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Journal of World History 12.1 (2001) 244-248

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Book Review

Africa in Chaos

Africa in Chaos. By GEORGE B. N. AYITTEY. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998. Pp. xvi + 399. $35.00 (cloth); $18.95 (paper).

Issues of continental African development/underdevelopment have been hotly debated within the last forty-five years. Immediately after World War II, a number of Pan-African students, intellectuals, ex-service men, labor union leaders, and others began to actively agitate for the liberation of European colonized territories in Africa. In 1947 Kwame Nkrumah was invited to be publicity secretary of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) Party in present-day Ghana, under [End Page 244] the leadership of Pan-Africanist, Kwame Nkrumah. In 1963 and 1965, President Nkrumah published his Africa Must Unite and his Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism, respectively. By the 1970s the debate over African development/underdevelopment was wide open, and two major schools of thought had emerged. Walter Rodney (1972) argued, in his How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, that European colonialism, Western Education, the Atlantic Slave Trade, and the unequal trade relations between Europe and Africa held Africans down; in his Neo-Colonialism, Nkrumah saw political freedom but not economic liberation from Western Multinational Corporations. American and European scholars saw that Africa's economic problems derived from Africa's internal conditions. If only African countries could adopt Western paradigms of development, they would be well on their way to industrial development. As such, Africans needed an educated manpower, industrial plants, hydroelectric power stations, massive road construction projects, financial aid, and technological transfer from Europe and the United States.

But while the United States and Western Europe "pushed" their developmental programs on Africa, the former USSR was not going to be left out of this scramble for the African continent. Some African leaders embraced Afro-Marxism, African Socialism, and Pan-Africanism, while others advocated the free market system, pragmatism, or non-alignment as a means to develop their newly "freed" African territories. In this euphoria, the African military and police forces, traditional African political institutions, African elites, and the African masses contended for the scarce political and economic resources in all the newly liberated African nations.

While those forces "battled" each other, African economies and political systems took downward spirals and nose-dived into anarchy, poverty, one-man-rule, kleptomania, capital flight, ghost workers, Swiss-bank socialism, civil wars, ethnic cleansings, presidents-for-life, and moral putridity. In this zeitgeist, the African masses became victims of black neo-colonialism in which the African elites--political and military leaders, bureaucrats, and the mid- to upper-level academicians --became beneficiaries of the Pan-African political economic cake; the African masses were left holding the bag.

These are the issues elucidated in Professor Ayittey's 1998 Africa in Chaos, an extension of his 1992 Africa Betrayed, in which he also held African leaders responsible for Africa's economic and political decay.

In the prologue to Africa in Chaos, Ayittey states that "given the necessary incentives and rewards, Africans...can excel. Just like any other people" (p. 2). Here he accuses African leaders of "intellectual [End Page 245] barbarism" (p. 3), for not providing conducive intellectual environments and incentives to ordinary Africans who attempt to find solutions to their daily socioeconomic problems. "It is this intellectual barbarism, perhaps more than anything else, that lies at the heart of the African crisis" (p. 3).

In chapters one and two, Professor Ayittey makes it clear that continental Africa has an abundance of natural resources that could be used to develop Africa, were it not for Africa's incompetent, kleptomaniac leaders. Professor Ayittey clearly comes from the "internalist" school of thought, as opposed to the "externalist" that blames all of Africa's problems on the European colonial legacy, Western imperialism, the slave-trade, multinational corporations, and the unjust international economic system. "It must be stated categorically that it is not the responsibility of the international community to feed Africa or solve every African crisis. The international community can help, but the initiative has to come from Africa...