Africa Unchained: The Blueprint for Africa's Future Hardcover – Dec 28 2004
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"Crucial for anyone seeking an understanding of Africa's condition . . . Read it now, before it's too late." --The Washington Times
". . . robust, provocative...Ayittey takes no prisoners." --The New York Times Book Review
". . . Ayittey knows Africa well...a brave and reflective book." --The Wall Street Journal
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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
The Challenge for Africa
The Trouble with Africa: Why Foreign Aid Isn't Working
Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa
This book (Africa Unchained) is really two books in one, and as I conclude this summative review, will suggest to the author a third book needed now to complete the trilogy.
BOOK ONE: Chapters 2-7 focus on the problems of the past and are less interesting to me than the author's clear rejection of all tendencies to blame the past, the West, the banks, or anyone other than Africans themselves, for the failure to develop. These chapters merit careful reading if one is to be fully engaged in Africa, but here I sum them up as "four strikes and out" in the author's own words:
Strike One: State control model never worked
Strike Two: Rush to modernize industry while neglecting agriculture (where 65% of African live and die in largely subsistence mode)
Strike Three: Aped (sic) alien systems and ignored--demeaned indigenous political and economic systems that had worked for centuries
Strike Four: All the above required massive external investments and dependencies
BOOK TWO is the Chapter 1 and Chapters 8-11. It opens with a dedication by name and circumstance to investigative journalists and publishers who were killed for seeking and sharing the truth. The recurring theme within this book as well as the other three I experienced this week is that Africa's biggest problem is ignorance among the 80% that are dirt poor, and Africa's potential "great leap forward" could be fueled by inexpensive locally-oriented Information Operations (IO), my term for a diversity of examples the author puts forward in the last chapter.
While published in 2005, I sense this book remains a best in class effort. Three short quotes from the Prologue:
"They [the cheetah generation] understand and stress transparency, accountability, human rights, and good governance."
"They have vowed to work tirelessly to expose the crimes committed by African despots and to block the grant of political asylum to any such despot."
"They teach petty traders, hawkers, small artisans, market women, and those in the informal and traditional sectors about simple accounting techniques, how to secure microfinance, how to secure a job, and how to improve the productivity of their businesses, among other things, so as to make these self-employed artisans self-sufficient."
Other "IO" elements about this book that truly inspired me:
+ South African music legend Bonginkosi Thuthukani Dlamini and his isi-camtho kwaito "wicked cool talk" could be used by South Africa to carry the message of bottom-up self-sufficiency and hope across the continent.
+ The intellectual in Africa have betrayed the public as much as the corrupt despots, they have become "intellectual prostitutes" to those in power.
+ Indigenous knowledge, including centuries of self-governance and participatory democracy as well as valued medicine men and women combined with majimbo--a Swahili word for local initiative and trust in traditional wisdom, is still there.
+ West does not understand Africa and has been "feckless and impotent" across all fronts (government aid, corporate exploitation). I take this to mean that there is a need for Africans to educate the West and the varied parties seeking to engage Africa for whatever reason, at the same time that all Africans must be educated to understand that the aid is being stolen at the top and should be refused.
The over-all thrust of BOOK TWO is that only Africans can save Africa, and more specifically, only the poorest of Africans--the 65% engaged in subsistence farming--can save Africa by creating agricultural productivity and self-sufficiency.
The author observes the insanity of receiving $18.6 billion a year in aid while paying the same amount to import food to a continent that is rich in resources, is NOT over-populated, and is also enjoying the emergence of women with common sense as key players in community leadership.
Chapter 8 outlines why the state system fails even if corruption is eliminated; Chapter 9 is for me very important, a discussion of the indigenous economic system (more aptly, localized political-economic-social-cultural system). Chapters 10 and 11 are the heart of BOOK TWO and full of specifics.
On page 327 "how Africa loses money" lists $148B to corruption, $20B to capital flight, $15B to military, $15B to civil war damages, $18B to food imports, and $216B to all other leakages.
The author concludes that Africa has all it needs to invest in itself, less the vanquishing of the corrupt leaders across the region, a "challenge" the author never addresses, other than stating his view that the African Union (AU) is hopeless. I'm not so sure, between Brotherly Leader Al-Gathafi and President Zuma in ZA, there are some possibilities.
Among the author's recommendations:
+ Leverage the 3rd industrial revolution (communications and information technologies).
+ Move away from high-end aid projects and instead focus on bottom-up assistance at a level of a goat that gives milk, a foot-pump to move water, a donkey for transport, micro-credits, and so on. From page 392 there are numerous ideas, all relevant.
+ Return to the African model of peace making, a four-party model in which the two belligerents are not brought together by the UN so they can agree to a "joint plunder" deal, but rather use trained facilitators and add the civil society--the victims and residents being plundered--to the mix for a longer-term settlement achieved by holistic consensus.
The author focuses on the village development model (Cf. p 369) and discusses how "African solutions are less expensive, and further, reform that is internally generated endures." (Cf. 417).
The bibliography is extraordinary, a lifetime of reflections by others that the author has integrated.
BOOK THREE is needed, perhaps with Wangari Maathai, actually providing both a handbook that is short and easily translated into AUDIO TAPES in all languages and dialects, and an online "Regional Range of Needs Table."
Other books I recommend:
Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World's Last Dictators by 2025
Deliver Us from Evil: Peacekeepers, Warlords and a World of Endless Conflict
Faith- Based Diplomacy Trumping Realpolitik
A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility--Report of the Secretary-General's High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change
The Tao of Democracy: Using Co-Intelligence to Create a World That Works for All
Society's Breakthrough!: Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People
All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies, and the Politics of Dignity (BK Currents (Hardcover))
Although Ayittey's ideas have a great deal of merit, they are poorly, incompletely, and haphazardly presented in *Africa Unchained*. The book reads a bit like a drunken rant from a stranger at a bar: it begins relatively coherently, but quickly becomes disjointed, repetitive, and long winded. The author seems unable to make a simple point without numerous tangential diversions. Chapter and section divisions seem to have been distributed at random throughout the book's 450 pages, which is at least 400 pages more than necessary to make the book's substantive points. Africa Unchained is perhaps most remarkable as a marvel of poor editing.
Besides being overwritten and under-edited, the real disappointment of *Africa Unchained* is its failure even to attempt anything approaching its ambitious subtitle as "the Blueprint for Africa's Future." Ayittey offers a few policy ideas, but leaves them largely undeveloped. The book is long on anecdotes but surprisingly short on the kind of evidence and rigorous analysis one would expect from a professor of economics writing about economic issues. Rather than the promised blueprint for success, the book's conclusion offers little in the way of constructive recommendations or even optimism about Africa's prospects. "Africans have no future because their leaders don't use their heads and the Western donors who give them money don't use theirs, either." It's easy to imagine our stranger at the bar muttering this, the book's final sentence, suppressing a few hiccups, then turning back to the bartender, ordering another drink, and continuing, "but did I already tell you about price controls? You know, traditional chiefs never controlled prices in local markets..."
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