Guy Martin has written a significant and much-needed textbook on African political thought. Other books have dealt with this subject, but none in the same way that this one does. Martin covers a great deal of ground and succeeds in devising a framework that allows us to find commonalities in strands of thought where none was readily apparent. The intention was to write a book that would be geared toward undergraduate students of African politics. As such, it would be an invaluable contribution to the study of African politics in African universities, as well as in other institutions of higher learning that offer a curriculum committed to the study of Africa in a serious manner.
The work is an ambitious survey. Martin is encyclopedic in his treatment of the subject of African political thinking. He demonstrates a comprehensive knowledge of African political thought throughout history. He has succeeded in his efforts to produce what is arguably the first real attempt to synthesize African political thought into a single thematic volume. In the process, the book makes a much-needed contribution to the literature on this subject. Rather than concentrating on political philosophers and activists of the mid- to late twentieth century, Martin begins his analysis by focusing on indigenous political thought dating back to ancient times (Kush/Nubia, sixth century BCE). He then brings his study up to the present.
Martin makes a distinction between indigenous and modern African political thought. The former originated in what is often referred to as Africa's golden age (Kush, Nubia, Ghana, Mali, and so forth), as well as in the writings and utterances of ancient theorists, such as Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Battura, and Leo Africanus. In contrast, Martin traces modern African political though to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and to the writings and public remarks of theorists such as Edward Wilmot Blyden, Kwame Nkrumah, and James Africanus Horton.
The book is divided into eight well-crafted chapters. The first briefly addresses the ideologies that undergirded ancient African political systems from antiquity to the nineteenth century. This chapter is followed by one that carefully and in great detail presents an analysis of Islamic political thought and discusses how the Arabization of Islam was transformed by African political thinkers to fit African contexts.
Chapters three to eight represent the major portion of the book. There, Martin begins with an assessment of the contributions of Western thinkers to modern African political thought and the adaptation of those [End Page 107] ideas to fit the context of the transformation to liberal democracy, humanism, and globalization. He goes on in succeeding chapters to address such themes as Pan-Africanism, populist socialism, and popular democracy and development in modern Africa. In the process, he systematically introduces the reader to the ideas of specific theorists and their biographies. He situates these thinkers in the context of their times. Some were political activists, such as Amical Cabral, Samora Machel, Kwame Nkrumah, JuliusNyerere, and Steve Biko. Others were public intellectuals and academic theorists, such as Claude Ake, Godfrey Mwakikagile, Daniel Tetteh Osabu-Kle, and Mueni wa Muiu.
For the amount of ground covered in African Political Thought, this is quite a slim volume. The comprehensiveness of this book is its greatest strength. It touches upon most of the major African political thinkers and some of the lesser-known thinkers as well. Martin could have made this a multivolume project, with each volume dealing with each of the themes in this book. This would have given him the space to go more into depth on the political thinking of those he does not consider here, such as the architects of Negritude, Afro-Marxists, and some excluded political philosophers and political activist/leaders, as well as significant academic African political thinkers. Martin apologizes for these omissions, but given his objectives, the reader might wonder why he chose to do this.
It is interesting that the political thought of Meles Zenawi, the now-deceased political leader of Ethiopia, is not considered. Debate is currently raging as to whether or not, despite his views on...