Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Books: The State of Africa – A History of Fifty Years of Independence by Martin Meredith

A highly readable summary of all major events in Africa since independence. The book is mostly written chronologically taking a sweeping glace across Africa to introduce the reader to major political, economic and social happenings.

Important leaders’ biographies are given and their personalities are well discussed with Meredith showing how many changed from hopeful young leaders to ruthless tyrants. Racial (e.g. Rwanda, South Africa) and religious (e.g. Nigeria, Sudan) tensions are not shied from, and neither is Africa as a cold-war pawn (“one of the paradoxes of the Angolan conflict was that Cuban forces were given the task of defending American-owned oil installations from attacks by American-backed rebels”), and the domino effect caused by large tribal groups with historical hostilities living across national borders is well explained.

The book is a great introduction to everything modern Africa. Below is a link to the book:

Another great book I’ve read by Martin Meredith is ‘Diamonds, Gold and War: The Making of South Africa. It is a brilliantly written book, and, to my surprise a read page-turner. It takes you from the start of the nineteenth century (when colonisers started to move inland) to the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910.

As well as reading like a historical novel, the book is very informative packed with stories explaining relations between the Brits and the Boers; the Boers and the Zulu; Brits and Zulu; Zulu and Sotho; Sotho and Brits; Sotho and Boers; Sotho and Khoisan (the actual only groups of people who were really in South Africa more than about 600 years ago – the rest are all migrants). Disputes and alliances existed between all groups and it almost makes you amazed that there actually is as much racial harmony in South Africa as there is.

I was left with the impression that of all British atrocities around the world, no group was more mis-treated than the Afrikaaners – the invention of concentration camps and scorched earth policies to fight against this group is hardly Britain’s finest hour and makes me amazed as much harmony exists between white groups as does exist.

Reading the book really helps to place modern-day South Africa in perspective, and helps to understand how apartheid came about (it is great to visit the Apartheid Museum in Joburg too). There are many well-crafted individual stories that help to understand key protagonists such as Cecil Rhodes and various Boer generals as well as key African tribal leaders.

The end is heart-breaking with the Brits accepting Boer racial discrimination in order to keep the peace between the two white groups. Black people, who had previously had the vote for over 100 years in Cape Colony were disenfranchised for white peace.

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