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Reviewed by:
  • Politics in Francophone Africa
  • Mathurin C. Houngnikpo
Victor T. Le Vine . Politics in Francophone Africa. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2004. xi + 425 pp. Appendixes. Bibliography. Index. $68.00. Cloth.

France's mission civilisatrice left indelible marks on its former territories. Although Francophone African countries acquired statehood and international recognition at independence, they remain the chasse gardée of France.Contrary to expectations, independence did not really alter the lopsided relations France established with its former colonies. Through a web of connections, links, agreements, and pacts, France succeeded in granting a "dependent independence" that continues to haunt African [End Page 212] states. Politics in Francophone Africa offers a fresh and sweeping survey of these countries, demonstrating quite successfully how independence failed to bring the world flocking to Francophone Africa and instead generated a complicated set of arrangements that allowed France's involvement to continue in its former colonies and territories.

This fascinating book illustrates how the fourteen countries of Francophone Africa "share not only what amounts to a colonial past, but also social, political, and economic linkages born of common and sometimes shared postindependence political experiences, plus a set of surprisingly resilient and durable ties to France itself" (2). The study is divided into four parts: "Contexts," "Society and Politics," "Structures, Processes, and Power," and "Connections." Following an overview of the region's colonial experience, part 1 engages in uncovering the physical and human contexts of politics, the colonial legacy, and the evolution of political life and institutions. In the second part, chapter 4 shows that the juxtaposition of French and African political cultures has created a distinctive politics in Francophone Africa. In chapter 5, a discussion of the uneasy marriage between thought and action exposes the shortcomings of ideology and political style, while chapter 6 explores the impact of religion and ethnicity on African politics.

Part 3 scrutinizes the nature of political power in Francophone Africa. Le Vine discusses the dismal performance of various governance experiments from the colonial pact of 1958 to 2003. He then looks at how African countries in general, and Francophone ones in particular, have fared on the redemocratization count, concluding that "the fate of these efforts runs the gamut from outright disaster to relative success, with stalemate being a frequent outcome" (241). Le Vine touches upon one of the key variables of Africa's tragedy: political leadership. Instead of governing effectively, most African officeholders are more concerned with ruling in a Machiavellian way. In a beautiful follow-up, the author covers the domain of informal politics created by the shadow of the state. The personal nature of political power generates a space easily filled by l'informel, or "shadowy and illicit activity" (305).

The single chapter in part 4 probes the dynamics of Francophone Africa in the global arena. Through a comprehensive set of mechanisms, Paris has maintained its supremacy over Francophone Africa. The web of connections, including such informal ones as the réseaux (networks), allows France to attain its national interest objectives while permitting its cohort of African client rulers to reign. What emerges clearly out of Politics in Francophone Africa is the difficulty France will have in extricating itself from an extensive involvement in African political and economic life, an involvement that permits only "virtual democracies." France's involvement in the continent is too extensive, too lucrative, and too vital to its self-image for any genuine withdrawal. Overall, "the dominant pattern has been one of collaboration and cooperation, whether under the old French ambit, within the parameters of the new agreements with the European Union, or, [End Page 213] increasingly, as part of the emerging security and interstate trading network in West and Equatorial Africa" (353).

Le Vine shows the depth of his knowledge of Francophone Africa through his exploration of the critical elements that shape the particular political dynamics of these countries while allowing them to remain part of a unique sociopolitical community. As ambitious as Politics in Francophone Africa is in chronicling the fortunes of French-speaking Africa, the book nevertheless contains a few typographical errors, especially in the French translations, and factual errors, such as locating Mugabe in Zambia (291). It also lacks a specific...


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pp. 212-214
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