THE FIRST DANCE OF FREEDOM: Black Africa in the Postwar Era by Martin Meredith
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THE FIRST DANCE OF FREEDOM: Black Africa in the Postwar Era

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The drama of African independence--from unrest to jubilation to disorder and despair--in a British journalist's brisk, clear-cut, evenly-weighted recap. Meredith draws only one unremarkable conclusion--or one-and-a-half: Africa was ill-served by leaders who turned tyrannical and self-aggrandizing; popular rule isn't inconceivable, it hasn't had a chance. His story begins in wartime and postwar London--with the anticolonial intrigue of West Indian revolutionary George Padmore, an ex-Comintern agent of ""formidable intellect,"" and his influence over the ambitious if ""not very bright"" Kwame Nkrumah. Also on the scene is an earlier Padmore recruit, the multifaceted, many-faced Jomo Kenyatta, and anti-Marxist reformer Hastings Banda, a respected physician and Church of Scotland deacon. These and other activists assemble in Manchester in 1945 to set off mass political action ""against imperialism""--ignored by the British authorities, for whom their African empire is ""a quiet and orderly preserve."" Thereafter, Meredith juxtaposes African and colonial aspirations and personalities: not only shifting to Paris, its combination of cultural assimilation and autocratic rule, the roles of Leopold Senghor and Felix Houphouet-Boigny, but also to Brussels and Lisbon and their disparate colonial strategies. Along analogous lines, he is especially good on Britain's white-settler colonies of east and central Africa: the actualities of the ""Mau Mau"" uprising, and Kenyatta from imprisonment to power; the politics of the white-South-Rhodasian-dominated Central African Federation--where withdrawal of British protection fueled demands for African self-government. You are in Accra at the antecedent 1951 birth of Ghana, when African nationalist leaders ""drew in the intoxicating draught of revolutionary rhetoric, and departed home ready for the fray."" Then, in one brief, graphic chapter after another: the ""Franco-African Community"" takes shape, and starts to disintegrate; Banda returns to Nyasaland, a legend (after 41 years) like Kenyatta, to fight the Central African Federation; peaceful, promising transfers of power take place--with the ghastly exception of the Congo (not a short chapter). Southern Rhodesia rebels, to forestall African rule, and with Rhodesian independence under Ian Smith (a colorless unknown ""of simple and fixed beliefs""), a frontier is drawn across Africa, ""dividing the black north from the white-ruled countries of southern Africa"". . . that will also have to be redrawn within a decade. That decade brings the fall of Nkrumah and multiple problems in other, poorer states; the Nigerian civil war; Uganda's plight--from Obote to Amin and back; a multitude of coups and brief, lavish, often brutal regimes; upheaval in the backwater Horn and the bifurcated Sudan; the collapse of the Portuguese empire; Rhodesia's guerrilla war; the relatively stable survival of a few of the independence-leaders (notably Kenyatta, Houphouet-Boigny), the precarious survival of others (Guinea's TourÉ, the Congo's Moboutu); economic decline into chronic dependence; the uneven course of Nyere's ""African socialism"" in Tanzania--plus the ""miracle growth"" of the Ivory Coast, and its terminus. To have made all of this coherent and meaningful, in human and geopolitical terms, is Meredith's considerable achievement.

Pub Date: Jan. 30th, 1984
Publisher: Harper & Row