This excellent book of 288 pages is an examination of Africa and all it's problems and potential, by a reporter for the London-based The Economist magazine. Robert Guest was one of their African correspondents for seven years, residing for most of the time in Johannesburg, South Africa.
My friend Tom Hardy and his wife Mabvuto recommended the book when I saw them briefly a month ago Tom Faranda's Folly: A quick visit with the Hardys - friends from the UK
Tom works out of England for a publishing company and spends a great deal of time in Africa, and Mabvuto is from Africa.
A term frequently used for Africa is "an enigma." In this book Guest looks at the historic and current reasons why Africa is so poor, and what can be done about it. It is a book about sub-saharan Africa, so the issues of Arab North Africa or of Darfur and the Sudan never come up.
Despite the serious, indeed tragic subject matter, Guest manages humor and a breezy style.
A brief sample of some things he touches on - African Socialism (the failure of) - Mougabe and the gradual destruction of Zimbabwe - Nigerian Petrodollars and Nigerian Tribalism - progress in South Africa - the fall of Zambia, from a promising position the 60's to total basket case - success in Botswana - how first world trade protectionism costs Africa twice what it gets in aid from the developed world.
He tells a funny story about an 18 hour drive with a Guinness brewery beer truck to supply bars in Cameroon. Or rather it should have taken 18 hours, but actually took five days because of horrible roads, corrupt police and third world bureaucracy. (NOTE - despite this, it's still worth it for Guinness to do business in Africa. One thing I learned when I lived in Jamaica is that breweries always manage to turn a profit!)
How does Africa leap into the 21st century? Guest offers some standard answers - eliminate the corruption, improve the infrastructure, don't give foreign aid to corrupt regimes. He points out that Africa, by borrowing contemporary technology, can leapfrog over some problems. For example, why build land phone lines when you can go straight into the cellphone era.
So, a fine book and I learned quite a bit. One example: the mid nineties genocide in Rwanda as Hutus slaughtered 800,000 Tutsi's (and any Hutus who protested). I always assumed there was emnity between the two tribes going back for centuries. Not so. They got along just fine until the Belgians arrived and took over from Germany after World War I. The Belgians literally stirred up rancor between the two tribes.
Another fine book on third world problems and how they have developed and what not to do to solve them (and a few things that work) is The Elusive Quest for Growth which I wrote about here - Tom Faranda's Folly: Latest read - "The Elusive Quest for Growth"