Africa Today 47.2 (2000) 200-201
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Peter Lewis presents a collection of classic essays on African economic and political development, along with works on emerging issues on the continent. The readings focus mainly on broader comparative themes. Lewis admits that the selections reflect his own biases, derived mainly from the traditions of historical sociology and political development theories. The rationale he offers for his method of selection is that it makes it possible to focus on domestic, social, and political factors, instead of international linkages, as key variables in the development process. He also notes that the selected essays offer an eclectic perspective of state, societies, and economies in modern Africa.
The central thesis of the book is that, although African states vary greatly in terms of their territories, populations, cultures, resources, and histories, the variation should not obscure the common problems and challenges they have encountered in their postindependence development. Those common problems are said to revolve around the following major issues: (1) the quest for good governance; (2) the pursuit of unity among heterogeneous societies; and (3) the striving for economic attainment.
The book is divided into an introduction section and five major parts. The introduction section, written by Lewis, entails a brief historical overview of the development challenges facing Africa, and a survey of the major schools of thought that have emerged in the examination of the subject. Part One has essays by Robert Jackson and Carl Rosberg, Richard Joseph, and Richard Sandbrook. These three essays focus on the basic features of political authority and control in the postindependence era. Part Two is also comprised of three works, by Peter Ekeh, Victor Azarya and Naomi Chazan, and Peter Lewis. These works examine Africa's political development from a societal perspective and offer a broad perspective on the relations between state and society. Part Three is made up of four articles by Richard Sklar, Catherine Boone, Donald Rothchild, and Aili Mari Trip. The nature of social inequalities in Africa and the effects of social division on political activity are the themes of these articles. Part Four has four articles by Larry Diamond, Michael Bratton and Nicolas van de Walle, Pearl Robinson, and Crawford Young. These essays look at the various phases and challenges of political reform in Africa. Finally, Part Five also entails four studies by Tony Killick, Thomas Callaghy, John Ravenhill, and Jeffrey Herbst. Alternative theories of economic development in terms of Africa's economic evolution is the subject matter of these essays.
In sum, while the arguments presented in these well-written essays may perhaps be novel to an audience unfamiliar with African economic and political development literature, they are well known to scholars familiar with the economics and politics of the developing world, especially those of Africa. Thus, the book adds very little insight to current understanding [End Page 200] of the factors that may have precipitated Africa's economic, political, and social dilemmas. At best, it is a good collection of essays on the economic and political downturn in postindependence Africa.
The strength of the book hinges on the separate synopses that precede each of the five major parts. They allow the reader to get a cohesive picture of the various essays. However, the book would have profited greatly by including works by Marxist/Neo-Marxist Africanists, such as Samir Amin, Scandinavian Africanists, such as Bjorn Hettne, and Chinese Africanists, such as Xia Jisheng. As we seek to canonize Africanist scholars, it is imperative that we employ relatively more objective approaches in making our selections.
Abdul Karim Bangura
Bowie State University