AUTHOR: Martin Meredith
PUBLISHERS: Free Press, London (2006)
Martin Meredith book is conceive and offer insightful knowledge on the historical development of Africa as a continent, before the settlement of European colonialist, through the struggle of independence, the emerging of nations and the state of Africa, as a continent, in the world map.
As Times journalist who did corresponding in Africa, an auto-biographer and a writer, Meredith has written an outstanding book. A masterpiece. Albeit if his use of facts is anything to go by, the author went to greater length to glean for facts and figures from respected authors and sources. The authoritative bibliography speaks for itself.
The book’s magnitude in understanding the contemporary state of the African continent-from whichever facet you see it- is echoed by Bob Geldof. The Irish pop singer who has been involved greatly with charity work in the continent (notably the fund raising record Do they know it’s Christmas’ for 1984 Ethiopian famine victims), says “you can’t even contemplate about the contemporary state of Africa without first having a look at why Africa as a continent is where it is.”
The State of Africa starts with the ancient African kingdoms before the scramble and partition of the continent by European colonialists lead by Germany’s Otto von Bismarck in the Berlin conference. With little knowledge the colonialist least cared as they curved out states transcending across ancient lands separating kingdoms, tribal lands and merging other which never existed before.
Notable are the Bakongo of Congo, Ashanti of Ghana and King Moshoeshoe of Tswana. The Britons got their protectorates to Great Britain, the French assimilated minor French provinces in Africa; the Belgians were content to reap Zaire to enrich king Leopold II, together with the Portuguese, Spaniards and Italians.
The seed of discord was thus implanted.
The Europeans forcefully struggled and settled in Africa. As Christianity and western education spread in the Africa, an elite class emerged and fought for independence. The old guard- African leaders who inherited power from colonialists- brought the birth of nations amid glimmer of hope riding the crest of expectations about the future of Africa.
The European colonialists retreated- hastily like in Algerian independence struggle- to leave the leadership to Africans. The old guards experimented with ideologies. Some countries picked up economically shortly before the coups, the cold war effects and the lingering neo-colonialism.
Martin Meredith writes of the effects of the East and West power struggle effects on the continent. In their ism-schism of capitalism and communism the elephants- USA and USSR- descended on the African grass for the struggle of world supremacy.
The cold war, Otiose to Africa, was triggered by emergence of sovereign states which could topple the scales at world scene. At its peak in ‘60s US supported Mobutu Sese Seko to plunder Zaire and aided in usurping Liberia’s resources. American firestone controlling rubber plantations helped prop semi-illiterate Samwel Doe.
On the other hand Russia, in association with Cuba, propped Major Mengistu Haile Mariam red terror in Ethiopia and thwarted west influence in Angola against rebel leader Jonas Savimbi in a blood bath.
The struggle of Anglo-phone and Franco-phone effects on the continent in former colonies is tackled. With otiose cultural misgivings Britain and France flex their muscles to neo-colonize their former colonies with devastating effects.
French propped and later turned against Jean Bedel Bokassa of Central African Republic because he was a French soldier during the WWII. In a bid to suppress the spread of Anglo-phone influence in central Africa, French propped and maintained a genocide regime in Rwanda against the Tutsi and moderate Hutus.
The effect was the 1994 Rwandan genocide which spread towards DRC and Northern Uganda causing the fall of two ‘Anglo-phone’ leaders, viz. Mobutu Sese Seko and Milton Obote.
In the story “In the name of prophet” The State of Africa has extensively covered the Egyptian revolution against the monarchy of King Farrouk and it culmination to pan-Arab fever that culminated to 1965-67 Arab-Israel war. Muarmar Gadaffi’s taciturn involvement in internal affairs of Chad and the bloody diamond fields of Liberia and Sierra Leone war by training guerrillas.
The root cause of Nigerian conflict on Biafra war is caused partly by the murder of Chief Abiola is elaborately written. In addition, the assassination of Patrice Lumumba by Belgians and The CIA, and the culmination of the Zaire’s war is written with historical flair.
My gripe with the book is the casting of France. Meredith, a Briton, espouses the idea of treating the French as villains in expense of the Britons. It aligns with the Hollywood blockbuster Godzilla with a story of a French illegal nuclear testing gone haywire.
The effect, a giant dinosaur, creates havoc in New York City. The French in the movie are down casted and stereotyped like the Arabs and Russians.
Meredith treats British colonies, especially South Africa and Sudan with velvet gloves.
In “A degree in violence”, a story of Robert Mugabe (need I say a villain); little is said of suffering of Zimbabweans under the apartheid rule, And Mugabe’s house arrests and the death of his infant son. Likewise the impact and magnitude of apartheid rule in South Africa is sidelined.
In addition the book places the onset of Darfur war after the introduction of sharia laws. This is far from Blaine Harden, once a Washington Post bureau chief Nairobi, book Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent placing the problem on British rule. Harden, an American, writes that by the failure to effectively colonize the Muslim North the Britons segregated the Christian South.
The segregation brought two distinct cultures. At independence the ‘suit’ wearing Christian South considered the northern Muslims with suspicion. The Arabs had sold them as slaves.
The passing of sharia laws just exploded a simmering volcano and turned the fissures into a mountain of a problem.
Martin Meredith’s book gives insight into understanding the winding politics and events in Africa easily. You will understand why French President Nicolas Sarkozy personally attended, and got booed at Omar Bongo Ondimba’s funeral for interfering with Gabon’s internal affairs. Paul Kagame’s gripe with the France over the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
The book should miss in the shelf if you need to know how Charles Taylor ended up at ICC in The Hague and why Omar el-Bashir is wary of ICC indictment and southern Sudan supporting him though the Janjaweed militia kills with impunity.
The reader will be conversant with how Somalia warlord Aideed drove Americans and UN officials out of Mogadishu in ‘Black Hawk Down’