In This Review

The Fate of Africa: From the Hopes of Freedom to the Heart of Despair; A History of Fifty Years of Independence
The Fate of Africa: From the Hopes of Freedom to the Heart of Despair; A History of Fifty Years of Independence
By Martin Meredith
PublicAffairs, 2005, 800 pp

Meredith, a longtime observer of African affairs, has written a reliable introduction to contemporary Africa for the general reader. The book proceeds chronologically from the misdeeds of the colonial era to the optimism of independence, the errors of the 1960s and 1970s, and the subsequent decay and present-day drift. Although sometimes only faint in this rather discursive book, Meredith's broad point is that postindependence Africa has been the victim of poor leadership by political elites more interested in filling their pockets than in promoting economic development. The narrative is driven by arrestingly told episodes that are meant to be revealing of the continent's ills; many will be well known to Africa hands, but Meredith's well-informed account rarely trades in sensationalism and does not fall prey to the kind of glib pessimism that characterizes much coverage of the region. At the same time, he is forthright regarding what he sees as the failures of most of Africa's leaders, for whom, most readers will agree, this is a damning story.