Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Review of The Challenge for Africa by Wangari Maathai

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = Politics
Book Club Event = Book List (02/17/2024)
Intriguing Connections = 1) Get To Know The People Of The World (African States), 

Watch Short Review


“One of the major tragedies of postcolonial Africa is that the African peoples have trusted their leaders, but only a few of those leaders have honored that trust.  What has held Africa back, and continues to do so, has its origins in a lack of principled, ethical leadership.  Leadership is an expression of a set of values; its presence, or the lack of it, determines the direction of a society, and affects not only the actions but the motivations and visions of the individuals and communities that make up that society.  Leadership is intimately influenced by culture and history, which determine how leadership perceives itself and allows itself to serve: whether it has self-respect, and how it shapes public and foreign policy.” – Wangari Maathai, Chapter Two: A Legacy Of Woes, Page 24

“Like other developing regions, Africa has had to contend with a set of external conditions imposed by the industrial world that were meant to combat poverty and foster growth, even though they sometimes had precisely the opposite effect.  For decades, African states were offered or even urged to accept loans to finance large-scale development projects.  Many of these were inappropriate to Africa’s needs or simply fronts for official corruption.  As the debt and interest payments mounted, African states were more often than not returning more funds to the industrialized countries than they were receiving in aid.  In spite of their demonstrable corruption and lack of democratic bona fides, many leaders of African countries continued to receive funding from international agencies and donor nations, inhibiting the prospects for development and further impoverishing the African people.” – Wangari Maathai, Chapter 3: Pillars Of Good Governance: The Three-Legged Stool, Page 43

“While aid can be a very useful tool for development, it may also be achieving a completely opposite outcome, undermining its stated objectives and leaving a majority of Africans dependent rather than empowered.  For instance, donor nations ship or fly in food aid rather than helping to implement sound food and agricultural policies that would allow African countries to feed themselves when harvests fail and global food prices rise.  Instead of encouraging and fostering capacities and skills in countries themselves, foreign experts continue to manage many essential tasks.  Many aid programs still treat symptoms and manage emergencies rather than supporting investments for the long term so that crises either do not occur or can be handled and resolved with limited or no international assistance.” – Wangari Maathai, Chapter Four: Aid And The Dependency Syndrome, Page 67


Is This An Overview?

This book expresses the problems in Africa, to rectify the challenges that have kept Africa from success.  Understanding how to overcome the challenges, would mean Africa’s success.  The challenges come from various sources such as foreign and domestic policies, leadership, culture, and the environment.  Leadership determines much of what happens in a state, but few African leaders reciprocated the trust and honor that their people gave them. 

Many African states have been colonies, but a colonized past does not justify the African leaders corrupt behavior years after gaining independence.  Many leaders misallocated resources to benefit themselves rather than their people, even using repressive methods on their people.  Loans were made to African states, with conditions that were meant to benefit them, but had the opposite effect.  Funds from loans and donations have been taken by leaders, which deprived the funds from their intended purpose, but also forced the people to repay the debts.  More was repaid in servicing debt obtained from inappropriate loans, then the aid Africa received.  Aid has created a culture of dependence, as the people rely on obtaining more aid rather than develop their own sources of wealth. 

Africa’s success needs to be built on democratic representation, natural resource management, and a culture of peace that supports fairness, compassion, and justice.  Although mired by challenges, many people live their lives responsibility.  The people have the capacity and ability to overcome the challenges that they face.  To build the political, economic, environmental, and cultural institutions that would enable African success.  


How Did Africa Gain Sovereignty?

Many African states used to be colonies of European power.  European powers wanted to exploit Africa’s resources, rather than develop the region.  There were African people who cooperated with the colonizers, who benefited by getting resources and positions that they would not have had otherwise.  These cooperators supported the undermining of their own people. 

There were Africans who fought in WW2, and learned the strategies of warfare.  When Europe was weakened after WW2, and the Africans came back home, they used what they learned to start liberation campaigns.  After gaining political independence, there were few African leaders who put their people first.  Often turning against the people who gave them power and privilege.  The African leaders did not even change the colonial systems of governance that exploited people and resources. 

As African states gained independence, European powers wanted to maintain a supply of resources.  Europeans used tactics to make sure that power was held with those who would politically cooperate.  Favoring cooperative African leaders economically and militarily.  Cooperative leaders were protected from coups, and their human rights violations were not questioned.  African leaders who wanted to develop Africa or remained nonaligned, were denied support. 

Africa was used as part of the Cold War between U.S. and the Soviet Union.  Using Africa against Communism and U.S. expansionism.  Divisions within Africa were fostered.  During this era, bad governance was ignored, while those who were uncooperative were removed or made irrelevant.


What Is Africa’s Political Structure?

Leadership is meant to express the values of the people, and determines how a society functions.  Few African leaders have returned the trust that their people put in them.  Politicians misallocated resources to satisfy themselves or investors at their people’s expense.  Rather than investing into the productive capacity of their people.

Leaders can find them prisoners of those who helped them obtain power.  Alternatively, they might not want to leave office for fear of reciprocated persecution by a different government.  Leaders can lose a lot when relinquishing power.  Fighting dictatorship with democratic means is difficult, especially dictatorships which abused human rights. 

Colonialism no longer justifies bad governance after decades of independence.  Inexcusable for failing to protect their citizens, or respond defensively when citizens seek help.  Leadership needs to stop being corrupt and selfish.  Leadership can be demonstrated by everyone, not just those on top.  Those in a leadership position may not be true leaders. 

African states are composed of loose collection of ethnic communities, micro-nations.  Brought together by colonial power.  The number of people within the ethnic group determines political power.  African leaders claim to support the state, while identifying with micro-nation to divide people and control them.  They used their ethnicity to gain and maintain power.  Disloyalty to an ethnic group is politically dangerous, even physically dangerous.


How Did Loans And Trade Policies Effect Africa?

The international community did provide bad trade and loan policies, but not all problems came from the international community.  The international community wanted to help Africa.  Imposing conditions that were meant to combat poverty and enable growth, but had the opposite effect.  African states were offered or urged to take on loans that were inappropriate to Africa.  Many loans were simply a front for official corruption.  Conditions included a reduction in social programs.

Loans were made to African leaders even after demonstrated corruption, and the leaders behaving irresponsibly.  A significant portion of the funds were appropriated by leaders.  Used for the leader, rather than on the people they were intended for. 

Loans were extended to support friendly leaders, and favorable business arrangements.  Access to loans was a way to control African leaders.  Making leaders who were more accountable to international donors than their own people.

As debt needed to be repaid with interest, Africa ended up replaying more money than the amount received in aid.  A vicious cycle of indebtedness, which required reduced government expenditures, increased privatization, changing or terminating social services.

These are illegitimate debts as the loans were inappropriate, and the leaders discredited.  The debt is taking resources out of Africa rather than providing for basic functions they were meant to provide.

Foreign government made trade agreements with African states, which over extracted African resources.  While industrialized states protected their markets and were unwilling to remove their protection, Africa could not protect their markets.

Africa experienced a resource curse, as they lacked the technology to use the resources and had to rely on others to exploit and share the finished products.  African government did not diversity their economies.  Africa did not develop industries to have the capacity to add value to the resources by producing finished products, or supported African entrepreneurs or markets. 


How Does Culture Effect Africa?

Funding is important, but if that was the sole problem, then problems would have been resolved.  There are problems with the aid delivered such as African government and people are not active participants in development. 

Aid can leave people dependent rather than empowered.  Dependent on getting more aid, rather than developing their own practices to produce wealth.  Aid delivers short-term benefits without long-term results.  Dependency that has led Africa into passivity, fatalism, and failure.  Africans have come to believe that they cannot act on their own behalf.  Eroding self-determinations and values of independence.  A disempowerment that puts African lives in the hands of others.

Money that comes through aid does not get used appropriately.  Party due to misunderstanding or subverting donor intentions for the money.  Party because people do not feel responsibility for the money. 

Many resolutions to problems are temporary with aid.  As the people do not take an active part in the resolutions, they do not understand the reasons for the resolutions, and therefore fall back into their prior habits.  They also do not take responsibility for the community’s continued development.

Africa has a lot of natural resources, and human resources.  The problem is channeling Africans’ capabilities into effective action for development.  Properly targeted and spent aid can develop people. 

Africa is perceived as ruled by injustice, even though many Africans live their lives responsibility.  The image of African helplessness and suffering undermines Africans.  Africa does have problems, and some governments do need to be shamed into taking actions against the problems. 


How Do Africans Use The Environment?

Africa’s resources are being over extracted, but it is also the people who use the flora and fauna inappropriately.  Misuse of land that leads to soil erosion and desertification.  Destructive land use partly comes form the lack of information due to neglected state agricultural services. 



This is a systematic account of the African continent.  There is limited information on specific African states.  To understand the political and economic situation of each state would require more research.

As the book’s title indicates, the book is about the challenges to Africa.  The problems that Africans have been confronting, and the problems that need to be resolved.  Decisions that are to be avoided.  There is limited information on the decisions that would be appropriate.  Limited references to quality leadership, policies, and resolutions which would provide examples of African states efforts to succeed.  

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What are the challenges to Africa?
•How did African leaders behave?
•How did prior colonial history effect forthcoming decisions? 
•Why were loans made to African leaders?
•How did African leaders use the loans?
•What conditions and effect did the loans have?
•How did aid effect African states?
•What is the culture of dependence? 
•What would lead to Africa’s success?
•What are the challenges to Africa’s ecosystem?
•How did African states gain sovereignty?
•How did African leaders treat foreign powers? 
•What are micro-nations? 
•What can make it difficult for a leader to leave political office? 
•What is the resource curse? 
•How did Christianity effect Africa? 
•How to alleviate malaria? 
•What was the Organization of African Unity? 
•What is the practice of harambees?
•What is Kiswahili? 
•Who owns the land of Africa? 
•How did an oral culture effect Africa? 

Book Details
Publisher:               Pantheon Books [Random House]
Edition ISBN:         9780307378095
Pages to read:          236
Publication:             2009
1st Edition:              2009
Format:                    eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall          5