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Martin Meridith’s The State Of Africa: A History Of Fifty Years Of Independence
July 04, 2007
This is a well-researched and captivating book for those with a passion for African history. It is difficult to put this book down until you have read all 750 pages. Nevertheless, genuine questions do arise, such as that about the sub-title itself: has Africa really been “independent” for the last 50 years? One could argue that the international financial systems and big-power political chicanery (such as what the US is doing in the Horn of Africa today in the guise of “fighting terrorism”) have conspired to keep Africa in turmoil, poverty and dependence. Questions also arise over the English author’s euro-centric bias and omission of certain historical facts, especially if like me you read the book with a teacher’s red pen in hand!
Meredith begins where all historians of Modern Africa begin: with the Berlin Conference of 1884 when our continent was carved up by the Europeans. The salient point for us Africans is made by Meredith at the very beginning:
“Nearly one half of the new frontiers imposed on Africa were geometric lines, lines of latitude and longitude, other straight lines or arcs or circles”. (p.1)
The Europeans left us at “independence” to pick up the pieces and deal with the often tragic consequences of this unthinking carve-up of our continent, but let the Englishman make our point for us:
“African societies were rent apart: the Bakongo were partitioned between French Congo, Belgian Congo and Portuguese Angola. Somaliland was curved up between Britain, Italy and France. In all, the new boundaries cut through some 190 culture groups … lands and peoples became little more than pieces on a chessboard”. (p.1/2).
The Founding Fathers of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) had the wisdom to enshrine in the OAU Charter an acceptance of the borders of our Africa as we found them at independence. To try and undo the madness of the 1884 carve-up would have led to even bigger tragedy as the Somalis have so tragically discovered. The Somalis had been carved up into five separate nations by the colonial boundaries. In the 1960s the Somalis tried unsuccessfully to grab large chunks of Kenyan and Ethiopian territory and so in the 1970s turned to the Russians as “friends” (Kenya and Ethiopia were “friends” with the United States). In the 1980s the United States replaced the Russians as “friends” and moved into Somalia - after being chucked out of next door Ethiopia where the Russians had moved in as new “friends” of “Marxist” Mengistu.
During Somalia’s 1990s Civil War the Americans left, and the Somalis fell for mysterious suitors called “Al-Qaeda” who moved in as the new “friends”. Today the betrayed US is back in Somalia with new “friends” Ethiopia - and together they have given the Somalis a real beating and chased out “Al-Qaeda”). (“Black Hawk Down”, p.464-484). The only viable solution to the European carve-up of our peoples is continent-wide African unity with full freedom of movement for all.
Meredith’s book is a gem of well-researched and meticulously unearthed information. On p.102, Patrice Lumumba is directly quoted telling the visiting King of Belgium “We are no longer your monkeys”. The King’s colonial officials had whipped, amputated and set dogs on the Congolese people as a daily routine measure to harvest more and more rubber (see Conrad’s book “Heart of Darkness”). In revenge for this insult to their King, the Belgians conspired with the CIA and Mobutu to oust and murder Lumumba, leading to Mobutu’s dictatorship and wholesale looting of the country, which in turn resulted in the biggest war in independent Africa’s history involving six countries at one point.
We learn, from the very first page of this 750-page book, that in its own small way The Gambia contributed to the liberation of the whole continent by influencing the views of US President Roosevelt when he witnessed the evidence of British colonial ‘development’:
“Roosevelt’s views about British rule hardened considerably during the war when on his way to the 1943 Casablanca Conference, he stopped briefly in Gambia. Appalled by the poverty and disease he witnessed there, he wrote to Churchill describing the territory as a ‘hell hole’ … when Roosevelt subsequently reached Casablanca, he made the point of telling the Moroccans that the Atlantic Charter - on people’s right to freedom - applied to British and French colonies as well (not just to the Europeans colonized by Hitler as the British and the French had intended). (p.9)
One could argue that The Gambia has seen more development in the twelve years of Jammeh’s rule than it did in all the years of British colonial rule.
In 1956 the Prime Minister of Racist White South Africa told Parliament: “Either the whiteman dominates or the blackman takes over” (p.117). In 1960 the British Prime Minister made the “Wind of Change” speech in the South African parliament:
“The wind of change is blowing through the African continent whether we like it or not” (p.90)
It was to take 20 more years before the racist Rhodesians surrendered to Comrade Mugabe, and 34 years before the recalcitrant Boers bowed to the inevitable and relinquished power to Mandela and the ANC.
In the chapter entitled “Feet of Clay” we see laid bare the gargantuan failures of the messianic Kwame Nkrumah, who was deposed two months after his extravagant OAU summit in 1966, when only 13 heads of state attended (p.191).
Covering all of Africa, from Egypt to South Africa and from Ethiopia to Morocco, Meredith unearths fascinating information in this book on virtually all the African countries (although information on the English judge bribed by the British to convict Kenyatta is, surprise surprise, lacking). Still, this is a useful book and a worthy addition to one’s library.
Copyright Dida Halake, June 2007 … please feel free to use for a fee of $20 for each print. Swift payment details attached.
Source: Accra Daily Mail.