Africa's Long Road Since Independence: The Many Histories of a Continent

In This Review

Africa's Long Road Since Independence: The Many Histories of a Continent
By Keith Somerville
Hurst, 2016
500 pp.

This introductory overview of the region’s history by a veteran BBC journalist focuses on broad political and economic trends and eschews simple takeaways. The book unfolds mostly in chronological order, from the disappointments of the immediate postindependence era in the 1960s, to the breakdown of many ruling regimes amid the military coups and civil wars of the 1970s, to the economic crises of the 1980s and 1990s, and finally to the tentative recovery of the last two decades. Somerville’s most trenchant analysis concerns civil conflicts such as the Rwandan genocide and the liberation struggles in southern Africa. He emphasizes what he considers to be powerful structural constraints on the region: the historical weight of the slave trade and colonialism and Africa’s weak position in the global economy. Ironically, however, his book illustrates the enduring influence of the colonial era: its primary subject is Anglophone Africa, and the material on Francophone and Lusophone Africa is rather perfunctory, reflecting the fact that media and governments in colonial powers continue to see the continent through the lens of the places their countries used to control. 

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