The dysfunctional role of the UN in these context is adequately emphasized as was the horrible role the French played in the Rwandan genocide. This makes reading the other chapters even more painful as it shows that Martin Meredith is capable of making nuanced analysis, present strong complex chapters on many sided political issues and can refrain from blaming Africa's ill's on a few colorful characters. Having said that Meredith clearly has little to no fate in continental cooperation and this is reduced to a few mentions on the side most prominently it is discussed in the early chapters of post colonialism as the folly of a few megalomaniacs to believe cooperation between nation states in Africa could amount to anything. Regional interaction are presented as solely destructive egoistic power driven initiatives with little benefit for any society affected. Based on this book, you would never know how the failed West African regional actions in Liberia and Sierra Leone made possible ECOWAS and the promising steps these last few years that have been made to promote peace, stability and positive cooperation in West Africa. As a historian I believe you can never reduce the world to the whims and quirks of a few "big men" and It is sad to see the history of Africa to be reduced to Motobu drinking pink champagne and Mandela wearing a rugby shirt. Only at the very end does Martin Meredith mention the agricultural policies and mass subsidies the US and EU pour into their farming and what disastrous impact this haves on African economies and societies and never does he ask the question why so few Western Banks ever even considered reporting the money dictators and warlords deposited in their accounts. No that is all a distraction to Meredith, to the real issues at hand; weird African leaders who should have known better and who bear if not the sole responsibility for the problems Africa faces today; they at least bear the majority. Based on this book a reader is left with the impression the continent has no hope at all and virtually no plan ever originating from the continent has ever been worthwhile. So if you really want to read about a selection of African leaders and the bizarre violent policies their states, guerrilla's and militia's had and how those people around them perceived them, this is the book for you, but if you want to read and understand African history and society, stick to real historians not authors out to get a quick buck from sensationalist writing. I did laugh out loud once; Vice president Nixon attending the independance celebration of Ghana asking a man how it felt to be free and being told " I would not know sir, I'm from Alabama".

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