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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 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 uniue 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

10 thoughts on “The Fate of Africa A History of Fifty Years of Independence

  1. says:

    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 problemFrom page 368 By the mid 1980s most Africans were as poor or poorer than they had been at the time of independenceFrom page 460 Over a ten year period in Algeria than 100000 people died Nor was there any end in sight The violence seemed to suit both sides the military and the Islamist rebelsThe 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 USAUSSR 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 offshoreThe 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 tryHaving reread the above and updated it slightly I need to indicate at least two books which offer a different perspective

  2. says:

    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 dispiritingI 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 concludesNonetheless I'll stand by the one star As I probably should have done before reading this book I've consulted colleagues who know 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 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 AfricaI 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. says:

    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 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 indispensableMeredith 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 victimsThe 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 20000 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 trueOne 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. says:

    I began this doorstop sized history of Africa in the second half of the twentieth century as research for my 2022 novel but it grew from homework to unputdownable It's beautifully written utterly fascinating and a guide to the political changes on the continent since the Second World War

  5. says:

    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 weakimpotent 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 yearsI cannot even begin to imagine how the living hell of so many African people can be made easier nothing seems to workThe 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 spectrumA 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 astonishingamazing horrifying continent that is Africa

  6. says:

    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 emptinessEach chapter unfurls a little of the useless mess and like some sort of monstrous tapestry you get and 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 adviceFrom 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 Eually 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 themI am not going to begin to uote 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 meltsThis 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 littleThis is a story of real sadness but that just makes me even 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 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 rankThis has been a rant rather 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 elseThe 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 outAfrican 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'

  7. says:

    Meredith's account captures all the main political action in Africa from the 1950s to 2010 A few of the stories are at least momentarily inspirational from the momentous wave of independence movements to the fall of apartheid and Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution But for the most part Meredith relentlessly delivers a stream of horror stories in which government often seems to be nothing but a traditional contest for spoils through killing contests The egomania of despotic kleptocracts and their propensity to solve problems through mass murder seem so pervasive as to present a permanent insurmountable block to almost every child's future The conniving of foreign powers for geo strategic advantage by backing and arming selected friendly dictators not to mention their subsidizing of foreign agro businesses while restricting African exports make foreign aid to Africa look worse than a Wall Street mega scandal Only around the edges so we see uiet glimmers of bottom up progress such as the slow rise of legalization for alternative political parties or Botswana's impressive example of sound managementOverall the book is big and dramatic It reads like a journalist's string of breaking news essays But it captures only political life at the national or international levels The rising women's or environmental movements fly below Meredith's radar

  8. says:

    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 ie 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 SovietChinese 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 hisher 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 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

  9. says:

    A Very Powerful BookThis 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 uote by John Dunne; No man is an island never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee

  10. says:

    '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 uip 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 relinuished 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 officeBenin 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 pollsI 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 uash 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 agitatorsFrom 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 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 uniue 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 corruptionI 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 resultAlthough Africa possesses enormous mineral wealth its entire economic output is less than 2 per cent of world GDPI 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 uickly 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