«Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida ISSN: 2152-2448 African Studies Quarterly E Staff Elizabeth Beaver Lin Cassidy ...»
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James S. Guseh 2001. "The Public Sector, Privatization, and Development in Sub-Saharan
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African Politics and Society: A Mosaic in Transformation. Peter J. Schraeder. Boston:
Bedford/St. Martin's Press, 2000. Pp. 340.
Peter J. Schraeder's book offers an excellent introductory course to Africa. He seeks to rationalize and classify various aspects of contemporary African politics and society in an interesting and novel manner. This may seem a logical and practical approach, but surprisingly few studies have undertaken such an exercise. The lack of a large body of similar literature makes this book an essential component for anyone interested in understanding Africa's politics, recent history, myriad of cultures and its role in world politics. Early on, one realizes that the author certainly does not share the view that Africa is a "lost continent" or even a "forgotten" one, but rather a complex and vibrant "mosaic in transformation."
Clearly, it is inevitable that in writing a textbook on African politics and society a certain degree of generalization is necessary. This is apparent in the extensive reference to secondary sources, which the author uses in order to better address the many issues related to the broad subject of African studies. In this regard, Schraeder incorporates secondary sources with remarkable skill, especially in the first part of the book (Sections I-III). In this section, he introduces his study, classifies the many and diverse theoretical outlooks in African development studies, gives a historical background to the various schools of political and economic thought, and outlines the policy implications of "African ideologies." The author's criticism of these models is quite interesting and insightful - particularly in Chapters 2 and 3 where he analyzes the liberal free-market tradition and its failures in its more extreme forms.
Primary sources are less present in the work, since it is not really intended for an academically trained audience. Rather, the book is oriented towards the general public and undergraduate students. Schraeder does not provide equal depth on all African countries, for example, he does not discuss North African nations in any detail. However, he offers meticulous references to further sources and reading material at the conclusion of each chapter, and provides a thorough bibliography.
The second part of the book (Sections IV-VI) is more open to criticism, and deals with socio-cultural issues (Section IV), governance (Section V) and international relations (Section VI). In this context, the author naturally concentrates on his own ideas and interpretations regarding Africa. While the inclusion of the author's opinions makes these sections interesting for the reader, there are some classifications that are debatable. For example, when the author maps out the various "African ideologies" (p. 170) he treats Zimbabwe, Sudan, Senegal, etc. as capitalist countries - or "capitalist variations" - whereas he treats countries such as Libya, or Ghana as "socialist variations". Of course, the method used in such a classification directly
affects the outcome of the study. It is not clear what methodology is being applied in order to differentiate between the various countries and the classification thus appears rather arbitrary.
Once the classification is made, the author makes a comparison between the development performance of the different African ideologies. He concludes that "capitalist" African countries did better in economic growth, autonomy from foreign control, human rights, and political participation (pp. 188-9), but the weak methodological premise makes this conclusion less than persuasive. Indeed, Schraeder places the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Chad among the "capitalist variation" category, together with more well-run countries such as Botswana or Mali. This begs the question: how can it be possible that countries which differ so much in terms of "good" governance fit into the same category?
In some sections of the book, there is a tendency to oversimplify terms and ideas, such as his treatment and discussion of "governance, for example. However, a protracted debate on the notion of governance in Africa would limit the book's wide appeal and place it within a scholarly niche. As stated earlier, the aim of the author is to make African studies accessible and fascinating to as many people as possible. From this perspective, Schraeder's decision to include a chapter on African novelists, filmmakers and other artists (Chapter 9) in relation to politics is inspired. In fact, even the author's discussion on governance, avoids a dry, theoretical approach and concentrates instead on more lively topics like the struggle between the State and the civil society and the central role of the military elite in many African countries.
Overall, the book achieves the dual goal of being easy to read while providing an informative and accessible discussion on the current state of Africa. It attempts to demonstrate that Africa does not always match our preconceived ideas and that it is in fact, a complex and multifaceted continent. Schraeder describes an Africa that counts internationally and that is conscious of its role in world politics. The author encourages the reader to rethink and reject the various biases that he/she may have held about Africa. In short, Schraeder has written an engaging and interesting book; a must-read for those new to African studies.
Stefano Bellucci Université de Paris XI/ Università di Pavia
The New Africa: Dispatches from a Changing Continent. Robert M. Press. Gainesville:
University of Florida Press, 1999. Pp. 380. Cloth: $24.95.
A century ago, the travelogue - anecdote-rich adventure books by European explorers, missionaries, hunters, and early colonial administrators - constituted the most widely-read genre on Africa, helping to shape (and misshape) Western public perceptions of the continent.
Over the past two decades, Western journalists appear to be assuming a similar role. Journalists have been eyewitness to the rolling wave of democracy that has swept much of Africa, the dramatic end of apartheid, and the rise of Africa's bloody complex emergencies in Somalia, Rwanda, Liberia, and elsewhere. Given the gripping nature of these events, it is not surprising that many journalists have felt compelled to write a book summing up their experiences.
Indeed, the number of journalists' books on contemporary Africa is now large enough to constitute a distinct "journalist's dispatch" genre on Africa. Consider just a partial listing: David Lamb's "The Africans; Sanford Ungar's "Africa;" Joseph Lelyveld's "Move Your Shadow;" Allister Spark's "The Mind of South Africa;" Keith Richburg's "Out of America;" Karl Maier's "Into the House of Ancestors;" Michael Maran's "The Road to Hell;" and Robert Kaplan's "The Ends of the Earth."
Some of these books, such as "Move Your Shadow," have earned a well-deserved place as classic works on the continent. Others, such as "Out of America," have succeeded in generating heated controversy. As a group, journalists' books on Africa enjoy a vastly wider readership than even the most important academic studies on Africa, and hence have a much more powerful impact on the general public's understanding of Africa. For this reason alone, the genre merits close attention.
The most recent addition to this collection is "The New Africa: Dispatches from a Changing Continent" by Robert M. Press, a former correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor. On the surface, Press's book appears to follow the successful formula of the genre - lots of gripping stories and anecdotes from the field, structured around chapters devoted to countries which the journalist knows best (invariably crisis zones, and Kenya, where the journalists are usually based). But a closer look reveals that Press sets out to carve a distinct niche in this crowded field. He does so by responding to two of the most common criticisms of the "journalist dispatch" genre - first, that such books are ahistorical, anecdotal, and disconnected from important academic studies; and second, that these books tend to be unrelentingly pessimistic and overly-focused on the disaster zones of the continent.
"The New Africa" sets itself apart from other journalistic books on Africa in three ways.