Book Review: 'Africa's Long Road Since Independence' by Keith Somerville
It can easy to dismiss Africa as a set of countries that blend together through corrupt politicians and abject poverty and regional famine. Indeed, this book by former BBC journalist Keith Somerville won't dismiss that this is in part true. He also however, illuminates for the reader just how diverse Africa is as a continent and tragically how too often the politicians revelling in the freedom of independence squander opportunity to create growth for everyone.
As a narrative, the books is detailed, yet flowing and the book assesses different countries challenges decade by decade in each chapter. Roughly chronological, the book charts the history of African nations from the late 1950's to today but also looks at the legacy of colonial rule and also a projection for the future.
The truth is that there are few books which seem ready to chart the history of Africa's journey from the end of Empire and so this book is a timely and interesting exploration. Balanced, considerate and engaging, Somerville deals with the history is a thoughtful way. Never shrill, the book in extremely well researched. The analysis is considered and extensive including global media responses to different events. Neither laying blame solely on colonialism or post-colonialist leaders, this book assesses the whole - history, legacy and contemporary issues by Africans themselves.
Notably interesting sections included the rise of Nelson Mandela and the progress of apartheid. Zimbabwe was fascinating and with the recent elections, it was hard to put the sections down that dealt with the end of Rhodesia and the rise of Robert Mugabe.
It was the lesser known areas that gave the book a richness too. West Africa, the DRC are often in the news, but getting a long term perspective in such fluent prose and by a writer who is so fair-minded on the conclusions felt like you were given a rich history lesson that you wish you received years before. It was a book where I kept wanting to explore the recent events of the countries in more detail online (which I often did). By the end of the book you feel you have a strong understanding of the whole continent.
Not sparing in criticism, Somerville sets out why he believes Africa still struggles as a continent and why famine and poverty for millions still persists after decades of aid. His conclusions draw widely. Yes colonial legacy in part, but also leaders who are often too vested in self-interest. There's also criticism for the IMF, China and other world powers who struggle to alleviate issues for countries through their misaligned pledges and offers of 'assistance'. The worrying lack of press freedom in many parts of Africa is also explored.
An excellent detailed summary and analysis of African nations from independence to today. If you want a new history narrative, then this book is a worthy purchase.
Available in paperback: Penguin Books