This is a comprehensive study of Africa since independence. It travels, more or less chronologically, from country to country, starting with Ghana as Kwame Nkrumah makes the jump from political prisoner to Prime Minister in a single day. We travel to Afrique Noire as France reluctantly releases its hold on Dahomey, Niger, Upper Volta, Cote d'Ivoire, Chad, the Central African Republic, the French Congo, Gabon and Senegal in a single month, August 1960. It was even more reluctant to release Algeria. We learn of the difficulties faced by the new countries as they tried to recover from colonialism with a minimum of infra-structure, almost no skilled workforce, and national boundaries that ignored traditional ethnic and tribal divisions. It talks of the Big Men such as Hastings Banda in Malawi who was a South London GP until he was 60 when he returned to Nyasaland and led it to independence, ruling it for another 30 years. We hear of Mobutu and Gadaffi and Nyerere and Idi Amin.
Africa's misfortune was to be colonised. Then it suffered from an era of dictators who plundered whatever resources they could. First they nationalised everything so they could get rich from controlling revenues and bribes. Most of the nationalised industries were incredibly inefficient; ghost jobs were created for friends and family and those who paid bribes. The industries were propped up with state loans or foreign aid. Then the Big Men privatised everything so that their cronies and their families could get their hands on state assets cheaply.
Then they fought wars. They fought for oil fields and diamond fields. They fought civil wars to control the government so they could divert government revenues into their own pockets. They fought to placate political interests at home. They fought to even old tribal scores. And they fought as proxies for the cold war superpowers.
The superpowers and the old colonial masters made things worse. Even after the genocide was a matter of public knowledge, France intervened in Rwanda on the side of the Hutu who were killing the Tutsis. The US regularly backed Mobutu even against African leaders who were relatively good guys. International aid kept Biafra fighting enabling Biafra's leaders to cynically sacrifice even more of their population.
Even now most of the Big Men have gone the democratic regimes replacing them have mostly been deeply corrupt. And now we have the scourge of AIDS. In Botswana, uniquely peaceful and democratic since independence, 37% of its 1.6 million people have HIV; life expectancy is 27. AIDS kills teachers faster than they can be trained.
This is a deeply gloomy book. Africa has so many natural resources and is mired in such endemic poverty. Aid and debt relief are wasted or stolen or used to maintain armies. There seems to be no solution.
Sad. But a beautifully written book. Very readable.
June 2012; 688 pages
- I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57