This very readable history provides an excellent introduction to Africa’s most populous country. It begins with a look at British colonial rule, which established sharp economic, cultural, and political divisions in Nigeria, most dramatically between its northern and southern halves. These tensions undermined any sense of national unity and were exacerbated by the emergence of competitive politics after World War II and, eventually, independence, which came in 1960. Bourne expertly walks the reader through the political deterioration that led to the Nigerian Civil War, which raged from 1967 until 1970 and ended with the defeat of separatists from the southern state of Biafra. He then covers the subsequent decades of military rule and the slow and inconsistent democratization that began in 2000 and culminated in last year’s remarkably peaceful election and transition of power, which resulted in Muhammadu Buhari’s presidency. An admirably succinct final chapter ties together several themes, including the negative effects of oil dependence; the egregious corruption within the Nigerian elite, which continues to hinder democratic rule and economic growth; and the evolving role of religion as a source of political and social cleavages.
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