Broad-ranging history of Africa from the age of the pharaohs to the present, with a solid emphasis on economics.
Former Observer correspondent and longtime Africa expert Meredith (Born in Africa: The Quest for the Origins of Human Life, 2011, etc.) delivers a richly detailed, occasionally plodding examination of a region of the world that, though central to human history, is too often overlooked, except by the economic powers that be—the World Bank estimates that 40 percent of Africa’s wealth is held outside Africa. Concludes Meredith, “Africa thus remains a continent of huge potential, but limited prospects.” People have always moved from place to place across the continent looking for access to its resources, sometimes in small groups, sometimes in vast waves, as when the Bantu-speaking peoples who originally lived in southern Cameroon spread across southern Africa. Yet, by Meredith’s account, once those resources are in hand, they are always unevenly divided; the peasants of ancient Egypt may have had access to the water wheel and an elaborate system of irrigation, but they were also subject to an even more elaborate system of taxation “that kept them as poor as they had always been.” That situation did not improve with the spread of Christianity and Islam, nor with the arrival of the colonial powers and the conversion of a vast part of the continent to a factory for the production of slaves for trans-Atlantic transport. As Meredith writes, by the 1600s, the European powers were looking far inland for slaves and had established great trading ports along Africa’s west coast, “separated from one another by an average of ten miles.” Small wonder that, absent so much human and natural capital, Africa has been immiserated for so long—a condition not improved by the widespread pattern of one-party or one-man rule today.
A useful study, though less interesting than John Reader’s Africa: A Biography of the Continent (1998).