Since the end of the semester I’ve finally had a chance to do some more in- depth reading in African history. I just finished Martin Meredith’s The State of Africa: A History of the Continent Since Independence. It is a rather lengthy and, quite frankly, sobering history. About halfway through, having endured one account after another of autocratic, corrupt, and murderous regimes, I wondered if it would get any better by the end of the book.
Alas, it was not so. The book ends on a solemn note. He gives the example of the situation in Kenya after the 2007 elections. He writes, “The explosion of violence destroyed Kenya’s reputation for political stability. High-level politicians from all sides — Kikuyu, Luo and Kalenjin — were involved in orchestrating much of it. In the Rift Valley, Kalenjin leaders, having prepared well in advance for just such a conflict, unleashed tribal militias to attack and drive out Kikuyu residents. Even though large numbers of Kikuyus had voted to oust Kibaki’s corrupt cabal, Kikuyus in general, their property and businesses, became the target. All that mattered was tribal identity. Kikuyu leaders responded in kind, licensing paramilitary police and a criminal gang known as Mungiki to take revenge and enforce repression. In thirty days of horrifying violence, more than 1,100 people were killed, and 3,000 injured; 650,000 were forced from their homes; and Kenya was left divided into hostile tribal camps. The economic damage was enormous . . . The same blight afflicts most of Africa. Time and again, its potential for economic development has been disrupted by the predatory politics of ruling elites seeking personal gain, often precipitating violence for their own ends. ‘The problem is not so much that development has failed,’ observed the Nigerian academic, Claude Ake, in his essay Democracy and Development in Africa, ‘as that it was never really on the agenda in the first place.’ After decades of mismanagement and corruption, most African states have become hollowed out. They are no longer instruments capable of serving the public good. Indeed, far from being able to provide aid and protection to their citizens, African governments and their vampire-like politicians who run them are regarded by the populations they rule as yet another burden they have to bear in the struggle for survival.”
Quite a way to end a 700 page history! Significantly South Africa and Botswana stand out as exceptions in Meredith’s account of the general state of affairs in Africa, though he is also forthright about the challenges these countries face. And since his history ends in 2010, one wonders what he would say about South Africa now. In any event, quite a sobering history.
I was hoping to read more about the role of the church in this history, but Meredith has very little to say about it. He mentions in passing the occasional church leaders who courageously spoke out against corrupt regimes, often times at great cost, and other church leaders who egregiously capitulated to corrupt and murderous states. But for the most part, Meredith does not talk about the church in Africa.
The State of Africa is, of course, only one book (albeit an important one) on Africa. I will need to read other accounts. Anybody have any suggestions?