Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Fate of Africa by Martin Meredith

The subtitle of Meredith’s book is “A History of Fifty Years of Independence.” It is a sad history. The atrocities recorded in this last century would seem better placed centuries ago. Corrupt leader after corrupt leader tells the story. They were concerned with their own accumulation of wealth and slaughtered those opposed to them.
I wish I would have thought to add up the figures. A million killed under this ruler. Then 250,000 killed by that ruler. Then two million killed in the other tribal war. On and on. It seemed every chapter contained another so many hundred thousand killed.
Chinua Achebe is quoted early in the book: “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely the failure of leadership.” (221) And that could be said of almost 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.” (378,9)
The warfare continues as in 1998 Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a border war in which 100,000 died. “In 2000 there were more than ten major conflicts underway in Africa.” (679)

Meredith’s conclusion: “In reality, fifty years after the beginning of the independence era, Africa’s prospects are bleaker than ever before.” (681) Africa is a region where school enrollment is falling, life expectancy is falling, and the economic output of the entire continent is less than that of Mexico.
It would appear that Western assistance is the only answer. But Meredith notes that Africa has received far more foreign aid than any other region in the world (more than $300 billion), but with no discernible result. Will more money solve the problem? Meredith notes, “But even given greater Western efforts, the sun of Africa’s misfortunes…presents a crisis of such magnitude that it goes beyond the reach of foreseeable solutions. At the core of the crisis is the failure of African leaders to provide effective government.” (686)
Decades of corrupt rulers have ravaged Africa. What is its future?
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