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Journal of World History 13.2 (2002) 473-475

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Book Review

Out of One, Many Africas:
Reconstructing the Study and Meaning of Africa

Out of One, Many Africas: Reconstructing the Study and Meaning of Africa. Edited by WILLIAM G. MARTIN AND MICHAEL O. WEST. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999. Pp. x + 237. $19.05 (paper).

In 1994, the Center for African Studies at the University of Illinois hosted a symposium, as it has for over twenty years, to reassess the state of the study of Africa. This book is the result of their stocktaking, an interesting collection of essays that seek to explain the crisis of African studies of the recent past.

In their lengthy and theme-setting introduction, Martin and West set out to examine the "Africanist enterprise," as an academic project and as a political event, plumbing the past of African studies, critiquing the present, and suggesting the future. The same issues are taken up more specifically for the United States in their own joint chapter later in the book. Their assessment is not entirely positive, and they address African studies very much in the same spirit that Edward Said addressed the question of Orientalism. While departing from Said in many particulars, they still see African studies in the West as part of a larger politically motivated framework that seeks to define Africa for Euro-American benefit and to assist in domination. They are careful to point out how much African studies was dominated by Euro-American scholars (even though African Americans were often the pioneers) and how often it was financed and manipulated by government interests. The end of the Cold War with its geopolitical concerns that led to an interest in African affairs has been partly responsible for the shrinking of African studies, as has the increasing perception of contemporary Africa as a social and economic "basket case." [End Page 473]

A second section traces the history of African studies elsewhere, as does a factual assessment of the situation in the United Kingdom by Christopher Fyfe. Catherine Coquery-Vidrovich demonstrates how French African studies grew largely out of anthropology and its visions of the primitive that took a particularly negative turn in France. She sees hope for a new generation to move to a cross-cultural anthropology that might find more interest among Africans.

Horace Campbell continues the editor's theme by showing the linkages between many academic Africanists in the development of the concept of "low intensity warfare" sponsored by agencies of the U.S. and British governments against anticolonialism and then in the fight against neocolonialism. This often involved a domestic program, for example, to recruit conservative African Americans to join administration efforts against Africa. He goes on to trace the development of anti-establishment groups, often founded and run by African Americans, that sought to counteract the domination of the establishment.

Zenebeworke Tadesse offers interesting comments on the development of African studies in Africa, especially through the new universities established after independence. She focuses attention on the fact that universities were elite-oriented and expensive, and tended to reinforce intellectual and cultural trends established by the colonial governments in spite of their avowed intentions. Nevertheless, authoritarian governments generally drove critical scholars out until a recent, more hopeful wave of democratization makes independent critical inquiry possible again.

A last section addresses paradigms and the intellectual content of African studies. Jacques Delpechin addresses one such paradigm, that of Braudel, and rejects it as essentially Eurocentric. C. Tsehloane Keto provides a nuanced discussion of how multicentered studies might work, and how an African-centered one could be created, especially by focusing attention on the authority of sources and creating knowledge that respects African modes of thought and expression. One such paradigm might be the use of "mass based theatre" drawing on oral cultures of Africa, at least in the opinion of Micere Githae Mugo. Mahmood Mamdani's reflections on the issue of direct and indirect rule in colonial Africa and its reflection in post-independence Africa does not...


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