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The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence [Paperback]

Martin Meredith
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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The Fate of Africa: A History of the Continent Since Independence The Fate of Africa: A History of the Continent Since Independence 4.5 out of 5 stars (2)
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Book Description

June 27 2006
Fifty years ago, as Europe's colonial powers withdrew, Africa moved with enormous hope and fervor toward democracy and economic independence. Dozens of new states were launched amid much jubilation and the world's applause. African leaders, popularly elected, stepped forward to tackle the problems of development and nation-building. In the Cold War era, the new states excited the attention of the superpowers. Africa was considered too valuable a prize to lose.

Today, Africa is a continent rife with disease, death, and devastation. Most African countries are effectively bankrupt, prone to civil strife, subject to dictatorial rule, and dependent on Western assistance for survival. The sum of Africa's misfortunes — its wars, its despotisms, its corruption, its droughts — is truly daunting.

What went wrong? 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, Martin Meredith's riveting narrative history seeks to explore and explain the myriad problems that Africa has faced in the past half-century, and faces still. From the giddy enthusiasm of the 1960s to the "coming of tyrants" and rapid decline, The Fate of Africa is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand how it came to this — and what, if anything, is to be done.

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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough and comprehensive study July 17 2006
This impressive history of Africa is a thorough and detailed investigation of the reasons for the continent's dismal failure. Although filled with facts and figures, the work is quite accessible and readable as it charts the bitter history of 50 years of independence from its hopeful beginnings to today's total despair, in just 2 generations.

Ghana was the first African state to gain independence in 1957; it was ruined within 8 years. Today the whole continent produces less than Mexico. Upon taking power, African leaders appointed their cronies in government instead of properly trained civil servants, of which there weren't many anyway. These ruling elites indulged in corruption, oppression and bribery from the beginning.

The continent has been cursed with corrupt, incompetent and greedy leaders who never cared for their subjects. There have been at least 40 successful and many more unsuccessful coup attempts these 5 decades. The latest fashion is to hold sham elections. In oil producing countries like Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Nigeria and Cameroon, all the oil money ends up in the pockets of small ruling cliques while ordinary people subsist in misery.

The chapters are arranged according to this rogue's gallery of leaders like Amin, Bokassa, Mobutu, Nyerere, Banda, Mugabe, Kaunda, Kenyatta, Mengistu, Nasser, Nguema, Nkrumah. Other reasons for the failure are also considered, for example the rapid rise in population and unfavourable trade terms with the West.

But always the pattern repeats: coup d'etat, cruelty, misery, murder, refugees and the collapse of infrastructure. No matter how much money the West throws at the problem. Africa has had the equivalent of six "Marshall Plans" but the money ends up in Swiss bank accounts.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A DARK CONTINENT STILL Dec 11 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This monumental work by Martin Meredith should be read by anybody at all curious or concerned about Africa. It is a very grim and dark story about the continent since the colonial powers granted independence and retreated back to Europe. Starting with Ghana, one country after another started off well enough with a framework of democracy and infastructure, then promptly slid straight into corruption, incompetence, cronyism, cruelty, and crime. Sort of the five C's. And it continues to this day under miserable leaders like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.
This is depressing reading for the pattern continues in country after country, one leader after the other, and war after war, famine after famine. A rich continent is a basket case yet has every reason to be prosperous and vibrant. Only South Africa gives a glimmer of hope but that country still has many massive problems to overcome before it can reach out and help its neighbours.
This is a book of the politics of despair and cynics who care nothing for the people they are supposed to lead and protect. Revolt against this tyranny is either crushed or replaced with more of the same. It can only be hoped that now there is no excuse for any western powers to support these monstrous regimes for any reason. Martin Meredith has exposed the truth. He must be truly hated by Africa's ruling elites.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deep and moving Aug. 12 2005
A FATE OF AFRICA is a beautifully written work that provides a fascinating insight into the continent's history, underdevelopment and civil strife. Devoid of sentimentality and full of objectivity, the author conveys the deep message, which explains not only the resilience of the continent but also the ravages that it has been subjected to throughout its turbulent history. Behind the tragedies of the continent are the heavy hands of the ex-colonial masters and the exploitative drives of some business concerns working in partnership with African dictators, psychopaths and administrative kleptomaniacs that have power and are excluding the people in the running of the land. With more piteous prospects than any other continent, Africa mirrors the failures of humanity as well as its hopes and reams.
Other titles that treat this African malaise are DISCIPLES OF FORTUNE , AFRICA UNCHAINED, THE SCHACKLED CONTINENT, TRIPLE AGENT DOUBLE CROSS. Together these titles exposed the personal and collective problems of the people and the personal and collective efforts made, and the means and ways to take the Africa forward despite all the constrains.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A grand view of a pathetic picture July 30 2007
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Meredith offers his reader ones of the most comprehensively readible and gripping histories of a continent's modern demise. By describing numerous horror stories of failed governments, wanton cruelty, personal avarice, human misery, and western complicity, the author reduces the book to an almost Conradian pronouncement of doom found in the words of Kurt at the end of "Heart of Darkness". The fate of Africa as a geopolitical entity and expression is one balancing on the thin edge of razor stretched over a gigantic chasm waiting to swallow it into oblivion. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand the origins of this whole mess and is prepared to keep his or her optimism for a future turnaround in check. Many parts of the "Dark Continent" have become the modern example of 'hell on earth'. Meredith is both thorough and poignant in his telling of a very bleary tale.
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