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The State of Africa

September 1, 2013








I began it over a year ago, but finally this week I finished it: (it’s been a busy year, and it’s a fat book) “The State of Africa” by Martin Meredith.

I’m not big into writing book reviews. So let me simply quote (am I allowed to do this?) from one Amazon review: 

The book is a litany of incompetent government, of insatiable greed and exploitation on the part of leaders and their cronies, of unbelievable power lust and the resulting repression, of megalomaniac leaders with delusions of grandeur, of ludicrous levels of corruption and of the suffering of millions of ordinary people.”

It’s an overview of post-independence Africa, dealing principally with the leaders, politics, governments and big-picture narratives, as opposed to say a real people’s history from the ground. It’s horrific. It’s absolutely horrific.

You know things are bad when you move beyond tears and just feel emotionally unable to care anymore about real-life tragedy you’re reading. 800,000 Tutsi corpses here, a few hundred thousand amputees there, a war here, a death camp there, child soldiers here, mass starvation and internal displacement there. The tragic history flows so fast and so furiously at you it’s impossible to keep your head above the water. The only other books I’ve ever read that caused me to read about thousands of murders without a flicker of emotion was this one –

There’s so many desperate stats in the book that blow your mind I’m not even going to go into them. As I say, it starts to become just numbers after a while. However one stat was particularly fascinating. in 2001, an African leader voluntarily left office after an election defeat for only the 4th time (it first happened in 1993). 40 years of independence, 50 countries, well over 300 leaders, but only 4 had ever held an election, lost, and walked away. 

Every book you ever read about Africa always ends on a note of hope. It has to in today’s world. Not necessarily because its true (although who am I to comment on that) but because it seems to negative, too depressing, too awful to do anything else. 

After 700 pages in this book, I was waiting for that final note of hope to come. It never did. This is the final paragraph: 

Time and time again, Africa’s potential for economic development has been disrupted by the predatory politics of ruling elites seeking personal gain, often precipitating violence for their own ends. The problem is not so much that development has failed, but that it was never really on the agenda in the first place. After decades of mismanagement and corruption, most African states have become hollowed out. They are no longer instruments capable of serving the public good. Indeed, far from being able to provide aid and protection to their citizens, African governments and the vampire-like politicians who run them are regarded by the population they rule as yet another burden they have to bear in the struggle for survival.

700 pages, and that’s the conclusion. How’s that for a hollow way to finish an epic? And yet there was no other conclusion he could come to. It’s too often true. In the past and in the present. 

Note he’s not suggesting that Africans, or Africa, have/has no hope, but just that it doesn’t appear to be coming through the state, through government. Although Uganda is better than most, you don’t have to follow me on Twitter for long, and to see the stats I quote from the newspapers, to see that even here things aren’t radically different. 

And that’s why it’s so good to do what I do. The gospel, and people’s relationships with Christ, is perhaps the one thing in Africa that cannot be stolen, torn apart, shot at, bribed away, abused or annihilated. It’s safe, secure, guaranteed, and eternal. And in a continent so full of terrible, terrible tragedy, it’s so real. I tweeted recently about a mother who’d buried 9 of her own kids, but clung on to Christ. 

And so let me repeat what I said in earlier blog post about visiting David’s poverty stricken village: “There’s nothing more beautiful than true, Christian hope” And perhaps it’s in the darkest places where we see it shining most brightly. 



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  1. Matt Graham permalink

    Thanks Chris. As ever, fascinating whilst desperate to read. Praise God for real gospel hope. Praise God for a guaranteed glorious future with no more crying and no more dying. Praying on for you guys – for confidence in the power of the gospel and conviction of the urgency of the gospel.


  2. Charles permalink

    “When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said “Let us pray.” We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible and they had the land.”
    -Desmond Tutu

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