‘The state of Africa’ provides an overview of the development trajectory of modern African countries from the pre-independence period till about the early 2000s. Martin Meredith’s main argument is that the predatory leadership of many African countries over the years has remained a consistent theme from the post-independence period till present and has impeded any chance of substantial development. Whilst he makes this argument, he acknowledges the role western countries have also played in these development challenges, these include; the arbitrary creation of African countries and their distribution among European countries during the Berlin conference of 1886; lending support to brutal dictators such as Mobutu Sese Koko during the cold war; and unfair trade policies which continually prevents African agricultural products from being globally competitive.
It begins by explaining how African Countries were shared between Britain, France and other European countries during the Berlin conference without any consideration of the differences in cultures, languages and religions of the various territories. It then proceeds to describe the struggle for independence and the various hopes and aspirations upon which the struggle was founded. With detailed examples of Ghana and Nigeria, it shows all the euphoria surrounding independence quickly dissipated due to the lack of actual development strategies, corruption, patronage and ethnic driven politics of many of the leaders at independence.It then describes how the development failures of the 1960s led to economic failures, wars and violent conflicts in the 1970s/80s and also the rise of military dictators across he continent. It proceeds to discuss the largely abysmal performance of the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) introduced by the IMF(International Monetary Fund) and the World Bank in the 1980s to save these economies. Finally, it discusses the democratization phase of the 1990s and its limitations .
The book discusses some of the major events in the continent’s history which include; the Berlin conference, Rwandan genocide, Apartheid rule in South Africa and the various wars which have been fought in different countries. In addition to this, the activities of major protagonists such as Charles Taylor, Idi Amin, Mobutu Sese Koko etc who contributed to the chaos and disasters that have come to define much of Africa’s history were also discussed.
The major strengths of this book includes the simple language and its attempt to make an otherwise complex story very concise. it is an easy and enjoyable read for anyone interested in the development trajectory of contemporary Africa. Conversely however, because of its attempt to capture the history of the entire continent, it does not go in depth into any particular country and in some cases little but important details are obscured in an attempt to summarize. In addition to this , there is a somewhat pessimistic tone in the writer’s voice, perhaps this can be attributed to the time which the book was written. Nonetheless, this does not detract from the overall message and argument of the book.
Overall, It is a fantastic read and is highly recommended to anyone interested in the history and study of Africa.