The fate of Africa revisited
A review of the Book by
“The Fate of Africa”
This book written by Martin Meredith, titled “The
Fate of Africa,” is driven by a concept that
predates the so called “Wind of Change” on the
continent of Africa. At its core is the boiler plate
assumption that the African cannot govern himself.
Writing an endorsement for the book, Sir Bob Gerdoff
says “You cannot even begin to understand
contemporary African politics if you have not read
this fascinating book.”
Unfortunately, what Sir Gerdoff understands, with
the help of this book, differs greatly with the
experiences of some us who grew up within the time
period Meredith writes about. Meredith is at least
wrong about one issue: his observations about the
significance of Nkrumah and his impact on Africa.
Meredith says his book “focuses in particular on the
role of a number of African leaders whose character
and careers had a decisive impact on the fate of
their countries.” And he goes on to
after the euphoria of the independence era, so many
hopes and ambitions faded and why the future of
Africa came to be spoken of only in pessimistic
Part One of his book is titled “the Gold Coast
Meredith's jaundiced view about
Nkrumah as the typical
African leader whose”
character and career” had a negative
impact on the fate of his
country, allows him to miss
a crucial aspect of this
True, there was a Ghanaian or Gold Coast experiment.
But Meredith conspicuously
avoids speculating about how the
February 24, 1966 coup that overthrew Nkrumah
ended prematurely the “Gold Coast Experiment”.
The negative fascination with Nkrumah career stems,
as said, from the assumption that the African cannot
govern himself. Having reluctantly given the first black nation its
independence, the colonials couldn't wait for it to
fail. The leaders of Ghana could have been
any of Nkrumah’s contemporaries, J. B. Danquah,
Obetsebi Lamptey and it would not have mattered to
the purveyors of this indoctrination point – that
the African cannot govern himself, so help him fail.
In Nkrumah’s case, however, the attack has been
phenomenal and continues, even
after his death. In the
process writers like Meredith have
opportunity to notice the significance of the
character of this rare leader.
For example, the universal verdict on Nkrumah as
Africa’s Man of the Century, garnered by a BBC poll
at the beginning of the new millennium, never gets a
hint of respect from Meredith - despite the fact
that the merit was established before his book was
first published and that a century is a long time
and must have contained a lot of white actors of the
era, on the continent, who never made it to the top of the BBC list.
To be fair to Meredith, the opinion expressed in the
poll was mostly African. So Meredith neglect has to
be opened to conjecture. But
Africans know who their illustrious leaders
are, unless you view their
collective opinions as puerile.
Otherwise, and at this point in Africa’s history, it has to be
noted that Nkrumah’s contributions to the continent
lie in the realm of ideas. To avoid discussing these
ideas and their ongoing impact everywhere is to be
intellectually dishonest. Those who would recommend
Meredith’s book should pay attention to this aspect
Take, for example, the much maligned Nkrumah
statement that said “Seek ye first the political
kingdom and all else shall be added unto you” that
Meredith obviously derides in his book. Instead of
ignorantly interpreting it as an invitation to
neglect economic sector activities, as Meredith
would wish, contemporary Africans are beginning to
see it as summons to take political cognizance of
all their national assets, including economic ones.
The political "cognizance of
national assets" was made
before the "Asian
had any inkling that they would be economic giants.
Contemporary Africans now wonder whether China, for instance, could
have made it without “seeking first the political
Contemporary Africans can also imagine the Congo with
a political will of China and conclude that the
endemic scramble for their
resources could not have continued for this long.
With this knowledge, it should
be sufficient for an impartial observer to
this notion of “seeking first the political kingdom,”
as Nkrumah said it, was right on the mark then and right on the mark
There is also the question of the “Neo-colonialism”
concept, a political and economic theory that
Nkrumah constructed and planted
on the global political landscape but
which never gets mentioned
or commented on by Meredith.
But is the concept relevant
or not to contemporary Africa? This is worth
discussing if we are bent on deriding the notion
behind seeking "first the political kingdom." So why
must a book that purports to discuss
“leaders whose character and careers had a decisive
impact on the fate of their countries” miss this
point and for what purpose?
Clearly, the omission is an example of
a type of intellectual exercise which is often directed at Africa:
A ground shaking idea comes out of
the continent but writers
like Meredith will choose
to ignore it. Instead
they will often opt to
bring to the fore topics that will induce pessimism
or distemper for the mind on Africa.
One thing that characterized post independent Africa
is the huge problem left in place by departing
colonial governments. I will not make much of
this now only because
enough time has elapsed for Africa to have resolved
this on her own terms.
However, a pre-colonial structure of government
characterized by absolute rulers like governors and
their supporting colonial agents was certain to
guarantee dictatorial rule after independence;
exactly what happened in many places. Nothing
Bribery and corruption, for instance, could not have
been a post colonial invention. The bureaucracy that
was left behind bred it. The African managed to
advance the corruption further.
Meredith claim that Nkrumah specifically set up the
National Development Corporation to “fascilitate the
handling of bribes from foreign businessmen and
others seeking government contract” and the
implication that he became wealthy
as a result has no merit
because it lacks evidence.
This book was published in 2005. It is hard to
believe that Meredith did not know that Nkrumah died
in exile in 1972, penniless and only six years after
being removed from office by the combined forces of
the CIA, the British, the French and the Ghana Armed
Forces. He didn’t have time enough to collect his
bank books before he left for exile and to this day
not one has been found.
Also, the life style of Nkrumah’s kids and family,
who are still around today, could have told Meredith
that the man didn’t hoard any wealth.
It is absurd to think that he hid his wealth from his family when he knew he was dying.
Remember he had a protracted illness before his
The only problem for
Meredith is that he will
truth, easy to verify, get in the way of the fat book he was writing.
To view Nkrumah as poor
would ruin his “pet thesis” of him as a corrupt
leader who derailed the African revolution.
Felix Houphouet-Boigny of Ivory Coast was
corrupt - rich
beyond the dreams of Nkrumah, yet Meredith writes
fondly of him as the man who built “state
capitalism” in the Ivory Coast. Houphouet had a
longer reign, But after him the Ivory Coast was
plunged into chaos. Nkrumah, by the way, was
forcefully removed. After that, the chaos happened.
The question of why Nkrumah was removed from office,
and Houphouet-Boigny was
not, cannot be answered by the accusations of
corruption and dictatorial rule by one and not the
other. The theme for Meredith’s book should have
demanded an answer.
The historical fact is Nkrumah was foremost in
promoting revolutionary African ideas, more so than
any other African leader -from midwifing freedom fighters to
the formation of the AU. Even Nkrumah’s proposed
African Command, which Meredith obviously does not
think much of, is now in vogue some forty years
later. Anytime there is trouble anywhere on the
continent, the concept springs up as solution in the
manner Nkrumah described!
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