Contesting Historical Divides in Francophone Africa ed. by Claire H. Griffiths (review)
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Contesting Historical Divides in Francophone Africa. Edited by Claire H. Griffiths. Chester: University of Chester Press, 2013. x + 286 pp.

Based on the proceedings of a conference at the University of Chester in 2010 to mark fifty years since the independence of francophone Africa, this edited collection reassesses France’s political, social, and cultural legacies in Africa. In the first chapter Jonathan Derrick uses a historical discussion of the limits of French assimilative policies in sub-Saharan Africa during the interwar period, alongside some insightful comparisons with the practices of other European colonial powers, to argue that the French ‘cultural imprint’ on its former sub-Saharan dependencies ‘should not be overstated’ (p. 51). In Chapter 2 David Perfect and Martin Evans offer a longue durée perspective on relations between Senegal and Gambia over the Casamance region, tracing the legacies of Anglo-French rivalries from the seventeenth century onwards on what has become ‘the longest running civil war in postcolonial African history’ (p. 9). Following directly on from this, Chapter 3, by Evans, explores how different local and national understandings of the conflict over the Casamance have influenced the construction of Senegalese and Gambian nationalism. Moving away from continental Africa, Simon Massey’s contribution in Chapter 4 probes the relationship between France and the Comoros archipelago, exploring the ‘decisive role’ (p. 142) that France continues to play as both a unifying and dividing force in the region. In the fifth chapter, through the lens of gender and development policy, Claire Griffiths breaks down the divides between the precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial epochs, disputing generalized claims about the subjugation of women in Africa prior to French colonization (p. 153) and noting how, in spite of a change of rhetoric after independence (p. 165), present-day gender and development policies in francophone Africa have similar outcomes to their colonial antecedents, not least because they create new opportunities for external intervention (p. 171). Brenda Garvey’s contribution in Chapter 6 also moves seamlessly from the precolonial period to the present day, charting the problematic nature of efforts by independent francophone African governments to integrate literary and linguistic forms repressed in the colonial period (p. 177). In Chapter 7 Alice Burgin uses Mansour Sora Wade’s Ndeysaan (2001) to reveal the continued presence of négritude in francophone African cinema. Burgin, however, challenges conceptions of this film as ‘pure national cinema’ (p. 224), emphasizing especially its transnational production and reception. In the final chapter Sarah Burnautzki employs a materialistic critique to address how the continued emphasis on French cultural exceptionalism, and related efforts to resist American cultural imperialism, has led African writers to be grouped together and ‘othered’ in the francophone field. Overall, this interdisciplinary and multidirectional study fluidly crosses established chronologies and geographical boundaries, moving backward and forward from the precolonial period to the present day, to challenge accepted norms in the study of France’s political, social, and cultural legacies in Africa. In so doing, this book makes an important contribution to our understanding of franco-phone Africa’s yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Joanna Warson
University of Portsmouth