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Book Review: ‘Africa Emerges’ – But From What And Into What?

“Propelled to some extent by significant drivers of economic uplift such as the dramatic spread of mobile telephone capabilities and China’s pulsating appetite for African resources, sub-Saharan Africa, almost for the first time in more than 60 years, has a golden interlude in which it and its peoples can take advantage of abundant new opportunities.”

This is a fine and lofty start to the book, Africa Emerges by Robert Rotberg,   an academic with an established reputation as a researcher and commentator on the continent. Components of this golden interlude, it seems, are the “startling improvements in child mortality,” the decline in dictatorships and the drop in deaths from civil conflicts, which mean that Africa is no longer the basket-case of the world.

But the basket-case, dark continent approach to Africa was always questionable and selective, so from the beginning I was inclined to ask from what Africa is emerging and into what?

While reviewing this book, I began to wonder if Rotberg’s Africa exists in a parallel universe where the seemingly endless war and suffering in eastern DR Congo, the swirling conflicts across Central Africa, and the continuing, crushing poverty afflicting most ordinary Africans do not exist.

Further into the book, I found sourced and well-set out accounts of many of the problems and prospects facing Africa. The author discusses very real, positive developments and the constant striving of ordinary Africans for a better life, as well as some of the negative factors that threaten the progress of economies.

In particular, I found Rotberg’s discussion of the development of African-originated answers to the questions of how to develop strongly-rooted systems of accountable and responsive government and how to overcome Africa’s deepening dependence on exports of primary or semi-processed commodities compelling.

These parts are interesting and informative, but are marred by concluding sections in most chapters that, I’m sure with the best of intentions, accentuate the positives unrealistically and gloss over the continuing, major structural problems facing African peoples.

There are rose-tinted references to the development of democracy in countries like Ghana (where the courts are deliberating on whether the last elections were a massive fraud) and Namibia (SWAPO is perhaps not the best model for democratic development).

Read more: Keith Somerville,

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