By Michael Medley (University of Leeds)
African Renaissance: Roadmaps to the Challenge of Globalization by Fantu Cheru. Zed Books, London and New York, 2001. 253pp. ISBN 1 84277 086 1, £45.00/$69.95 (hb). ISBN 1 84277 087 X, £14.95/$25.00 (pb).
Despite its upbeat title, African Renaissance is a sober read. It is not that Fantu Cheru tries specially to emphasise the magnitude and range of problems facing Africa, or that he describes in detail the suffering and injustice that they continue to produce. He is more interested in looking for paths forward. The trouble is that the routes he recommends seem hard, unexciting, and nevertheless doubtful.
Cheru, of course, cannot altogether be blamed for this, unless it is a mistake even to have attempted a broad strategy for rescuing a continent. Inspirational prescriptions would have been easier to come by had he wholeheartedly embraced either the triumphalist vision of capitalism or a radical repudiation of it. What he sets out to do instead is sketch a middle way, though ‘a guided embrace of globalization with a commitment to resist’. Resistance would mainly take the form of selective trade protectionism, preferably coordinated between African countries.
He does not provide clear criteria for implementing his prescriptions. What Africa needs is more commonsense approaches, he says. But common sense is most effective when used directly for undermining fantasies. It often has the drawbacks of imprecision, subjectivity and triteness. The chapter on ‘Rebuilding War-Torn Societies’, for instance, uncritically adopts the current orthodoxies and platitudes of the internationalist elite in sentences like this:
”Parties to conflict have rarely developed far-reaching alternative strategies – for, example, peace-building strategies that aim to include civil society in the process, thereby ensuring ownership of outcomes and potentially better chances of sustaining peace.” (p.199)
It may not come as a surprise to learn that Cheru has worked as a consultant for several UN agencies and aid donor organisations. Ethiopian by birth, he is a professor in the United States.
Easy though it is to find banalities, the book should be respected for its steady and sensible approach. It covers a fairly comprehensive range of topics – democracy, education, agriculture and rural development, regional economic integration, urbanization and war – in successive chapters. It is well-organised and clearly presented, with plenty of labelled sections that can be used as checklists. As a politically moderate conspectus addressed to Africans by an African it may usefully be adopted as a textbook or shelf reference. But this reviewer did not find that it made renaissance a more vivid prospect.
[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin 65 (March 2003), pp. 69-70]