Funny and honest memoir of a soldier's year in Afghanistan and the absurdity of the modern Army. It draws inspiration from Catch-22, but sometimes tru...moreFunny and honest memoir of a soldier's year in Afghanistan and the absurdity of the modern Army. It draws inspiration from Catch-22, but sometimes truth is even stranger than fiction. (less)
The Shackled Continent asks the all-important question about Africa; why is it the only continent that has grown poorer over the last 3 decades". Robe...moreThe Shackled Continent asks the all-important question about Africa; why is it the only continent that has grown poorer over the last 3 decades". Robert Guests applies his years of experience covering the continent for the Economist magazine and traveling throughout Africa. Though his opinions may be controversial with African governments and westerners alike, they do make a lot of sense.
It is a fact that Africa was carved up, ruled and exploited by colonial powers for centuries. There is no denying that the forced migration of millions of Africans and the establishment of puppet governments were unjust and both contributed to Africa's modern problems. However, African leaders and western powers and special interests have been using history for far too long as a shield to avoid taking responsibility for recent failures. Corrupt African governments, ill planned foreign aid, political instability and inconsistent policy have all contributed to keeping Africa in the third world.
Mr. Guest points out that European colonialism has not been limited to Africa. Yet, Japan, India, China and the US have become industrial and technological powers despite being colonized at one point or another. In each of those cases the bulk of development came from within, even with foreign assistance. The question becomes, what makes Africa different?
As was obvious from the start of the book, Guest is a strong advocate of a free market and of smarter assistance to Africa. By way of example, he shows that the most successful nations have had stable, peaceful governments (at least by comparison), have had wise monetary policies and have encouraged direct foreign investment. The least successful nations have been marked by conflict and instability or had autocratic governments and closed markets. In sum, nation that are closed off to innovation and investment or are heavily dependent on state subsidies to industry will remain underdeveloped. One memorable passage responds to opponents of multinational corporate expansion into Africa on the grounds that the jobs they create are exploitative of a population that will accept less pay. Guest offers the opinion that, with exceptions for worker and environmental safety, such jobs are better than the alternative (no jobs and poverty).
Guest does not propose to definitively solve such an intractable problem such as poverty in Africa but it does add to the discussion on the future of Africa:
My five take aways from the book:
1) Continuously blaming colonialism and racism for Africa's problems offers no solutions and distracts from the mistakes being made today. Corrupt or incompetent African governments, who happen to be black, often use the specter of colonialism to distract from their own problems.
2) Capitalism - the best way for African countries to succeed in the modern economy is to produce or develop things other people want to buy.
3) Africa has often been held back by both autocrats that steal public money and idealistic governments with a reliance on socialism and state-owned industries that become unsustainable without massive public subsidies.
4) More foreign aid alone may not be the best use of money. Foreign assistance needs to be given to stable counties that have sensible and sustainable economic policies. Direct aid should be given with the greatest benefit in mind; such as increasing the availability of inexpensive medication for Malaria or HIV. In order to get the best use of assistance, African governments should not be forced to spend more resources on reporting than on the actual programing.
5) Finally, the quickest way for developed nations to support Africans would be to take down their own economic protections. More than anything else, the west's generous farm subsidies bring the price of goods so low that African producers either cannot compete or have to sell their own goods at a loss. In this way, the U.S and Europe maintain such a trade advantage on Africa and make it that much harder for Africans to develop their economies. (less)