Read The Challenge for Africa by Wangari Maathai Online


The troubles of Africa today are severe and wide-ranging. Yet, too often, they are portrayed by the media in extreme terms connoting poverty, dependence, and desperation. Here Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and founder of the Green Belt Movement, offers a refreshingly unique perspective on these challenges, even as she calls for a moral revolution among AfricaThe troubles of Africa today are severe and wide-ranging. Yet, too often, they are portrayed by the media in extreme terms connoting poverty, dependence, and desperation. Here Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and founder of the Green Belt Movement, offers a refreshingly unique perspective on these challenges, even as she calls for a moral revolution among Africans themselves.  Illuminating the complex and dynamic nature of the continent, Maathai offers “hardheaded hope” and “realistic options” for change and improvement. She deftly describes what Africans can and need to do for themselves, stressing all the while responsibility and accountability. Impassioned and empathetic, The Challenge for Africa is a book of immense importance....

Title : The Challenge for Africa
Author :
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ISBN : 9780307390288
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 336 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Challenge for Africa Reviews

  • Ryan
    2019-01-19 15:49

    Wow. I'm still absorbing this book and the many, many, many ideas it casually contains. To start off, here's Publishers Weekly's review:"Africa's moral and cultural dysfunctions loom as large as its material problems in this wide-ranging jeremiad. Maathai (Unbowed), a Kenyan biologist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for organizing the tree-planting Green Belt Movement, surveys Africa's struggle with poverty and disease, political violence, climate change, the legacy of colonialism and a global economy that's stacked against it. But the deeper problem she sees is the selfishness, opportunism and shortsightedness of Africans themselves, from leaders who exploit their countrymen and loot their nations' resources to poor farmers who ruin the land for short-term gain. Maathai means this as an empowering message aimed at a mindset of dependency that would rather wait for someone to magically make development happen; she urges Africans to recover indigenous traditions of community solidarity and self-help, along with the virtues of honesty, fairness and hard work. Maathai shrewdly analyzes the links between environmental degradation and underdevelopment, and floats intriguing proposals, like banning plastic bags as a malaria-abatement measure. But the challenges she addresses are vast and intractable—and sadly, many of the development and environmental initiatives she extols seem to have already fizzled."I was very impressed by her argument, her intellect, and both her optimism and skepticism. My thoughts, as a white American who has never been to Africa and has taken a college class focused largely on the effects of colonialism, run naturally to a guilt of the developed world taking advantage of a resource-rich undeveloped world. If the continent didn't have to deal with this, I think, then things would be different. Maathai says that yes - while the developed world needs to cancel the debts incurred by African leaders who plainly could not pay them back, and while the mining companies headquartered in rich countries should be mindful of the terrible effect that their resource extraction has on the local populace, and while foreign governments and companies prolong and enable warfare and suffering by selling weapons to warlords, and while Russian fishing trawlers fish the waters off Angola, bring the fish back to Russia, and ship them frozen back to Angola to sell in the market - the real palpable fault lies with African leaders. These leaders, she says, have the benefit of education and influence, money and power, yet largely choose to squander it all on self-aggrandizement, short-term thinking, uneducated decisions, and ignoring the lessons learned by other countries. She has a long list and a comprehensive plan that these leaders should follow in order to: strengthen democratic institutions and revive trust in the government; respect and preserve natural resources so that all may benefit for centuries to come; and foster a culture of peace so that societies and families exist to be able to implement and take advantage of the other two "legs of the stool."You could make the argument that she is arguing for utopia, but because her recommendations and observations are so attainable, and so logical, and so easy, this argument is unfair. Africa deserves even some tiny steps toward utopia, doesn't it?Her writing is clear, very intelligent, thoughtful, and powerful. I sincerely hope people listen to her - both here and in Africa.

  • Calzean
    2019-02-12 09:48

    This is a well written, structured and personnel account from an African thought-leader. She articulates the woes of Africa but also proposes solutions which will require leadership and for the people to help themselves.Her thoughts on civil society's involvement reminded me of Ricardo Semler's people-centric empowerment strategies that work so well. I was also impressed with her discussion on the micro-nations that are make up each nation-state and how to benefit from this diversity instead of having tribalism start conflicts. I also enjoyed her link of culture to the environment and the loss of tradition culture as one of the main problems facing Africa.This book is almost a decade old and the author has unfortunately died. I would have liked her opinions on how things are travelling today in Africa.

  • Chrishna
    2019-02-15 07:54

    Wangari Maathai clearly had some assistance in writing this book about Africa's challenges. Her writing is much improved from her previous book. I do take issue with her sometimes contradictory propositions. For example, in one chapter she states that one problem is that too much aide is given to Africa and then a chapter later she complains that not enough aide is given to Africa. Unfortunately, my overall sense from the book was a overwhelming sense of despair that an entire continent has so many seemingly insurmountable challenges. However, her best point was that each day millions of Africans are working hard and trying to have a good life and yet the primary Western image of Africans is that of starving children. A valuable, if depressing, read.

  • Leone
    2019-02-14 11:11

    An excellent analysis of the environmental, social and political challenges in Africa written by an environmentalist, a woman, an African, a politician but mostly from a leaders perspective. Those who are leaders or who aspire to be leaders can gain insight into what Africa could be with a different direction. It is a book filled with hopeful examples of individuals and groups who are right now making a difference and strengthening the future in Africa. It took a while to read because there are many ideas presented that I needed to ponder before moving on. It is a book worth reading by all in the global community.

  • Daniel Kibsgaard
    2019-02-06 07:59

    Maathai is passionate about modern Africa and lays out a comprehensive strategy to bring the continent into the 21st century whilst emphasizing the importance of retaining cultural heritage. She finds African solutions to African problems which she describes very convincingly and through providing evidence.The Challenge for Africa is missing in some criticism of African history. It should consider the lack of a self critical, literate, engineering society that strives to find solutions to problems. She does not full blame colonialism, yet must consider the poor pre-colonial competitiveness of African society, in our world.

  • Susan Steed
    2019-01-26 13:08

    "The decline of much of Africa's fishing industry provides an unhappy glimpse into an economic order what continues to place commodities first and communities last, in which a problem like overfishing in the norther Atlantic and other regions of the world is exported to Africa, where it has led to African fish stocks and livelihoods being decimated. It is an example of how the world's interactions with Africa are not necessarily motivated by alruism, but by the self-interest of states seeking to maximise their opportunities and minimize their costs, often at the expense of those who are not in a position to do so".This book is brilliant. It covers loads. It's the first book I have seen which brings together some cutting critiques on the economy, alongside more holistic writing on the environment.There are so many ideas in the book. The perspective shifting bit for me was her analysis of colonialism with a focus on the role of Christianity. She is very critical of missionaries. So, for example, pre Christianity, Mount Kenya was called Kirinyaga, or 'place of brightness'. The Kikuyus believed that God dwelled on the mountain. That the rains, clean drinking water, green vegetation, and crops, all of which had a central place in their lives, flowed from it. Christians told them God did not live there, but in heaven so the mountain and it's forests, previously considered sacred, could be encroached upon.She doesn't simplify, and she doesn't blame colonisalism on everything (there is lots on deforestation, civil society, debt, aid, etc). But reading this book has changed the way I relate to Western environmental movements. So, for example, I went to an event on the circular economy in St Paul's Cathedral where a number of Christian charities were speaking, plus others. And it struck me as extremely hypocritical that, in the West, we can have the cheek to come up with 'new' forms of organising the economy, like the circular economy, when whole communities around the world were already doing this before we came along. Following in footsteps of the slave traders, merchants and missionaries who took resources out of Africa are the economic experts and aid workers with 'new' ideas but never seeing how related their position is to the people who came before them.She doesn't pull any punches but her vision is optimistic. What an incredible woman she was and I am optimistic to hear from a future generation of leading African female thinkers like her.The book is also beautifully written, here is a quote that I particularly like."In seeking restoration for my continent, I am quite literally restoring myself - as, I believe, is every African - because who we are is bound up in the rivers and streams, the trees and the valleys. It is bound up in our languages, rich in aphorisms from the natural world and our fragile and almost forgotten past."

  • Andrew Benesh
    2019-01-17 10:58

    The Challenge for Africa is a complex, multifaceted examination of the political, social, economic, and cultural problems facing the leaders of modern African states and a series of potential solutions for addressing these problems. Because the book takes on a wide range of intersecting problems, most chapters are about half history, a quarter development theory, and a quarter policy proposals. The resulting book provides a sound orientation to modern African issues, and is a good starting place for understanding what does and does not work in development work. Those who wish to enact change in Africa via outreach or political intervention should spend some time with this book.Of interest to me was Maathai's insightful analysis of how cultural structures associated with both colonialism and post-colonial identities challenge the implementation of broader political projects. The roles of missionaries and colonialists in de-stabilizing identities and cultural structures and their exacerbation of competition between micro-national groups reflects an understanding of African social issues that is often overlooked by other African development scholars. Similarly, the discussion of the complicated problems of providing direct financial aid does a good job in highlighting both the need for continued external economic support, the importance of fostering independence through natural resource development, and the hazards of poorly implemented aid dissemination strategies.In reading other reviews, it seems many reviewers expect very straightforward solutions to the problems of Africa, and are very focused on singular aspects of problems or solutions (e.g., aid money is often used to exacerbate income gaps and support unsustainable agricultural strategies, and is therefore harmful), and miss the intersections between her solutions (e.g., recognizing the need for ongoing and increased aid, but changing mechanisms to ensure appropriate use of funds in sustainable projects that foster agricultural and economic independence). It is important to acknowledge that the solutions Mathaai offers are imperfect and overlook many problems that African nations experience, but they do provide a framework for developing economic strength, agricultural security, and social unity which are the pre-requisites for addressing many of the continent's other problems. Acting on these recommendations also positions African nations to be more influential in addressing international issues which greatly affect them, such as continued resource exploitation by foreign governments and the ongoing damage of climate change.

  • S.E. Nelson
    2019-01-29 10:17

    I read this complex book because it was written by someone I respect. May she rest in peace. The book covers a lot of topics in detail that affect Africa including its colonial past. There was not much that I didn't already know but I am glad that it was written by a Nobel prize winner, so that it is taken seriously. From an African point of view, I agree with her points and solutions when it comes to political and economical issues facing Africa today. Good governance and self sustenance is the way forward, although one solution will not apply to all 54 countries. Having said that, I am still of the view that aide is very important in some sectors e.g. health. If it wasn't for organizations like the WHO, UNAIDS and Global Fund, a lot more people would be dead. If you are interested in African development, this book is for you.

  • Drick
    2019-01-16 09:08

    Some years ago I read a book on post colonial Africa written by a European journalist. I was appalled at the elitist bias in this supposedly historical book. I asked a colleague of mine from Malawi about a good book on Africa by an African; he could not recommend one. Now I have found the book Wangiri Matthai, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient for environmental work in the Green Belt Movement, is a native Kenyan, who speaks as an African about Africa to Africans and those concerned. While remaining critical of the European colonialist who destroyed African consciousness, she also speaks to her fellow Africans as to their need to take charge of their history. The book is full of examples from past and current history on what has been done and can be done to bring Africa to the place of prosperity and stability it deserves.

  • Xavier
    2019-02-15 12:49

    Wangari Maathai is a Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of Green Belt Movement. In her book, The Challenge for Africa, she talks about the ways and means through which Africa can recover from extreme poverty, conflicts between micro-nations, destruction of environment, etc. The book identifies the problems to the core and suggests solutions. The book is choreographed in order: history and background, politics and economical situations, leadership and governance, relation between the ethnic micro-nation and nation-state, environmental challenges and challenges faced by individuals of Africa. The problems identified and the solutions suggested in this book are very real and convincing. I suggest this book to everyone as this is a window to African issues and their challenges to climb up the ladder.

  • Debby
    2019-02-07 15:14

    My literary agent, LH, recommended this book to me. Excellent account of the struggles the people in Africa encounter. Africans are hardworking, resilient and in need of the basics (education, skills, opportunity, freedom to express their culture/spirituality and a voice in their leadership/government).

  • Lily
    2019-02-15 08:18

    What an interesting, well-written, carefully crafted read. Though everything in this book is old knowledge if one knows even a little bit if African political history, it is refreshing to see a well-educated woman exposing the ills of Africa and proposing concrete ways to alleviate the plight of her people. Well done, Ms. Maathai!

  • Peter Atkinson
    2019-02-10 14:03

    Worth reading and educational.It is interesting that "America" can be substituted for "Africa" in many sentences and when it comes to sustainable development, The World.It's time for humanity to change and for the failing short term leaders to be replaced, and time for the answer to be bloodless - not bloody conflict.

  • Azania Zulu
    2019-02-06 13:56

    Mama Wangari Maathai, Africa's Baobab..she does not only talk about the problems plaguing Africa but she also suggests and provides solutions for our beloved continent. My favourite book on Africa thus far.

  • Tommie
    2019-02-11 13:10

    I liked her autobiography a lot more, and more technical books like Why Nations Fail. This was kind of a less good version of both. I'd mostly recommend it for people who haven't read about development before and will still find sentences like "Africa is a paradox" a revelation.

  • Sara
    2019-02-13 16:08


  • Wangari Mwangi
    2019-02-05 10:10

    Brilliant work (book) of Wangari Mathaai. she calls a spade by its name, and not big spoon. a must read for any African.

  • Teo
    2019-02-12 08:14

    An excellent and credible insight on Africa, with lessons on leadership, bottom-up development and environment that could serve not only African govts, but many countries all over the world...

  • Elliard Shimaala
    2019-01-29 09:56

    "for five centuries, the outside world has been telling Africans who they are....Africans were told that their societies were backwards, their religious traditions sinful, their agricultural practices primitive, their system of governance irrelevant and their cultural norms barbaric"This book hits you with African realities that need to be checked. The fact that it is written by an African with hope for a better Africa puts to shame none African authors pretending to offer solutions yet their biases are so evident in the titles they give their books i.e. the Shackled Continent. Wangari offers a wonderful and holistic perspective of how great Africa can be if Africans decide it to be. As a young African, I love the challenge presented in this book and my resolve henceforth is to be part of the solution to Africa's woes.

  • Travis Lupick
    2019-02-07 07:55

    This review was originally published in the Georgia Straight newspaper.Wangari Maathai has a talent for discussing controversial issues in a friendly tone. The result is a pragmatic book that will open readers’ minds to new ideas. In The Challenge for Africa, the Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize winner expresses cautious support for international aid, but she also questions whether the benefits of aid exceed the costs of potential dependence. She demands that African leaders shun the temptations of corruption and work for the good of their countries, and asks Africans to appreciate the continent’s richest resource: its people.

  • Sarah Logan
    2019-01-28 08:14

    Although I’m a big fan of Wangari Maathai’s, i didn’t enjoy this book much. It tried to cover everything but covered nothing in much depth - the result was many generalizations, very few nuanced explanations, and nothing new. It was pretty despairing and also came across as quite preachy.

  • Raymond Yang
    2019-02-05 12:06


  • Matt Theis
    2019-02-02 11:00

    best book in this genre I have read to date, characterizing the problems/solutions differently than Ive seen elsewhere and best matches my experiences in africa.

  • Tinea
    2019-01-27 16:16

    This is a good survey of development topics, distinguished by an emphasis on national-level policies and leadership, culture and civil society, and the environment. Maathai covers all the familiar ground, reviewing colonialism, neoliberalism, debt, and the continuing extractive economic structures that maintain the North's global dominance via exploitation of the global South. Maathai examines ethnic conflict by breaking down the difference between celebrating and supporting what she terms 'micronations,' the diverse ethnic and cultural groups that were arbitrarily bound together into macr onation-states during colonial times, and stirring ethnic hatred. Maathai believes that ethnic conflict can be lessened by elevating, respecting, engaging, and educating each other about micronations, since so much conflict emanates from the fight for an ethnic group's survival. Denying or erasing these cultural identifies normalizes the most powerful while pushing many allegiances underground where they may rupture violently when resources are at stake. As the founder of the Green Belt Movement and a biologist by training, Maathai clearly places the concept of 'resources' within the larger ecosystem. Maathai lays out the intersecting impacts of deforestation on agriculture, water, and climate (both local and gloabl). She advocates for the multiple ways that planting trees and preserving forests (especially in the Congo River Basin) is critical to African and global survival. Anyone who has already studied international development in school or read a few general surveys should probably skip this and go straight to Maathai's phenomenal and inspiring biography, Unbowed. In The Challenge for Africa, Maathai addresses African leaders at the national level. She has the diversity of experience to truly center the desires and needs of marginalized rural women, their cultures, and their ecosystems to create holistic, prioritized, and radical policy recommendations. Yet, this focus on national-level policy is to the surprising exclusion of grassroots power, grassroots political mobilization, and grassroots direct action. The Greenbelt Movement reclaims land through tree planting, both ecologically because trees help curb soil erosion and conserve water, but also politically, by the group's use of tree planting as a defensive weapon against land grabs and human rights abuses, by planting trees and themselves in the way of bulldozers and police. The Green Belt Movement's work is by and for rural women and the people and land they love and depend on, so it was jarring how little acknowledgement of poor women's power to make change was represented in this book. Even if the policy recs were solid, the process to enact them was dependent on moral good will from elites who have been convinced to release their hold on power and resources. I must assume this book was strategically targeted toward African political and economic elite, the diaspora, and some international policymakers. Otherwise, what a disappointingly cynical, paralyzing conclusion.All that said, big ups to non-fiction African development survey books written by African grassroots feminist political activists! I'd pair this with Soyinka's Of Africa, and I guess, though I vehemently disagree with her conclusions, Moyo's Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa. What else?

  • Jamie
    2019-01-22 14:56

    Wangari Maathai poignantly argues the importance of identity, culture and the environment in improving conditions across Africa. Wangarai deconstructs historic events to illustrate their destructive influence on the fabric of African society. Her intention is not to place blame but rather to illuminate the effects and to inspire local activism. Wangarai calls on Africans to embrace and understand their own culture and history. She calls on Africans to live for the life of the present rather than being devoted to the delights of the after-life, a focus embedded by Christianity. She calls on Africans to value their own capacity and responsibility to act, rather than constantly depending on outside forces. Wangarai notes that an estimated $140b has been stolen from Africa as a result of corrupt officials; Africa is not poor, she just cannot protect her own wealth.Wangarai outlines that the future of Africa will be dependent on three aspects, which like the three legs of a wooden stool are all critical to ensure stability: democracy, the sustainable and accountable management of natural resources for today and future generations, and a culture of peace that promotes fairness, respect, compassion, forgiveness, recompense and justice. Wangarai advocates for democracy not just in terms of 'one person, one vote.' Wangarai considers democracy to include the protection of minority rights, an effective and representative parliament, an independent judiciary, informed and engaged citizenry, an independent fourth estate, the rights to assemble, practice one's religion freely, and advocate one's views peacefully without fear of reprisal and an empowered and active civil society. Wangarai's vision of development is the means to achieve a quality of life that is sustainable and allows the expression of the full range of creativity and humanity. Wangarai calls for a shift away from the short-term crisis mentality of development assistance, to focus more on long-term prevention, strengthening health systems and implementing policies to improve the basic health of Africans. Africans need to understand the intrinsic value of interventions and the related risks and be engaged in the development process to facilitate self-sufficiency. She calls for more African debt forgiveness; despite having only 5% of the developing world's income, Africa has about two-thirds of the world's debt. She calls for industrialized nations to remove food subsidies and trade agreements that unfairly hurt African producers. Industrialized nations need to transfer science and technology, particularly green technology, to the nations less advanced. Additionally there is a need for institutions to be created that provide pensions and support for former heads of state, civil servants and veterans. Wangarai also calls for the environment to be at the center of domestic and international policy and practice. The heart of many conflicts in Africa relate to degraded land, depleted water sources, lack of rain, poor soils and desertification. Destroying the environment is ultimately undermining the African way of life. The current pace of deforestation is a concern in thirty-five African countries, with significant loss of biodiversity affecting thirty-four. "Without human beings, the creatures and plants and trees would flourish; but without those species, human beings have no hope for survival."

  • Andy
    2019-01-22 07:53

    Development, like a traditional African stool according to Ms Maathai, is based on three legs - democratic space; sustainable and accountable management of natural resources both for those living today and for those in the future, in a manner that is just and fair, including for people on the margins of society; and cultures of peace- fairness, respect, compassion, forgiveness, recompense, and social justice.Ms Maathai says that "Scientists estimate that the cutting down of trees in the Congo Basin has led to an average 5 to 15 percent drop in the amount of rain that falls in the Great lakes region of the United States - reaching a peak of 35 percent less each February. At the same time, rainfall has been reduced by as much as a quarter immediately north of the Black Sea. (262 - 263)I liked the book and believe a lot of what she has to say but there are also things I don't agree with. It's interesting to read multiple books on development in Africa from actual African sources rather than relying on what Sachs, Easterly, etc. have to say. But, just because Maathai and Moyo are African, does this make them better sources of information? They have their own prejudices and filters which limit their views. Whatever the case, as everybody should know by now, the solution for the problems in one area, country, town of Africa do not always translate to other areas. I like the idea of embracing diversity and re-branding tribes as micro-nations to do away with the negative connotation "tribes" has taken on.

  • Martin Bonobo
    2019-01-17 10:18

    Write a review...A great perspective on environmental, agricultural, political (particularly "ethnic/tribal" politics), feminist and community aspects of African development. I was disappointed that so little attention was given to the barriers to small business (and business in general) in Africa. Africa is bursting with people trying to trade but almost all are prevented from growing beyond the small-scale informal sector. She gives the issue one paragraph in relation to deterrents to returning expatriates.Instead, she optimistically calls for changes in local government policies, leadership ethics, culture, the international trading and political regimes and educational policy to effect change. These things are definitely worth lobbying for, but I think, as in China and now, India, Africans will do better (at least, economically) when they can get on with doing business, not waiting for the world to change.Passionately and intelligently written. Highly recommended to anyone interested in African development..Instead, whil

  • Kathleen McRae
    2019-01-31 13:48

    The Challenge for Africa by Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari iMaathai is a finely written book about Africa's challenges past present and future. Ms Mathai knows her stuff and while detailing the many plagues that challenge Africa she gives solutions.....environmental solutions that are not unattainable.She realizes that you cannot make people care about anything beside their bellies if they are starving and constant warfare produces an inertia that allows only the motions of being alive.The only reason I did not give this book a full five stars was because the author placed very little emphasis on the empowerment of women and instead devoted a chapter to returning males to their families to reestablish the family unit.She felt this would deal with family disintegration and rampant infidelity. The problems in India at this time reflect a similar issue.Raising males that recognize females as equals and partners different but not less would go a long way to empowering these dysfunctional societies.

  • Kristy
    2019-02-05 16:14

    Wangari Maathai is clearly a rock star and she wrote a rock star book to the people and leaders of Africa and the world. I just hope someone reads it and turns her message into action.Of course I had my moments where i disagreed with some of her recommendations but was mostly her cheerleader. I think the overall message is pretty close to right on regarding identity and cultural confusion being a major root of Africa's difficulties.She does a beautiful job at subtly shaking her finger at people known to do bad things for Africa and then she straight up calls out the people she has interacted with and observed doing negative things for Africa. She has a gift in word smithery and know when not to hold back. It's a lesson in political writing style. I wouldn't recommend this book as a first book to read about African politics and policy. Get familiar with the issues first or this will be a very dry read. I was very interested and some parts lagged for me.

  • Rafiki
    2019-01-20 13:51

    Maathai presents a fresh analysis of the complex issues facing Africa today. She offers hope through passionate ideas for improvements-mostly through the nurturing of some basic values. Respect of self & of others,civic & personal responsibility/accountability ,and care for the environment are keys. Africans of all micro-nations(tribes) are encouraged to reclaim their cultures, but live in peace with those of other micro-nations. She challenges African leaders to provide (and civil society to expect)governance for the good all. She writes that the rich natural resources should not be exploited ,and should really benefit the peoples of Africa. Maathai also asks the international community to practice fair trade,to forgive debts,and to properly apply their aid towards practical education and means to self-sufficiency. Her messages are not only important for Africa,but for us all.