Getting Started

We live in a fast-paced, media-driven society. Information must be simple, clear, and colourful, or it just gets missed. In my quest to bring you ever-closer to the truth about African development, this is a lesson I never cease learning.

For those of you who found my chart summarising African history since independence too complicated, my amazing friend John has (amazingly) produced a simpler version. Rather than tracking country by country, it helps you see how the governmental composition of Africa has shifted over time. (more…)


You won’t have missed all the fuss in the media a few weeks ago about the fiftieth anniversary of the independence of Ghana.

Kwame Nkrumah announces Ghana's independence, 6th March 1957Following on from our recent dash through African history since independence, I thought it would be a good time to focus briefly on Ghana for a slightly more detailed look. Ghana was not only the first African country to achieve independence from colonialism, but in many way encapsulates the journey many African states have gone through since the end of the colonial period: the euphoria of independence, centred around a charismatic leader; the struggle to establish a functioning independent state, often along socialist principles; the transition of beloved leaders into unpopular tyrants; coup and military rule; and finally the hard transition to democracy. (more…)

Martin Meredith‘s excellent book The State of Africa1 gives a concise, thorough, generally impartial and often exhilarating run-through the rollercoaster ride of African politics since the beginnings of independence in the 1950’s. A tale of tyrants, cruel conflicts and broken promises, it’s often scary but never morbid. Its conclusion, though, is striking: “Fifty years after the beginning of the independence era, Africa’s prospects are bleaker than ever before.”

Even I’m not sufficiently presumptuous to try to summarise fifty years of a continent’s history in a blog post. But I can provide a sort of reference guide, for quickly knowing a country’s basic political history. (more…)

“Africa” has become more of a concept than a place in my mind, over the years of famine, civil war, and token coverage of brightly-coloured cultural events in the media. So when I decided to actually look over some of the details of the place, it was a real eye-opener. Geography was always my weak point at school – I think I remember loftily declaring when I was about 16 that “the internet means we don’t need to know where things are any more” – so forgive me if none of this is news to you. (more…)

Over the last week I’ve read a load of essays on everything from the structure of dictatorial power to the effectiveness of participation methods in poverty measurement. Frankly, I didn’t understand much of it. There was a lot of debate about how many extremely poor people there are, and I’ve written a short essay about that. Otherwise, the debates seem focussed on the issue of trade. Essentially, the pro-globalisers point to the success of Asia, which was as poor as Africa thirty or so years ago, as an example of how trade can end poverty. Africa is poor, they argue, because it hasn’t been plugged into trade. Further evidence comes from the fact that over the last twenty years, the period when globalisation has really taken off, poverty has gone down. Other economists question the figures that supposedly show this, arguing that if you take China and India out of the picture, poverty has risen; and that China and India’s success isn’t down to globalisation. (more…)

Warning: quite long. If preferred, download as a PDF

Any serious conversation about the nature and causes of poverty in Africa, and its reduction, must begin with an attempt to measure the scale of the problem. The Make Poverty History campaign, and the huge wave of debate, campaigning and publicity on the topic that seemed to take over the world in mid-2005, made repeated recourse to the more scary-sounding statistics on poverty, most notably that “more than one billion people around the world live on less than one dollar a day.” But once you start to delve a little deeper into the argument, it becomes obvious counting the poor is a lot harder than it seems. (more…)