For too long written off as irrelevant to international affairs except as the stage for proxy conflicts during the Cold War or the recipient for the world's charity, Africa is nonetheless poised to play an increasingly important role in the global community of the 21st century. Within the decade, West Africa alone will provide more than one-fourth of North America's petroleum imports, surpassing the entire Middle East. The continent also boasts the world's fastest population growth: by 2020, there will be an estimated 1.2 billion Africans-more than the combined populations of Europe and North America. Yet despite the dynamic potential implicit in these natural and human resources data, Africa remains the world's economic basket case: per capita GDP is barely $575 while thirty-two of the thirty-six countries classified by the United Nations Development Program are to be found in Africa.
Why this apparent contradiction? Defying the conventional wisdom that has long infantilized Africans by blaming colonial exploitation, superpower rivalries, intergovernmental aid agencies, impersonal market forces-anyone and everyone external to the continent-Dr. George B.N. Ayittey, himself a son of Africa, points his finger at the causes closer to home: the "vampire states" and "coconut republics" whose undemocratic and illegitimate rulers have done more harm to their own people than any external agents. In short, Africa Unchained is an unusually frank truth speaking to power-or rather, a dose of tough love for the tough challenges faced by the nations and peoples of the continent.
Unlike many works on Africa, however, Dr. Ayittey's does not end on a pessimistic note. Rather, he points the way forward by looking back at the continent's own rich history of freedom: free enterprise, free markets, and free trade, by free people organized in free societies. The road ahead, he correctly points out, lies through the past-recovering the authentic, acknowledging the baleful. A provocative thesis, to be sure; but it is one which deserves to be considered by scholars and policymakers.
-Dr. J. Peter Pham, author of Liberia: Portrait of a Failed State