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The Fate of Africa: From the Hopes of Freedom to the Heart of Despair

4.6 out of 5 stars 103 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1586482466
ISBN-10: 1586482467
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The value of Meredith's towering history of modern Africa rests not so much in its incisive analysis, or its original insights; it is the sheer readability of the project, combined with a notable lack of pedantry, that makes it one of the decade's most important works on Africa. Spanning the entire continent, and covering the major upheavals more or less chronologically—from the promising era of independence to the most recent spate of infamies (Rwanda, Darfur, Zimbabwe, Liberia, Sierra Leone)—Meredith (In the Name of Apartheid) brings us on a journey that is as illuminating as it is grueling. The best chapters, not surprisingly, deal with the countries that Meredith knows intimately: South Africa and Zimbabwe; he is less convincing when discussing the francophone West African states. Nowhere is Meredith more effective than when he gives free rein to his biographer's instincts, carefully building up the heroic foundations of national monuments like Nasser, Nkrumah, and Haile Selassie—only to thoroughly demolish those selfsame mythical edifices in later chapters. In an early chapter dealing with Biafra and the Nigerian civil war, Meredith paints a truly horrifying picture, where opportunities are invariably squandered, and ethnically motivated killings and predatory opportunism combine to create an infernal downward spiral of suffering and mayhem (which Western intervention only serves to aggravate). His point is simply that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely—which is why the rare exceptions to that rule (Senghor and Mandela chief among them) are all the more remarkable. Whether or not his pessimism about the continent's future is fully warranted, Meredith's history provides a gripping digest of the endemic woes confronting the cradle of humanity. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* When the decolonization of European empires in Africa began 50 years ago, the process was greeted with jubilation and immense hope for the future. Blessed with bountiful natural resources and led by Western-educated elites, the continent seemed to have a realistic chance to create stable, prosperous, democratic societies. Why did it all go wrong, and can it be made right? Meredith is a journalist, biographer, and historian who has written extensively on modern African history. His massive but very readable examination of African history over the past century unfolds like a drawn-out tragedy. Of course, the arrogance and ignorance of European masters planted the seeds of many of Africa's current problems. But Meredith refuses to let Africans off the hook for the endemic violence, corruption, and political repression that plague so many African states. While he pays tribute to icons like Mandela and Senghor, his contempt for the venality and worship of power that has characterized so many leaders from Nasser to Mugabe is palatable and justified by extensive documentation. One hopes for shreds of optimism for the future, but Meredith remains skeptical. This is a brilliant and vitally important work for all who wish to understand Africa and its beleaguered people. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 752 pages
  • Publisher: Public Affairs (2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586482467
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586482466
  • Product Dimensions: 9.8 x 6.5 x 1.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (103 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,145,392 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By P. Bryant on August 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover
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 very strong 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, after all the Geldoff-inspired euphoria, after the recent debt-cancellations, after all those good words from Blair and Brown, close to despair. Let me give you some examples chosen as 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 if 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 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").
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Format: Hardcover
In the late 19th century, in the space of fifty years or so, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Belgium carved up Africa among themselves in an orgy of violence and greed. Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness (1902) was one of the first to narrate the devastating legacy of European exploitation and colonialism. More recent studies have included Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost, and Barbara Kingsolver's novel The Poisonwood Bible, both treatments of the Congo published in 1998. With nearly a dozen important books about Africa to his credit, Martin Meredith's massive tome begins where Thomas Pakenham left off in his panoramic book, The Scramble for Africa: White Man's Conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876 to 1912 (1991).

There are very few bright spots for the 880 million people who live today in Africa's 53 countries. Nelson Mandela showed what sound judgment, integrity and a conciliatory posture can accomplish. Even so, most people in South Africa remain abysmally poor, and his successor, Thabo Mbeki, defended the psychopathic dictator Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and alternately claimed that HIV did not exist or that it was a white conspiracy. Compared to South Africa, most of Africa fares far worse. With only four independent states in Africa in 1945, Meredith documents this continental disaster country by country, beginning with Ghana's independence on March 6, 1957. Conventional wisdom argues that nothing could have been worse than colonial rule. Meredith demonstrates how and why this conventional wisdom is probably false.

After nearly 700 pages of meticulous research (and moving prose), Meredith finishes with a concluding chapter.
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Format: Hardcover
In its 750 pages, this book thoroughly and meticulously charts the history of Africa since independence. Dealing with every single country, it explores and analyses the reasons for the continent's dismal failure. Although it provides a plethora of facts and figures, the work is an accessible and compelling read as it charts the bitter history of 50 years of independence from its hopeful beginnings to today's poverty and despair. Some passages may however upset the sensitive reader.

Africa has been cursed with corrupt and incompetent leaders who never cared for their people. There have been at least 40 successful and many more unsuccessful coup attempts over the past five decades, whilst the latest fashion is to hold sham elections as happened recently in Zimbabwe. Wherever there are natural resources like oil, the money ends up in the pockets of small ruling cliques while most ordinary people live in misery.

The rest of Africa has followed Ghana's example. The first African state to gain independence in 1957, the country was bankrupt within 8 years. Upon taking power, African leaders appointed their cronies in government instead of properly trained civil servants, of which there weren't many to begin with. These ruling elites indulged in corruption, oppression and bribery from the beginning. Today the whole continent produces less than Mexico.

The rogue's gallery of African despots includes Amin, Bokassa, Mobutu, Nyerere, Banda, Mugabe, Kaunda, Kenyatta, Mengistu, Nasser, Nguema and Nkrumah. The extent of the corruption has given rise to the term Kleptocracy. Meredith also looks at other reasons for the failure of Africa, for example rapid population increases and trade protectionism in the West.
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