Africanists on Africa: Current Issues. Patrick Chabal and Peter Skalník (Eds). LIT, Berlin, 2010. Pp. 305. ISBN. 978-3-643-10682-7 (pb). €29.90.
In 2009, the International Conference on African Studies “Viva Africa” was held in Hradec Králové, Czech Republic. Africanists on Africa is a rather eclectic collection of the papers presented by African scholars at the conference. Viva Africa 2009 aimed at examining the African continent 50 years after many of its countries reached independence, understanding the reasons for the continent still being struggling to exit poverty, underdevelopment and widespread social tensions. Rather than being a systematic analysis of the issue of African underdevelopment through different perspectives, the book gathers selected papers presented at the conference covering an extremely wide range of topics. The editors themselves highlight the diversity of approaches and interests that the authors manifest in their papers. The 17 chapters in the book range from political issues to tourism, manhood, microcredit and dating. Most of the essays approach a particular case study; the first three chapters, though, deal with Africa in more general terms.
The book aims to offer an understanding of current issues in the African continent as analysed by scholars and students of Africa. The underlying issue that emerges from the various essays is the role of the state in post-colonial Africa. Skalník gives an understanding of the common denominator of the various chapters within the introduction, highlighting the multiple roles that the state can play in Africa and analysing the various contribution and their common points. Although the various chapters differ very much the one from the other, Skalník is remarkably able to highlight how every paper can be read as adding to the understanding of the role of state agencies and political parties.
Chabal begins the core part of the book by presenting a possible agenda to improve governance in Africa and make development across the continent effective and efficient at the same time. Chabal’s analysis shows that the African governments that managed to avoid the experience of the coups balanced a formal and informal governance with the expectations of their supporters, stabilising the country against possible tensions or complaints that might have threatened the political status quo. Chabal suggests that African politicians should make transparent their idea of good governance, replacing Western criteria of efficiency with their own criteria. Also, African governments should draw their own definition of development, taking into account political liability and responsibilities. Only so, development can become effective and this will eventually benefit both the African populations and the African governments.
Other contributions include that of Vladimir Arseniev, who analysed the need for Africa and Africans to become the protagonists of their own development and politics. Vlastimil Fiala analysed Lusophone countries and the role played by the emergence of myriad political parties in them. Amongst other case studies, South Africa takes the lion share, with three chapters at the end analysing different facets of South African politics. Horáková analysed the possibility of creating a South African identity by state’s cultural policies. In her chapter, the author gives an understanding of the role played by international tourism and heritage in nation-building and concludes with identifying a series of threats undermining the attempt the project of creating South African-ness from above. Vendula Rezácová analysed labour migration in the country towards the industrial core and the role that the State played in its coordination. Stephné Herselman analysed the microcredit industry in South Africa showing how microcredit can reach those who are not reached by economic policies of a neoliberal state; a state that should implement policies that guarantee a fair and transparent process for lending money. The remaining contributions examine particular countries as case studies and in particular: Ghana, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Somalia, Cape Verde, Kenya, Benin and Nigeria.
Other than the underlying issue of the State, analysed from different points of views, it is difficult to give a holistic understanding of the book by Chabal and Skalník. To approach the entire book as a tool to understand the role of the state in Africa, the reader will have to scavenge the chapters for bits and pieces of information to be gathered to get an idea of the role of the state in Africa today. There is no doubt that this publication will become more useful to the readers interested in some particular aspect of current African issues detailed in one of its chapters, than to someone interested in a wider understanding of the role that the state agency plays in the continent 50 years after the independence of (many) African nations.
Reviewed by: Ben Cislaghi, University of Leeds.