And as far as I know, this is the only book which covers all of Africa in the last 50 years. 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). 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. By the end of Mr Meredith's book the horrors were not diminishing. **** 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/...
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). 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. 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. 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).
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. 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. 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.
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 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
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... It's no use banging on about how 'we have to believe in hope' and 'you shouldn't deny Africans' agency'. 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.
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. I do recommend this to casual readers of history and those desiring to learn more about a country they know little about.
It fits all the stereotypes of how Africa (treated as one big country, not a diverse continent) is falsely written about. ========= I read the last book by Hans Rosling and saw how it called into question the accuracy of the Fate book.
Meredith first worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa for the Observer and Sunday Times, then as a research fellow at St Antonys College, Oxford.