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The Shackled Continent: Power, Corruption, and African Lives

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  475 Ratings  ·  52 Reviews
A former Africa editor for The Economist, Robert Guest addresses the troubled continent's thorniest problems: war, AIDS, and above all, poverty. Newly updated with a preface that considers political and economic developments of the past six years, The Shackled Continent is engrossing, highly readable, and as entertaining as it is tragic.

Guest pulls the veil off the corrupt
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published September 17th 2004 by Smithsonian Books (first published April 2nd 2004)
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Nick Alden Probably for a number of reasons. Attempts to simplify the problem will fail.
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Jul 27, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

I wish I could like this book. I really do. The problem, for me, wasn't the tone or basic presumptions, which any number of self interested commentators described as neo-colonialist or patronising.

It's just that the arguments were pretty slight, often repetitive, and nowhere up to the analytical standard that one would expect of an 'Economist' journalist - perhaps this is an editing issue, because it seems that the book was marketed as mainstream rather than specialist (the cover reads 't
Cailin Deery
Robert Guest is the African correspondent for the Economist, and though he would normally be restricted by the Economist’s analytical viewpoint (which he describes as objective), the Shackled Continent is slanted towards his own views which are capitalist, neoliberal, reasoned, and occasionally offensive. The Shackled Continent looks at the economy, aid programs, and politics of sub-Saharan Africa between about the 1960s and the book’s publication in 2004.

I have mixed feelings about this one. O
Of course you work for the Economist! No other journal produces such standard dribble about Africa quite like the Economist. I read this when I was 19, and even then I could have done a better job writing about this vast, heterogeneous continent. Way to simplify it to corruption, pot-holes, AIDS, civil wars and poverty, and completely overlook the involvement of western corporations and NGOs like the World Bank and IMF. I just cant.
Mitul Choksi
May 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent insight into the woes of Africa. The author does try to oversell capitalism as the only solution to Africa's problems. Although he sells it pretty well, he overdoes that part. But all in all, a good read.
May 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa, nonfiction
// From my 2004 book diary:

If you've travelled in sub-Saharan Africa then you undoubtedly have a fair few unanswered questions about how and why things are as they are. Look no further for a fairly brief but informative look at the issues that plague this beautiful continent (HIV/AIDS, poverty, war, corruption and so on) ... and some radical and not so radical suggestions for how this can be changed in the years to come.

Should be compulsory reading for the "Africa Commission" not to mention NGO
Good points: engaging and illuminating stories from a range of countries, good balance of case studies to illustrate points and broad discussion of theoretical ideas, practical "real world" solutions were suggested.

Bad points: Guest obviously has no idea that socialism can be a spectrum (the same as capitalism) and dismisses any slightly left-of-centre ideas brusquely. Guest is also quite condescending and not self-aware enough in regards to his own Western, conservative, capitalist ideology an
Feb 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Shackled Continent: Power, Corruption, and African Lives, by Robert Guest - former Africa editor for the Economist – is an exhaustive and lively book that tries to explain the reasons behind Africa’s poverty . It accounts for the hard economic situation in African and how to make it better « Africa- is in a bad way and this book is my attempt to explain why. » R. Guest. The author makes it clear from the beginning of the book that he means by Africa the sub-Saharan Africa, excluding the Arab ...more
May 02, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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". 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 de
Elliard Shimaala
Before I wrote this review I did some back ground research on the author to know more about him. I discovered that Robert is a foreign editor for the Economist and appears on two renowned news channels. He also covered Africa for seven years and I think that is what gave him the audacity to write such a prejudiced book about Africa. Take nothing away from Mr. Guest, he did his homework and managed to bring out all the negatives about Africa in this book (just look at the title).

So what’s this b
Overall I thought Guest did a pretty solid job of remaining objective--or as objective as a columnist for the Economist can get. The anecdotes were entertaining and proved most of his points very well. For the most part, his conclusions were fairly intuitive. His solvency recommendations for Africa (revolving around having competent leadership, readjusting how aid is dispersed, adjusting trade barriers, etc) were pragmatic and easily understandable, though just *how* these recommendations might ...more
Sep 28, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's a non-technical book by the Africa editor of The Economist seeking to help answer the question: Why is Africa so poor?

Sub-Saharan Africa's poverty has become the central focus of development discussions in the popular press and amongst NGOs over the last year or so. As someone not very familiar with development literature specific to the continent, I found the book to be an excellent primer on Africa.

Given my greater familiarity with development literature generally, I found Guest to be at
Mike Steinborn
Jun 30, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A thought-provoking book by the Business Editor of The Economist who spent 7 years as The Economist's Africa correspondent. Although he concludes that a major cause of Africa's lack of progress since independence is that it's had and has more than its fair share of incompetent, impractical, and outright predatory leaders, he also identifies other causes which Africans and African countries have little or no control over, like geography, the AIDS epidemic, foreign trade barriers and subsidies, an ...more
Lucy Dee
Mar 29, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Thankfully I only paid $2 for this book. I found it puerile, shallow, and patronising, but also very dangerous in its agenda suggesting that embracing capitalism will be the end to all of Africa's woes. What a load of rubbish!!! Given the amount of favourable reviews on this page I can only assume that most people don't read books about Africa very often. If you really want to read an intelligent book about Africa then read Hochschild's "King Leopold's Ghost", or Meredith's "The State of Africa" ...more
Ryan Mcconville
Sep 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Having read a few books on "Africa since independence" including the longer (and more historical) Fate of Africa by Meredith Martin, Africa by Richard Dowden and the more political Africa Unchained by George Ayiteyy I can confidently recommend Robert Guest's Shackled Continent to anyone looking for a more concise introduction to the challenges facing Africa today. While the book does not offer all of the historical details (nor does it portend to) of some of the larger volumes (like Martin's) it ...more
Mar 17, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club, e-book
I didn't expect to like this book as much as I did. But I felt like it was really well written, and held my interest very well. I'm pretty easily swayed when it comes to things like this, so all of Guest's analysis seems very logical to me. The main thing I took issue with was the fact that so much of what he prescribes for Africa is the opposite of what I believe in. Guest seems to think that capitalism is a must, that globalization and free trade are entirely positive, and that success must be ...more
Sep 30, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book validates a lot of my thoughts and experiences of living in Africa so overall I liked it. There were some bits that rankled me though as in the beginning of the book, he very clearly states that the Saharan States are not included in his analysis of the the Sub-Sahara countries he's familiar with and reports on, but every once in awhile he throws in Algeria to drive in a point. Then the other bit was calling Malawi a temperately located country on this list. As I've crossed the Tropic ...more
Ellis Amdur
Jan 16, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Guest, a noted writer for “The Economist,” writes with harsh honesty about sub-Saharan Africa. Because of this, he has been accused of all the usual suspects: racism, and capitalist/imperialist sympathies. His “crime” is to point out that, as devastating as colonialism, slavery and world economic policies may have been, what is most ravaging Africa today is the corruption and greed of it’s leaders. Why doesn’t aid work - because it is stolen or misused. He takes on the failure of socialism, of e ...more
Nov 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Robert Guest is a former Africa editor for the Economist, and this book is based on his extensive travels and knowledge of the continent. His writing style is conversational and makes this book very easy to read. Guest looks at some of Africa's major problems with the eye of an economist, and his conclusions are both fascinating and accurate. Far from a dry book of economic principles applying to Africa, Guest uses anecdotes and examples to paint a picture of the real situation on the ground in ...more
Mar 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is badly in need of some decent editing. There are repeated stories, and some that go nowhere. And a little rant about how great genetically-modified crops are, which is totally out of place in this book!
For all that, it's a very interesting (though slightly dated) look at what keeps Africa forever poor. I didn't find myself disagreeing with him very much. It's not a book with a happy ending, alas. The culture of violence and corruption that has kept Africa on its knees shows no sign o
An overview of the reasons why Africa is poor, with several "case studies" to illustrate the point, including a chapter on Malawi which, to me, was useful. The overall thesis of the book is that the main reason why African countries are poor is because of bad governance in the many levels of government and it's affiliated organisations.
Guest's insights are good, his logic interesting, but his writing style is a bit off-putting in that it seems somewhat sensationalising and falsely inimating. On
Linda H.
Good and engaging but frustratingly shallow and patronizing analysis. A comment made about seat belts struck a nerve and while road safety is certainly an issue in many places on the continent, such a sweeping generalization was both unfair and fitting with the general western narrative of the area. Read with a grain of salt. That said, could be useful to spur discussion of how portrayals of Africa that masquerade as unbiased accounts because of their lack of blatant offense, continue to shape i ...more
Feb 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in Africa, developing nations, or humanity
An outstanding overview of why Africa is in the state it is today. Robert Guest has a clean, concise writing style which reflects the Economist writer he is, and does a fantastic job clearly connecting the dots of cause and effect, and offering solutions that work. His ideas are clearly laid out and draw on numerous examples from around the continent as well as a few more in-depth case studies. Ultimately something of a primer on modern-day Africa, but a fantastic starting point for anyone unfam ...more
Dec 07, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm only a few chapters in but it's a great, easy read so far. The book blends its dialogue with the reader around one reporter's experiences while covering Africa and his personal advice to the leaders of the Western world on what is wrong with Subsaharan politics and why it is crippling the continent. I recommend it if you've ever said to yourself: I just don't understand why Africa is so poor, so violent, so inept or so "lazy."
Nov 25, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Living in Africa for 6 months exposed me to the surface-faced problems. Guest's book put it through an economic, political and historic framework that allowed me to better understand the travesties and the underlying root of the continent's hardships. I'm glad I didn't read it prior to my stint as it may have caused some jaded cynicism, but grateful to put a lot of my burning thoughts into perspective.
Feb 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great survey of the problems of Africa, with a focus on economic development and corruption. But unlike many books on Africa and its problems, the author lays the blame for the continent's underdevelopment squarely at the feet of its corrupt leaders -- as opposed to colonialism, the World Bank, or western corporations.
Sep 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Guest is (or was) Africa editor for The Economist, and has spent loads of time in various countries around the continent. He provides several theories as to why so many countries in Africa are failing (besides colonialism), and gives examples of each (e.g. the "vampire" government, example is Zimbabwe). An interesting and accessible book, not a dry read of economics lessons.
Dec 28, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Our friends in Africa lent us this book to read while we were there. It's structure is kind of repetitive - here's a problem, these are the (African) countries that suffer from it. Yet it's well-researched and was quite interesting to two people who knew very little about the continent before arriving there.
Feb 12, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Despite the heavy material, this book is a smooth read and it provides an excellent overview of all of the issues Africa faces. He thoroughly tackles each issue (including corruption, AIDS, remnants of colonialization) and provides abundant references. An excellent book if you've ever wanted to know more about sub-Saharan Africa.
Sep 12, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Typical of Economist writers- focuses on African leaders' corruption & belittles colonialism, money systems, trade agreements/tariffs/barriers, racism, paternalism & other meddling activities that have nothing to do with Africans and everything to do with forcing Africa to remain the poster child for poverty & corruption.

An annoying read basically.
Rushay Booysen
Economist writer Robert Guest seeks to outline why Africa remains the shackled continent and what hampers growth on this continent of mine.While a outsiders views are always to be questioned,i find Robert do point out some informative information.Understanding the full extent of this complex history takes alot of hours but i shall not discredit everything he wrote.
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