Book club: Africa rising

Will Hodges recommends four books on the continent with some of the world's most troubled nations and fastest-growing economies

The State of Africa

by Martin Meredith

Simon & Schuster, 2011

One of the foremost biographies of the continent, this book tracks political and economic developments across Africa since the end of the colonial era, chronicling the highs and lows of African independence from the 1960s until the present day.

The running theme throughout the book is an overriding sense of disillusionment. Poor governance has consistently limited the ability of African states to make the transition from colonialism to independence, and early optimism has often given way to economic mismanagement and corruption. As Meredith points out, by the mid-1980s most Africans were at least as poor, if not poorer, than they had been during the colonial era. Meredith places much of the blame on Africa's ruling class, whose thirst for wealth and power is portrayed in novel-like detail. However, Meredith is quick to also highlight the negative role played by the international community in the continent's darkest years between the 1970s and 1990s, when many African states became pawns in the cold war's power struggles between east and west.

While not the cheeriest of reads - the chapters detailing Nelson Mandela's achievements during his time as South Africa's president provide one of the few rays of light - there are few more comprehensive and accessible books on modern African history.

Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa; When A Crocodile Eats The Sun; and The Fear

by Peter Godwin

Picador, various

Peter Godwin's memoirs begin with an account of his blissful childhood years in Zimbabwe. These were shattered by the violence of the independence movement in which he fought on the side of the white minority government. Godwin later returned to the country as a journalist, just as the country was beginning its descent into a Mugabe-led abyss at the beginning of the 1990s. His second instalment sees the author narrate the full scale of the country's economic and political decline, with a focus on the human cost of Mugabe's presidency.

Touring the countryside, he meets white farmers whose lives have been deeply affected by Mugabe's land reforms. Visits to the capital Harare, meanwhile, show how the collapse of the country's economy and agricultural sector brought shantytowns and crime to once quiet suburban neighbourhoods. Godwin's anger towards Mugabe forms the basis of the third book, which chronicles the rise of the opposition movement in the run-up to the 2009 general elections.

International interest in Zimbabwe may have dried up following a period of relative calm in the country, but Godwin's account of this turbulent and fascinating chapter in Africa's history remains essential reading for anyone interested in the state of the continent.

Africa Rising: How 900 Million African Consumers Offer More Than You Think

By Vijay Mahajan

Prentice ****Hall, 2008

Despite all the doom and gloom surrounding Africa and its prospects, there's a growing recognition within the global financial community of the continent's potential. Africa Rising bucks the trend of most commentaries by taking a look at the Africa behind the news headlines to depict the continent in a positive light.

At the heart of the book is a story of fast growth in consumer markets. According to Mahajan, rising income levels among Africa's middle class mean there are prospects across a number of business sectors. Behind the growth of these industries is a boom in African entrepreneurship which resembles the success of the small businesses that have driven India's economic growth over the past two decades. Entrepreneurial growth has been aided by the continent's rapidly developing infrastructure, particularly in media services such as broadband internet and satellite phones.

However, Africa's economies still generally remain some way behind their Asian counterparts. But Africa Rising maintains that average gross domestic product per capita across the continent has already surpassed that of India and many regions in China. If Mahajan is to be believed, Africa will be the next major investment hotspot.

Africa's Greatest Entrepreneurs

by Moky Makura

Penguin, 2009

Compiled by female South African writer and producer Moky Makura, Africa's Greatest Entrepreneurs portrays Africans as businesspeople and innovators as opposed to the victims and aid recipients they are too often represented as in the western media.

Makura's book profiles 16 of the most successful entrepreneurs from Sub-Saharan Africa, providing personal accounts of their routes to success, the challenges they've endured along the way, and their achievements. Among those profiled are several black South Africans as well as entrepreneurs from Sudan, Kenya, Ghana, Senegal and Mozambique. Significantly, all the businessmen and women profiled apart from one used local sources of capital to get their ideas off the ground, and none are shown to have any affiliations with their country's political class. Their stories therefore help dispel the myths that Africans are reliant on foreign handouts for economic growth or that they need to have political connections to succeed.

The positive tone of the book provides some much needed optimism to counteract some of the tragedies of Africa's recent past often depicted in literature about the continent, and offers hope that Africa might have a bright future as a centre for business and entrepreneurship.