The State of Africa
 By Martin Meredith

Posted on September 15, 2009 08:31 pm
The State of Africa book by Martin Meredith - front cover
The State of Africa book by Martin Meredith – front cover

Africa’s fortunes have dramatically changed in the last fifty years since post independence era began. As colonial powers withdrew, dozens of new countries were launched amid much jubilation across the continent. The then African leaders stepped forward with enthusiasm to tackle the problems of development and nation building, boldly proclaiming their hopes of establishing new societies that would offer inspiration to the population. Independence in Africa came in the midst of an economic boom in western countries and 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East was viewed as a matter of crucial importance.That was then, at the moment Africa post independence optimism has been replaced by pessimism because all governments in Africa are full of despotisms, chronic corruption, droughts and life is truly daunting for many as I have witnessed first hand in my occasional trips to the continent. Most African countries are effectively bankrupt, prone to civil strife, tribal conflicts and are subject to dictatorial rule as has been the case to many countries, weighted down by debt, and heavily dependent on Western assistance for survival.” “So what went wrong? That is what Martin Meredith tries to answer in this book.

Map of Africa showing North west and West and on the other side North East and East
Map of Africa showing North west and West and on the other side North East and East

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, 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 notion that people get the governments they deserve is a bit unfair as African population has realized over the last fifty years.Most countries in which the people get leaders they don’t want like.I can give example with Ugandans who never deserved Idi Amin who committed atrocities on his own people and I say this with authority as I have met people in Uganda who were adult enough during his regime.

Even their neighbors Kenyan didn’t want Jomo Kenyatta who was imposed to them by colonial powers, and to the west of Uganda,Congolese should not have had Joseph Mobutu as their head of state.He was a daylight thief who did nothing to the mineral rich country.Even today,I don’t think the people of Zimbabwe today, made hungry and homeless by the obsessions of Robert Mugabe, deserve him.Ethiopian people didn’t deserve Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam, who in 1984 could concentrate only on his plans for a spectacular celebration to mark the 10th anniversary of Ethiopia’s revolution, while in the countryside millions of his people were near death from starvation and one observer was quoted saying; I saw the famine, which prompted Bob Geldof’s Live Aid concerts and awakened the world to the plight of Africans: “People who had not eaten for days, weak and deathly ill, were climbing the mountain in an endless, winding stream of suffering. As our cars passed them, we saw their strength failing; saw them collapse and die before our eyes, their lives slipping away where they dropped.”

A map of Africa showing the continent difference in 1955 and 2005
A map of Africa showing the continent difference in 1955 and 2005

In the past three decades, Africa has received more than $US250 billion in aid from the West but it continues to go backwards in terms of human development and by far remains the poorest region on earth, its people unable to reach their full potential because of chronic malnutrition and lack of education. Life expectancies are the lowest in the world, infant mortality rates the highest while AIDS is wiping out a generation. Between 1970 and 1983 Africa’s external debts rose from $6 billion to $66 billion and to service these debts, social welfares are cut, hospitals lack medicines, schools lack textbooks, factories are closed due to lack raw materials, telephone systems break down, unemployment soars.In this exhaustive history, Martin Meredith left me in little doubt as to what he believes is the primary cause of Africa’s pain: its corrupt, tyrannical, incompetent, thieving, “vampire-like” leaders. His book charts the history of African states in the half-century since the colonial powers either left or were kicked out. It documents, country by country, decade by decade, a depressing litany of wars, revolutions, dictatorships, famines, genocide, coups and economic collapse.World Bank estimates that today 48 per cent of Africa’s private wealth is held offshore and only cronies are given top jobs. Opposition political parties are banned, opponents jailed and tortured, the economy collapses and the people endure decades of tyranny. Also,there are several coup led by some young, idealistic leader declaring an end to mismanagement, but who within a short time becomes a copy of the tyrant he deposed.

Martin Meredith note about his book The State of Africa
Martin Meredith note about his book The State of Africa

Meredith does look at other causes for Africa’s plight like the frequency of droughts, the high levels of diseases such as malaria and river blindness, the dreadful scourge of AIDS and rapid population growth. Meredith also blame European colonizers who plundered the continent for its riches and who drew up the map of Africa in straight lines, without taking account of ethnic allegiances as well as United States, fighting its Cold War proxy wars.For example, when Congo’s prime minister Patrice Lumumba made overtures to the Soviet Union, US president Eisenhower authorized the CIA to “eliminate” him. Lumumba became one of the most famous political martyrs of modern times, but was himself responsible for much of the “cauldron of chaos, fear and violence into which the Congo descended”, according to Meredith.The State of Africa is an impressive history, well told. Meredith is right and concur with his story because since I stepped in Africa for the first time in 2007,I have witnessed more than what Meredith has written most notably corruption, chronic poverty, illiteracy and tribal conflicts.  There are some problems that Africa must fix itself. The ugly side of this book is that it doesn’t talk about the aid programs that have worked and also misses the spirit of Africa, the joyfulness and strength of the people, which persists despite their appalling hardships, and which gives hope to the billion population in the continent.The State of Africa is an essential reading for anyone seeking to understand how Africa came to this  and what, if anything, is to be done.

The state of Africa by Martin Meredith - back cover
The state of Africa by Martin Meredith – back cover

Contador Harrison