Kirkus Reviews writes:
Few people have heard of tiny, impoverished Equatorial Guinea. Robert Klitgaard spent 2 1/2 years there in charge of a multimillion dollar rehabilitation program. In this gripping account he leads us through gangsters, lazy experts paid through foreign aid, and more.
In this engaging memoir--a mix of personal reminiscence and economic analysis--Klitgaard tells of his 2 1/2-year struggle to rehabilitate the local economy. What Klitgaard discovered during his stay was lethargy, corruption, and adventurism, occasionally leavened with humor and good will. His analyses of the economic problems facing Equatorial Guinea--imports outstripping exports, lack of financial liquidity in banking institutions, scarcity of outside investment, exploitation by the ruling caste--are cogent and convincing; his suggested solutions--reduction of export taxes and debt payments through renegotiation, payment of debts by government officials, international publicity campaigns, agricultural cooperatives--make sense.
In addition to writing of his efforts to revitalize the country's sagging economy, Klitgaard also discusses his work to foster human rights in the tribal-based society. In one moving segment, he tells the story of "Saturnino," a co-worker who was arrested and tortured by the government for unspecified crimes. Klitgaard was unswerving in his efforts to discover the fate of his friend, despite almost universal advice that he leave well enough atone. Eventually, after Saturnino was released, Klitgaard confronted the nation's president and was assured that henceforth human rights would be respected.
On a lighter note, Klitgaard writes of searching the coastline for surfing sites, and of the plans of local women bent on marrying the rich foreigner.
Both as economic treatise and travel journal: an intriguing look at a little-known comer of the world.
Not often will you meet a book on third-world development that is also painfully revealing, warm, bitter, funny, sad, engagingly autobiographical and about Equatorial Guinea. Here is one.
Tropical Gangsters is a wonderfully entertaining and instructive book. Robert Klitgaard manages to be clear-headed about everything that is wrong with his beloved Equatorial Guinea, and by extension many other tropical trouble spots, without ever losing his sense of warmth and respect for the people he dealt with there. This is a very useful complement to any study of why nations do and do not develop.
-- James Fallows, The Atlantic Monthly.
This splendd book has been compared with the writings of V.S. Naipaul and Joseph Conrad, and John Updike's The Coup; to me it recalls Evelyn Waugh's Black Mischief, except that it is all true and written by an economist with a cool head and a warm heart. Never before has economic analysis been presented in a more vivd, witty and (at least for some) winning way.
--Paul Streetn, Director, World Development Insitute
Klitgaard's style is as engaging as his purpose is serious; a wonderful read with a sobering message.
--Richard Neustadt, Harvard University
A brilliant analysis of a financially devastated West African country... Although Klitgaard examines Equatorial Guinea's finances in detail, this is primarily a warm and affectionate memoir about the country and its people.
For both economists and lay-persons Mr. Klitgaard provides much information about the difficulties in reviving an economy in sub-Saharan Africa. Although not always in a rigorous and comprehensive way, most of the major themes of development economics are covered: old ones such as growth versus equity, food versus cash croups, price versus non-price factors, and aid versus trade, and also new ones including participation, women in development, and human development.
An autobiographical writing style with a deeply inquiring tone, rather than the cocksure stance of a handsomely paid, know-it- all consultant. His first-hand account is at many turns witty and hilarious despite difficult circumstances; at other times scholarly and techno- economistic. He delves into an economic forecast of Equatorial Guinea cocoa export revenues with the same ease and dexterity as describing the exhilaration of surfing the perfect wave, or jamming with all of Malabo’s two rock stars.
The African portrait through Klitgaard’s pen is multi-dimensional, enriched by many stories that are simultaneously poignant, exhilarating, suspenseful, even ponderous. There are the Catholic nuns running Malabo’s only school alongside lengthy preparations for a strategy formulation workshop for government ministers; daily encounters with other development practitioners (some of them jaded); and a close encounter with a coup plot. A malaria attack to celebrate the IMF approval of his economic plan was painful, scary, and funny, even while the questions about aid and dependency persist.
--Tess del Rosario, Journal of GMS Development Studies