A sweeping history the fortune seekers, adventurers, despots, and thieves who have ruthlessly endeavored to extract gold, diamonds, and other treasures from Africa and its people.
Africa has been coveted for its rich natural resources ever since the era of the Pharaohs. In past centuries, it was the lure of gold, ivory, and slaves that drew merchant-adventurers and conquerors from afar. In modern times, the focus of attention is on oil, diamonds, and other rare earth minerals.
In this vast and vivid panorama of history, Martin Meredith follows the fortunes of Africa over a period of 5,000 years. With compelling narrative, he traces the rise and fall of ancient kingdoms and empires; the spread of Christianity and Islam; the enduring quest for gold and other riches; the exploits of explorers and missionaries; and the impact of European colonization. He examines, too, the fate of modern African states and concludes with a glimpse of their future.
His cast of characters includes religious leaders, mining magnates, warlords, dictators, and many other legendary figures-among them Mansa Musa, ruler of the medieval Mali empire, said to be the richest man the world has ever known.
In a mammoth tome that's as comprehensive as a single volume on an entire continent can be, Meredith (The State of Africa) looks at Africa through the lens of its native wealth. He begins, appropriately enough, with the statement that "ever since the era of the pharaohs, Africa has been coveted for its riches." Working his way forward from that premise, he concentrates on one geographic area after another, up to the present day. Mansa Musa, the 14th-century emperor of Mali and the richest man the world has ever seen, and King Leopold II of Belgium, "owner" of the Congo and one of the world's most despicable despots, make their requisite appearances alongside scores of other rulers, explorers, and generals. Meredith places the Atlantic slave trade in the context of the slave trades with other markets, including the enslavement of Europeans in North Africa. Gold, ivory, diamonds, and oil also receive their due as sources of wealth and conflict. Colonialism's arc is traced, as are the disappointments, setbacks, and outright horrors of the postcolonial era. The completist will note absences, but this is the new standard against which future histories will be considered. Maps & 16-page photo insert.