The Fortunes of Africa: A 5 000 Year History of Wealth, Greed and Endeavour

By Martin Meredith

Published by Simon and Schuster (2016)

ISBN: 978-1-4711-3545-3

WHITE supremacy is a phenomenon that is designed to perpetuate the oppression of other races, especially Africans.

There is no doubt that the history of Africa clearly exhibits a dominated being that has lived for centuries under the control of Europeans and Arabs.

It is against this background that one can note that the civilisation of Africa was disturbed by foreigners who imposed their will on us.

Ironically, the civilisation introduced to Africans seems to have created more problems than solutions.

Africa remains stuck in the periphery of development processes despite being the hub of resources that are used to develop Europe.

Martin Meredith’s The Fortunes of Africa: A 5 000 Year History of Wealth, Greed and Endeavour focuses on the various issues that reflect on Africa’s history, paying particular attention to cultural, economic and political development.

Critical about Meredith’s research is that he brings to the fore evidence that clearly shows how the hand of foreigners has precipitated the exploitation of Africa from time immemorial.

When talking about the land of Ophir, which is connected to Bible stories that pinpoint a place where King Solomon obtained gold, Meredith highlights that mineral resources in Zimbabwe inspired the British to invade southern Africa.

It is the abundance of resources in Africa that initiated conquest of Africa by so-called super powers.

Meredith highlights that the Romans relied on their colonies in North Africa for vital grain shipments to feed the burgeoning population of Rome.

“Rome’s principal objective was to ensure that Africa continued to provide vital shipments of grain supplies needed to feed its own population at home,” writes Meredith.

Apart from providing food and mineral resources, Africa was also used as the centre for the provision of slaves.

Slavery became a common feature in many African societies.

Slaves were often war captives, captured by greedy African leaders as they sought to build fiefdoms and empires and used them as labourers or soldiers of fortune.

Meredith writes: 

“Captured slave ships and their crews were taken to Freetown to face proceedings before the Admiralty court. Freetown also served as a haven for liberated slaves — ‘recaptives’ as they were called.

Instead of trying to return slaves to their original homeland, the British Government decided to set them free in Sierra Leone.”

Through his book, Meredith says Ivory from Africa was also valued and was used as a critical component of industrialisation.

Looted resources from Africa were used to develop Europe while the continent remained poor.

When profits from the ivory trade began to dwindle, King Leopold II of Belgium turned to another commodity — wild rubber which made him one of the richest men in the world.

“Leopold’s principal objective was to amass as large a fortune for himself as possible. Ivory was at first his man hope .From river stations, company agents scoured the country, sending out hunting parties, raiding villages, press –ganging porters, acquiring tusks in exchange of beads or brass rods or by simply confiscating them.

The territory that Leopold now claimed as his personal empire was more than seventy times the size of Belgium itself, larger than England, France, Germany, Spain and Italy combined,” states Meredith.

Meredith also points out that colonialism, initiated at the Berlin Conference of 1884-85, played a role in destroying Africa and sowing the seed of enmity among ethnic groups.

European powers present at the Berlin Conference ensured that new territories in Africa were formed while different and diverse groups that shared no common history, culture, language or religion were merged.

As a result of such arbitrary boundaries created by the Europeans, Africans continue to fight each other resulting in conflicts in Nigeria by the Boko Haram, ethnic conflicts in eastern DRC and resource conflicts in South Sudan.

However, in his book, Meredith also highlights that colonial rule brought a myriad of changes to Africa.

In their quest to exploit Africa’s resources, colonial governments built road and railways in an attempt to stimulate economic growth and make their territories self-supporting.

African colonies became significant exporters of agricultural commodities such as cotton, cocoa and coffee. 

The colonial legacy also included a framework of schools, medical services and transport infrastructure. However, economic development in Africa is also being stalled by internal conflicts, mismanagement and corruption.

“In northern Nigeria, an upsurge in militant Islamism grew out of widespread discontent over the central government‘s failure to deal with mass poverty, unemployment and crime in the region,” writes Meredith.

The history of Africa documented in Meredith’s books helps to reflect not only on the wealth of the continent but brings to fore the political scenarios affecting the continent’s growth.

Meredith’s The Fortunes of Africa: A 5 000 Year History of Wealth, Greed and Endeavour is a must-read book.


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