The State of Africa – Martin Meredith


Same taxi, different driver!

That about sums up the depressing story of post-independence Africa. Journalist Martin Meredith charts the history of each African nation from independence to the present day.

Africa is a puzzle: it is a beautiful continent rich in natural resources; new nations were born full of hopes that were soon dashed. One after another the experiments in democracy descended into dictatorship. The lie was that young African nations needed single party rule not democracy. The number of leaders who voluntarily handed over power (e.g. by losing an election) can be counted on the fingers of one hand. It’s a truly depressing story. The quote at the top is a reflection on a change of ruler in a West African state: nothing changes because the common people remain poor and the rulers become rich.

Meredith reserves a particular ire for the role of France in the Rwandan genocide. This feels like his longest section, which may reflect his greater experience of that conflict. It was a truly frightening glimpse into the darkness of which the human heart is capable.

The most depressing fact is that so little seems likely to change. The Africans I meet are good people, full of hope for their country. They loathe corruption and see at close quarters the misery it inflicts. But I can’t find a good answer to this question that I was asked:

‘we are hardworking, honest, and faithful to God. Why then are we still so poor?’

My reading of When Helping Hurts convinces me more than ever that the answers must lie with Africans themselves as well as with the developed world. I may be able to help them by building capacity; I can also help by provoking my own government’s conscience to look beyond our own interests and to the interests of others (cf. Philippians 2.4)

Martin Meredith The State of Africa: A History of the Continent since Independence (Simon & Schuster)