What Went Wrong with Africa? A Contemporary History

By Martin, Guy | African Studies Review, April 2006 | Go to article overview

What Went Wrong with Africa? A Contemporary History


Martin, Guy, African Studies Review


Roel van der Veen. What Went Wrong with Africa? A Contemporary History. Amsterdam: KIT Publishers/Stylus Publishing, 2004. 377 pp. References. Bibliography. Country index. $39.95. Paper.

A historian by training, Roel van der Veen became a development specialist in the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and moved from the Asia to the Africa desk in 1995. Frustrated by the fact that he could not find "a rapid introduction to Africa's recent history and problems," he decided to write "a general review of contemporary African history for all those with an interest in the continent" (5). Evidently, the author is not familiar with Basil Davidson's Modern Africa: A Social and Political History (Longman, 2nd ed., 1989), or Elikia M'Bokolo's L'Afrique au XXème siècle (Éditions du Seuil, 1985), both excellent brief introductions to Africa's contemporary history up to the 1980s.

Using modernization as a theoretical framework, van der Veen wonders why sub-Saharan Africa is the only region of the world that has been left out of the worldwide rise in prosperity over the past fifty years. Adopting a multidisciplinary perspective combining history, political science, economics, sociology, and cultural studies, he focuses on what he sees as Africa's main problem: state failure in general, and the failure of African leadership in particular. In broad strokes and through 370 dense pages of text organized thematically-the cold war, economic decline, democratization, renaissance, state disintegration, war, globalization, population, and poverty and aid-he paints a vivid and dismal picture of Africa and its people, mired in disease, poverty, hunger, debt, and conflict. In essence, the author attributes the failure of Africa's development to a failure to realize the continent's potential for modernization.

This work is commendable on several counts. First, it is arguably one of the most ambitious syntheses of contemporary African history and politics to date, combining the study of internal and external factors, usually treated separately in the literature under the rubrics of African politics and African international relations. Furthermore, van der Veen adopts a unique multidisciplinary perspective, as well as a long-term historical perspective, rightly arguing that "in order to understand Africa's present-day situation, we must look not only at outside influences but also at long-term, indigenous African elements" (351). Following Basil Davidson (The Black Man's Burden, Times Books, 1992), the author rightly argues that the African neocolonial state is an unreformed European construct that has been left intact by the African politico-bureaucratic elite which took over the reins of government after independence-hence the divorce between the African elites and their people. The Africanization of the colonial state thus "culminated in general dysfunctions, along with financial and moral bankruptcy" (355). Van der Veen is also correct when he observes that contemporary Africa is characterized by a poverty of ideology. Neverdieless, he concludes his book on an optimistic note, predicting that in the foreseeable future Africa will not become more unstable than it is at present, that African states will survive violent conflict, that Africans will obtain more say in running their countries, and that modern African states will eventually emerge.

This being said, this work suffers from a number of major deficiencies of both form and substance. First, the audior generally fails to support his argument with adequate factual and statistical evidence, and whole sections of the book are devoid of references. Furthermore, a work of this magnitude requires, in addition to a country index, a thematic index as well as an index of the names of personalities and authors. Another major problem has to do with van der Veen's arbitrary and unjustifiable exclusive focus on sub-Saharan Africa, dubiously characterized as "a natural unit" (19). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

What Went Wrong with Africa? A Contemporary History
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.