In This Review

Into the House of the Ancestors: Inside the New Africa
Into the House of the Ancestors: Inside the New Africa
By Karl Maier
John Wiley, 1998, 278 pp
Africa in Chaos
Africa in Chaos
By George B. N. Ayittey
St. Martin's Press, 1998, 399 pp

The seemingly chronic inability of most African countries to overcome poverty, debt, and bad government has inspired a growing literature for general readers that applies diagnostic and prescriptive approaches on a continental scale. Each author adopts a spin that allots responsibility for Africa's problems primarily to external or internal causes, then offers solutions that can range from the technocratic through the hard-nosed political on into the realm of the spiritual and cultural. Both of these books blame Africa's economic woes mainly on weak and corrupt African leaders and prescribe a return to the foundations of precolonial culture. Maier, a journalist who is upfront about his desire to correct Africa's unflattering media image, presents a set of colorful vignettes designed to show that there is plenty of virtue among ordinary Africans, particularly when they draw on the strength of traditional values. Ayittey is an emigre Ghanaian economist. After a short romantic detour through precolonial political culture, he gets down to straight talk: an angry polemic against the "sultanism" and statism of Africa's inept and self-seeking rulers, the fawning elites who support them, and the criminally negligent western lenders and donors who have helped to foster and perpetuate their misrule. The only solution to economic failure, he argues, is radical political reform to rid Africa of its "vampire" states and restore the accountability and democracy said to be characteristic of African political tradition. The agents of this transformation must be Africa's intellectuals, particularly those like himself who have gone into exile rather than sell their services to immoral regimes.