Africa Today 48.4 (2001) 134-136
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Race and Ethnicity in East Africa is written when the memory of genocide in Rwanda is fresh in our minds and when unreported serious ethnonational conflicts are taking place in East Africa. The book raises and discusses the complex issues of racial/ethnonational contradictions that challenge the role of states from below when globalization attempts to change this role from above.
The book starts by exploring the theory of human evolution based on the insights of archaeological and biological sciences. It also employs the social scientific discourse of race and ethnicity. Further, although unsuccessfully, the book attempts to explain the development of racist ideology in relation to racial slavery and the effect of colonialism on racial/ethnonational stratification in some parts of Africa.
Despite the fact that this edited book has eight chapters in which it discusses the problems of racial/ethnonational contradictions, it lacks a central theme that could have forced the authors to be critical and comprehensive in addressing the problem of race and ethnicity in East Africa. The authors do not provide an analytic tool and do not define what they mean by race and ethnicity. [End Page 134]
Although the authors assert that all human population groups have a common origin and are only phenotypically and culturally distinguishable, they do not address the problem of the invention of nonexistent "races" and the racist ideology that institutionalizes racial/ethnonational inequality. By considering racism "as a stronger form of ethnocentrism" (p. 21) the authors seem to claim that it is a universal human behavior. Racist ideology cannot be understood without linking it to the racialized capitalist world system in which this ideology has become an expression of institutionalized patterns of colonizing structural power and social control.
Since race and racism are sociopolitical constructs of the dominant population groups, they are created to naturalize and justify racial/ethnonational inequality in which those at the top of the hierarchy oppress and exploit those below them by claiming biological and/or cultural superiority. Therefore, racism must be mainly explained in relation to institutionalized power and state. This, of course, does not mean to ignore the effect of an individual form of racism. Since the authors do not address these complex issues, for intellectuals who are familiar with these matters the book is frustrating.
The authors correctly trace the origin of white racism and its impacts on different African population groups, but they do not explain the existence of racism among the African population groups and its effects for the subjugated African population groups. They argue that the persistence of "tribalism" and the legacy of colonial boundaries have weakened the process of national integration in Africa. These authors never considered the problem of racialization/ethnicization of state power that promoted the interests of certain ethnonational groups at the expense of others and how these contradictions facilitated racism and ethnonational conflict. The authors' use of tribalism is wrong and confusing. Since they do not recognize the existence of racism in Africa, they cannot adequately explain the genocidal conflict between Hutus and Tutsi both in Rwanda and Burundi.
Because these authors consider the problems of slavery, colonialism, and racism to be only associated with Europeans, they fail to understand that Modern Ethiopia is an empire built by the alliance of European and Ethiopian colonialism. In Ethiopia, the minority Amhara-Tigray ethnonations racialized/ethnicized state power to naturalize and justify the subordination of Oromos, the largest ethnonational group, and other ethnonations. Presently, when the Tigrayan-based (about five million) minority authoritarian government dominates other population groups with the assistance of the West and the imperial interstate system, to claim that there is "democratic" government in Ethiopia (p. 118) is totally misleading. Lack of historical knowledge and the misinformation of the government brings the authors to the conclusion that "no colonial presence to 'distort' the situation" exists in Ethiopia. They do not...