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The Fortunes of Africa: A 5000-Year History…

The Fortunes of Africa: A 5000-Year History of Wealth, Greed, and Endeavor

by Martin Meredith

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Fantasticly written history of the tragedy that is Africa. A lot of the book was spent on the process of colonialisation, not much on post-1960, but then the author has another book about that. As with other English-language history books, relatively not much space was spent on French Africa, but that is only missing bit on a anotherwise enlightening read. ( )
  DoToBu89 | Jan 13, 2016 |
Understanding the present requires understanding of the past. And Meredith tries to achieve exactly this in his new book for Africa. This time it is about the economy - and by proxy the politics - of the continent that is so close to Europe but could as well had been on one of the poles for most of history.

Most books on similar topics dismiss or just mention in passing the smaller states in Africa. For Meredith no state is too small, no tribal skirmish too unimportant (ok, we do not hear about all of the skirmishes but it feels like we do at some point). It's a historical overview of a very long period of time on a land mass that at the end contains ~50 separate countries. But not all started like that.

Understandably the early chapters are about the old empire that everyone had heard of - Old Egypt and its neighbors. But the focus moves fast through the continent and the empires that appear and disappear; the tribes that migrate and lead wars. Even though the book technically covers the whole history of the continent, the 18th century is reached relatively fast - although by then the European big players had already started what will ultimately lead to the modern Africa.

With the hindsight of the 21st century it is even harder to read some of the stories and decisions being taken. When you read about the tribes in Rwanda that had found a way to live together and actually to mingle and start a process of assimilation, it is almost cruel to read how it was the Europeans that stopped that process - and you can see the path that will lead to the genocide. When the first diamonds are found in South Africa or the gold ores or the oil reserves in the States that have them, you know what is coming and that what could have made a country rich enough never materialize. It's a non-stop litany of internal and external factors sabotaging any emerging country in the area - if it is not a local war, it will be one of the colonial forces; if not that, it will be a dictator; if not that, it will be religion; and when all seems to be line up (the independence for most countries), things still go horribly wrong. And slowly, a century after century, the same mistakes happen over and over again. It is a parade of tribes and rulers, some show up for a paragraph never to be heard from (and their mark in the history is almost as fleeing), some show up a few chapters later - usually to make even a bigger mistake.

The structure of the book changes with the times - while at the start the regions discussed are geographical, it shifts to be based on who owns the colonies (and the differences in how the different countries handle their colonies is obvious without even being pointed out) and then back to geographical in the late 20th century. The book finishes in early 2014 for some countries, a little earlier for others but the panorama of the greed of the human race is complete.

What is being sold changes (slaves (and the Africans are willing participants as sellers of people from the tribe next door), diamonds, ivory, anything that grows under the sun), but things do not. Countries come and go, colonial rule starts and ends, things in Africa continue happening. The colonial split of the continent makes it impossible for most of the countries to survive - when a border is drawn in a map with no regards of ethnicity and languages, things are bound to go wrong. Add to this the big religions, the greed of the big colonial powers and the local leaders that learn the worst from the newcomers and just add it to their own arsenals of cunning and things are bound to explode. A lot.

At 675 pages, with 71 chapters, the book is just an overview. Each chapter can be expanded to multi-volume works. But this kinds of overviews are needed - I doubt that a lot of people will read a book about the history of Malawi for example but it is important to understand it - so that recent events in the news make sense. Meredith understand Africa and writes with a lot of respect about it - but he is not trying to be politically correct as a lot of the authors these days - black is black and white is white. And mainly - the world is covered in grey and trying to make it either black or white will never work. Maybe we all will finally learn our history lesson. On the other hand - it's the human race - there will always be someone that is not well-educated enough to repeat an old mistake.

There is nothing really new in the book - the information can be found elsewhere if one so chooses. And Meredith allows the reader to make their own decisions and to understand the actions - there is no analytical chapters where the author tries to explain to you what just happened. But it is a well researched and extremely well written story of a continent that still struggles with decisions that others had made for it for centuries. ( )
1 vote AnnieMod | Jan 15, 2015 |
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Africa has been coveted for its riches ever since the era of the Pharaohs. In past centuries, it was the lure of gold, ivory, and slaves that drew fortune-seekers, merchant-adventurers, and conquerors from afar. In modern times, the focus of attention is on oil, diamonds, and other valuable minerals. Land was another prize. The Romans relied on their colonies in northern Africa for vital grain shipments to feed the population of Rome. Arab invaders followed in their wake, eventually colonizing the entire region. More recently, foreign corporations have acquired huge tracts of land to secure food supplies needed abroad, just as the Romans did. In this vast and vivid panorama of history, Martin Meredith follows the fortunes of Africa over a period of 5,000 years. With compelling narrative, he traces the rise and fall of ancient kingdoms and empires; the spread of Christianity and Islam; the enduring quest for gold and other riches; the exploits of explorers and missionaries; and the impact of European colonization. He examines, too, the fate of modern African states and concludes with a glimpse of their future.… (more)

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