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Tropical Gangsters: One Man's Experience with Development and Decadence in Deepest Africa

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Selected as one of the six best nonfiction books of 1990 by the editors f the New York Times Book Review, this is a compelling and entertaining account of the author's two-and-a-half year adventure in Equatorial Guinea, and his efforts to get this small bankrupt African nation on the path of structural development.

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Selected as one of the six best nonfiction books of 1990 by the editors f the New York Times Book Review, this is a compelling and entertaining account of the author's two-and-a-half year adventure in Equatorial Guinea, and his efforts to get this small bankrupt African nation on the path of structural development.

30 review for Tropical Gangsters: One Man's Experience with Development and Decadence in Deepest Africa

  1. 5 out of 5

    Tamara

    I got this book for my 12th birthday. I still haven't figured out if my parents thought it was actually a fictional adventure story, or just that a book about economic development in Equatorial Guinea would be something I might enjoy. As it turned out, I did.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Alice

    I'm not really sure why I enjoyed this book so much; the author talked a lot about economic restructuring/ governmental organization/ etc (snore). But, every time it threatened to get bogged down, he redirected his focus to the people, culture, and natural beauty of the country. He came away from his 2+ years in Equatorial Guinea with a true appreciation of the people, and with an (I think) realistic view of the problems. Too often westerners just say "well, if that just did x . . .". But this a I'm not really sure why I enjoyed this book so much; the author talked a lot about economic restructuring/ governmental organization/ etc (snore). But, every time it threatened to get bogged down, he redirected his focus to the people, culture, and natural beauty of the country. He came away from his 2+ years in Equatorial Guinea with a true appreciation of the people, and with an (I think) realistic view of the problems. Too often westerners just say "well, if that just did x . . .". But this author doesn't try to pretend that he has all the answers, or that the problems are simple. Very enlightening book - I now wonder how the country is handling its new found oil wealth - if all the same basic problems remain now that a bunch of money has entered the equation.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Julie Mahler

    I read this book as I'm currently working on a project in Equatorial Guinea. The book is very readable and provides great insight into how EG matured from independence to its current state. The book occurs pre discovery of oil and gas in EG, so doesn't reflect the new wealth from oil and gas. Steve Coll's book about ExxonMobil (Private Empire) does some of that.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bob Newman

    Best book ever written on Equatorial Guinea This is really an excellent book on all levels and I am very glad to have found it. As a former Peace Corps Volunteer I could empathize with the author's trials and tribulations in trying to pull off some development work in a badly mis-governed country as well as his obvious liking and best wishes for the people he met. From this book you get a very clear and down-to-earth picture of a) Equatorial Guinea, one of the forgotten corners of the world, b)th Best book ever written on Equatorial Guinea This is really an excellent book on all levels and I am very glad to have found it. As a former Peace Corps Volunteer I could empathize with the author's trials and tribulations in trying to pull off some development work in a badly mis-governed country as well as his obvious liking and best wishes for the people he met. From this book you get a very clear and down-to-earth picture of a) Equatorial Guinea, one of the forgotten corners of the world, b)the development game played by donors and recipients, experts, expats, local bureaucrats and dictator's toadies and c) the problems the world, collectively, faces because poorer countries need help but richer countries don't really know how to deliver it. I finished the book wondering, as ever, if the whole development game is hopeless in all countries with autocratic or kleptocratic rulers who care not a whit for the welfare of their own people. "Gangsters" exist amongst the Western aid people too, they are not endemic merely in the Third World. The author was most certainly not one of them. TROPICAL GANGSTERS is a clear, well-written book, one of the best on the development process I have ever seen. I highly recommend it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Walt

    I initially thought this book was about crime and criminals. But it is named after a song. It is the story of an ivy-league economist/ surfer who worked for the IMF in restructuring underdeveloped economies in third world countries. It is a little difficult to believe that the magic elixir for a troubled economy is a combination of weaker currency, less government spending, less government regulation, and privatization. This obviously did not work in Equatorial Guinea, the setting for the book. I initially thought this book was about crime and criminals. But it is named after a song. It is the story of an ivy-league economist/ surfer who worked for the IMF in restructuring underdeveloped economies in third world countries. It is a little difficult to believe that the magic elixir for a troubled economy is a combination of weaker currency, less government spending, less government regulation, and privatization. This obviously did not work in Equatorial Guinea, the setting for the book. However, it is interesting to read the author's observations about the problems afflicting these countries. The Chinese ambassador told the author that the Equatoguineans treat their infrastructure like shirts. When the shirt has a hole, they ignore it, when the shirt has two holes, they ignore it, when the shirt has so many holes it is no longer usable, they discard it. They treat their ports, streets, airport, electricity, and everything else the same way. The author spent a great deal of time simply trying to train government personnel. One thing that is clear from the book is that there is considerable turn-over among government officials. More than once the author had to start over with a new counterpart in government. He also pointed out that corruption, while rampant, was not the principal problem because he had difficulty paying legitimate sums of money to government workers. It comes through that the nation's problems arose from an unequal legal system and poorly trained officials. These seemed more obvious from the text than weaker currencies, less regulation, and more privatization.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Anthony

    Recommended by a colleague who considered this a good complement to Easterly's White Man's Burden, Tropical Gangsters is the retelling of Klitgaard's years as a World Bank consultant to Equatorial Guinea in the 1980's. Tasked with devising an economic rehabilitation program to resolve the country's debt crisis and improve its banking system, Klitgaard offers a compelling view into the "paranoia and bureaucracy" with which the Equatoguinean government met foreign assistance. Since he was on the g Recommended by a colleague who considered this a good complement to Easterly's White Man's Burden, Tropical Gangsters is the retelling of Klitgaard's years as a World Bank consultant to Equatorial Guinea in the 1980's. Tasked with devising an economic rehabilitation program to resolve the country's debt crisis and improve its banking system, Klitgaard offers a compelling view into the "paranoia and bureaucracy" with which the Equatoguinean government met foreign assistance. Since he was on the government payroll and hence not a full-blooded Bank staffer, he more readily won the trust of ministers and government workers which gives this memoir nuance. Had he not been taken in, the reader would be unaware of the infighting, back-stabbing, and power plays across ministries and the executive branch. While Klitgaard makes Tropical Gangsters a more playful read by describing his successful (and unsuccessful) explorations for the perfect wave (he brought his surfboard from the US) and divulging his temptations unabated by the absence of his fiancee, such personalization may result in you taking the book less seriously. If so, at least take away one thing: here was one Bank staffer who recognized the contradictions of development work. Something along the lines of, 'we're here to remedy the economic divide, but we'll still demand a bourgeois life for ourselves..."

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ian

    Why development hasn't happened, isn't happening, and will never happen in most of Africa. In one short, well-written and belly-laughingly hilarious account. Also is a wonderful dismantling of most developmental aid programs and a whole bunch of U.N. sponsored nonsense. A great antidote to all sorts of ridiculous wishful thinking. Investors, take note. Stick to Latin America or Southeast Asia for your "emerging market" needs.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Klitgaard manages to get under the skin of the development industry and lay its guts bare without being bombastic. This is a lovely book, honest, insightful and often very amusing. A must-read for anyone working in the head office of an international development organisation, and a should-read for the taxpayers who pay their salaries.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Laila Kassis

    One of the best books I've read on development. This book brought me closer than any other to truly understanding the realities of development work. The narrative is wonderful and engaging.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ed

    Equatorial Guinea may be the worst governed nation and with the most badly managed economy in the world--although terms like "govern" don't really apply to this tiny, newly oil-rich enclave on the coast of west Africa. The head of state, Teodoro Obiang, seized power from his uncle, Francisco Macías, who became head of state when the colonial power, Spain, left in 1968. Macias was credibly accused of genocide, cannibalism and total insanity--he spoke to God regularly and acted based on those disc Equatorial Guinea may be the worst governed nation and with the most badly managed economy in the world--although terms like "govern" don't really apply to this tiny, newly oil-rich enclave on the coast of west Africa. The head of state, Teodoro Obiang, seized power from his uncle, Francisco Macías, who became head of state when the colonial power, Spain, left in 1968. Macias was credibly accused of genocide, cannibalism and total insanity--he spoke to God regularly and acted based on those discussions. Obiang is preferable only in comparison. While Klitgaard's book is dated--he finished while the discover and exploitation of oil fields wasn't even being considered--it remains a valuable, entertaining and occasionally frustrating account of the collision of the first world with--well with whatever world if after the third. Klitgaard worked in the planning ministry of EQ for over two years, his salary paid by the World Bank, in order to help them get up to western standards in a few minimal (and ultimately completely inconsequential) areas. The institutions that took it upon themselves to intervene into the economic and social collapse there were the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the United Nations. In each case their efforts worsened the problems they had come to help solve. At the end of "Tropical Gangsters" Klitgaard wasn't optimistic about the future. Everything that has happened since then has shown his caution was well placed.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Al Swanson

    The authors experiences mirror much of what I've read about 'aid' and Africa. First, most of the folks at the top are quite simply crooks, so much of the aid money never reaches its intended recipients. Second, even when it does, it's often for programs designed by those from other countries and cultures and while they may feel it addresses the needs of the people - the people don't necessarily feel that way. One of the points he makes is something I've heard quite often. If they can't be absolu The authors experiences mirror much of what I've read about 'aid' and Africa. First, most of the folks at the top are quite simply crooks, so much of the aid money never reaches its intended recipients. Second, even when it does, it's often for programs designed by those from other countries and cultures and while they may feel it addresses the needs of the people - the people don't necessarily feel that way. One of the points he makes is something I've heard quite often. If they can't be absolutely rich, driving a Benz and watching big screen tv's in their leather sofa equipped living rooms, they'd rather not expend the energy. I'm sure some of this is culture (the middle class is not well-developed in much of Africa) and some experience (after all, when you change leaders like underwear and you never know what the next guy is going to take from you, why bother?). Some might also fall into knowing what the aid groups are going to come through with in real life. Many, many promises - very little delivery (although, again, this can often be attributed to the thieves at the top). Enjoyable and a fast read.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Windy2go

    I really enjoyed this book. Maybe I should give it four stars instead of three. It is a non-fictional account of one World Bank representative's few years working in Equatorial Guinea in the 1980s. Robert Klitgaard is a GREAT writer, foisting a variety of plots into what could be a pedantic account of aid work in a struggling African Country, and describing the characters and situations with such depth and interest that I thoroughly enjoyed almost every minute of the book. Sample: The waiting roo I really enjoyed this book. Maybe I should give it four stars instead of three. It is a non-fictional account of one World Bank representative's few years working in Equatorial Guinea in the 1980s. Robert Klitgaard is a GREAT writer, foisting a variety of plots into what could be a pedantic account of aid work in a struggling African Country, and describing the characters and situations with such depth and interest that I thoroughly enjoyed almost every minute of the book. Sample: The waiting room was slightly cooler than the Sahara. We sat and perspired. I loosened the necktie that was de rigueur for meetings with excellencies. I thought of a senior World Bank educator who the day before had been sent home because although he worse a necktie, he didn't have a coat to don at the time the Minister of Education was to receive him. I thought of a swimming pool.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Hansell

    This guy does a pretty good job of summing up my the positive and negative aspects of politics and culture in Equatorial Guinea. Its strange though, this book was about 1985-1986 and I would write many of the same things today. Perhaps I would be MORE critical since the government hasn't really progressed in 20 years, if anything it may be more corrupt as a result of oil money. However, what is 20 years in the historical life of a country or culture? We are still working on our democracy and we This guy does a pretty good job of summing up my the positive and negative aspects of politics and culture in Equatorial Guinea. Its strange though, this book was about 1985-1986 and I would write many of the same things today. Perhaps I would be MORE critical since the government hasn't really progressed in 20 years, if anything it may be more corrupt as a result of oil money. However, what is 20 years in the historical life of a country or culture? We are still working on our democracy and we have 200 years of independence....

  14. 4 out of 5

    Geoff

    An entertaining account of life as a World Bank advisor for several years in a really screwed-up African country during the mid-80s. I now understand why so many PS professors assign it in their courses on international development and aid, etc. Although the country is the former Spanish colony of Equatorial Guinea, I'm sure much of what the book portrays can be found in plenty of other places too. Sometimes the author's narrative borders on the self-indulgent, but the personal touch also makes An entertaining account of life as a World Bank advisor for several years in a really screwed-up African country during the mid-80s. I now understand why so many PS professors assign it in their courses on international development and aid, etc. Although the country is the former Spanish colony of Equatorial Guinea, I'm sure much of what the book portrays can be found in plenty of other places too. Sometimes the author's narrative borders on the self-indulgent, but the personal touch also makes it a more engaging read.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Max

    This was an enjoyable and interesting look at the experience of a World Bank consultant during the two years he spent in Equatorial Guinea. It's engagingly written and I appreciated the wealth of personal anecdotes. The details about negotiations over IMF and World Bank loans were a bit technical for me, but would be very interesting to a development economist. On the whole, this was one of the better things I've read about the experience of a Westerner working in development in sub-Saharan Afri This was an enjoyable and interesting look at the experience of a World Bank consultant during the two years he spent in Equatorial Guinea. It's engagingly written and I appreciated the wealth of personal anecdotes. The details about negotiations over IMF and World Bank loans were a bit technical for me, but would be very interesting to a development economist. On the whole, this was one of the better things I've read about the experience of a Westerner working in development in sub-Saharan Africa.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    This is an interesting inside look at the process of foreign aid to Africa. The author was a consultant on economic development to the govt. of Equatorial Guinea and was involved in that country's negotiations with the World Bank and the IMF. He is a sympathetic narrator and a careful observer of the natural environment, which he clearly enjoys. It gets a little difficult for those with no background in the subject (like me) but was a good introduction.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Aaron

    My friend Jerry L. recommended this to me. I am not sure when exactly I read it because I just went to recommend it to someone and couldn't find it on my Goodreads. I remmber the book as an interesting insight into Equatorial Guinea. The cliquishness of the ruling family, the intense heat, the malaria. The author writes a god clean narrative about his own work for the World Bank there. He probably lauds his own role, but nevertheless a good development read.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Valerie

    World bank employee, former teacher and surfer goes to Equitorial Guinea...and details his aborted attempts to surf, help the local economy and teach the adults. Some of the best moments involved his working with the girls at at orphanage school run by nuns, and his descriptions of some of the people he met while working there.

  19. 4 out of 5

    ali

    An insightful first-hand account of the problems and frustration you can experience while trying to "save the world." Great for anyone who wants to work in development, in my opinion, important for others to read, to understand how difficult it is, and how much different life is in developing countries.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Seulky

    Really 2.5 stars. Interesting topic. Chilling stories about corruption, but could have done without the surf and 'personal' stories - these stories seemed forced and out of place in a book dealing with serious issues.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    This book was very interesting as it relates to international aid and the countries receiving aid. Unfortunately at the book deals with events from the 1980s, I do not know how current this information is.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Wendy

    Note the date that I read this book. And I remember it very well. Should find it again. Prof. Irene Powell of my dear alma mater, Grinnell College, assigned this book as our first reading in our International Development Economics seminar. Entertaining, true, sad, and cynical.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Rod Zemke

    An excellent micro view of international aid to third-world countries. By looking at just the experience in one country, I think you can get a good idea how international aid sometimes works and the problems associated with good intentions.

  24. 4 out of 5

    John

    Travelogue meets developmental economics in a surprisingly easy read. I read this in college and I think it would be a stretch to say the book is about developmental economics in any academic sense. It is just his experiences in Equatorial Guinea as an IMF economist.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nadir

    Fascinating and entertaining look into the world both of this small African nation (now rich with oil) and international aid. A bit depressing to see how little the aid actually accomplishes in the face of typical tyrant / crook / nepotistic behavior (among *all* players - not just the ruler).

  26. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    4.5 stars.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Asails F

    This is a must read... You should here my stories...

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    What's wrong with Africa in terms of corruption? this book will tell you.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin

    I bought this book on my second date with Mary.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tricia

    Ok.

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