700 Pages of Horror

I just finished “The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence”, Martin Meredith’s imposing tome that tells the story of post-colonial, ‘independent’ Africa. There is no way to write this review, except in the spirit that Meredith meant when he summed up his own book by concluding, “African governments and the 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.”

Meredith’s book is important, and horrible. The wickedness that Africa’s post-independence leaders have inflicted upon their populations has known no restraint, even in world history which is full of the tales of abuse and predation by the strong against the weak. Mass murder – not thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands but millions. Indiscriminate murder. Corruption – not a fake receipt submitted for a lunch, or a ‘gifted’ bump up to first class but the systematic pilfering of state banks and state treasures not for hundreds of thousands, or millions, but billions upon billions of dollars. Torture of enemies – not waterboarding or sleep depravation, but rape and cannibalism and throwing children to crocodiles and the distribution of machetes by which husbands could murder their children.

We talk about bad government in the west, we complain about stupid policies we don’t like, which might be inflationary or cause market imbalances. In dictatorships, we decry political prisoners who dared challenge their tyrants, we complain about freedom of speech and worry when a tweet is deleted, an account suspended.

Africans have to fear state-sponsored starvation; the wholesale genocide of tribes; the myriad obstacles not to prosperity or a new car or a great vacation, but to their children’s ability to continue to live. The fact that until 2004 there had only been 4 presidents who left their posts willingly. The fact that every country, at one time or another, experienced the mayhem in revolving vortex of evil.

Africa was stillborn. I am not sure it will ever recover.

Why? Why did this happen? Why did we let it happen? There are no answers. Some say it was that the colonialists set Africa up for failure, and that is true. Some say the tribalism of the ancient past is inconsistent with democracy, and that is true. Some say central banks served as an unlimited kitty for the wicked leaders to raid, and that is true. Some say the cold war “us or them” permitted evil behavior for political reasons, and this is true. Some say that the withdrawal of any restraining institutions or entities upon the power of the tribal bosses allowed those level of excesses, and that is true. Some say that their natural riches were too easily predated upon, and that is true. Some say western money in the form of AID made leaders unaccountable and made consent of the governed more difficult, and that is true too.

It’s all true, and none of it matters. Or perhaps all of it matters. But what matters now, is that the chances of Africa surviving a birthing process such as she had at the hands of Nkrumah and Mugabe and Museveni and Mubarak and Bashir and Garang, etc., are not great. Too much has been wasted, too much has been looted, there are too many deep, deep scars that require healing, but how? The environment is ruined. The governments are not salvageable. Things are hopeless.

So, to the haters out there who won’t like this review, first don’t read Meredith’s book. You can’t handle it. Second, for my part, I lived for 10 years on the African continent. I dealt with 5 civil wars (Chad and DRC and Nigeria and Mali and Uganda); I worked to help build democracies after terrible events, Al Qaida takeovers and LRA infanticide. I left Africa fairly hopeless. Nothing in Meredith’s book makes me think I was wrong. Incidentally, I wrote my own book about Africa. A novel, which is as brutal as Meredith’s history book, because in Africa truth is worse than fiction, we cannot bring ourselves to write things out of our imaginations as badly as they actually are.

My only entreaty, please read this book. You probably will say “But why, if its that awful?” If the powerless Africans have had to live through these awful, awful years, we certainly can deign to read about it.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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