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Africa Today 49.3 (2002) 132-134



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Huband, Mark. 2001. The Skull Beneath the Skin: Africa after the Cold War. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press. 376 pp.

Mark Huband is a British journalist who has reported on Africa for some of his country's leading newspapers. His book centers on various countries--Angola, Burundi, Congo, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan--and combines reportage with a summary of the secondary literature. Huband's subject is Africa after the Cold War, a conflict he [End Page 132] believes was disastrous for the continent. The book's title derives from his explication of this point: "Nobody in Africa won the Cold War, because all the theatres—Somalia, Zaire, Angola, Liberia, and elsewhere—lie in ruins, while the rotten skull beneath the skin of the West's favored 'friends' has been exposed" (pp. 45-46). Huband seems unaware of it, but his conclusion is reminiscent of yesteryear's underdevelopment theory: "Stability on the continent will only be achieved if African countries are left to find their own solutions to the problems they face" (p. xi).

No such outcome seems to be on the horizon, however, as Huband's discussion of Zaire turned Burundi, Congo, Rwanda, Somalia and Sudan indicates. Even in the post-Cold War era, outside powers--most notably the United States, but also France--continue to pursue destructive policies in Africa, including ill-conceived military interventions and propping up murderous dictatorships. Huband finds U.S. Africa policy "so deeply flawed that it would have been preferable that there had been no policy at all" (p. 32-33). France claims less of his attention, though he is no less critical of the French government, reserving particular disdain for its "Fashoda complex," a political malady derived from an event of 1898, when French forces were bested by British forces in Sudan. Thus, he believes, was imprinted on the French national psyche a sense of humiliation and a concomitant determination to maintain France's position in Africa against the reputed designs of Perfidious Albion and, in time, its even more powerful American offspring. A tragic manifestation of the resulting tunnel vision, Huband contends, was France's stubborn support for the regime responsible for the Rwandan genocide, which he witnessed firsthand.

Huband's book is not just a jeremiad against nefarious foreign meddling in Africa, however. Huband is, if anything, more loquacious on various African actors, albeit mainly bad ones (Abacha, Doe, Mobutu, Moi, Savimbi, et. al.), who, though possessing their own agendas, remained beholden to external patrons. Nevertheless, he maintains, post-Cold War Africa has not been hospitable to dictators and juntas. The reemergence of civil society, including the rise of multiparty politics, has seriously weakened the pillars of authoritarian rule. Despite persistent interference by external powers, Huband reckons that a new era is dawning in Africa. The end of the Cold War, he opines, "may be the moment at which the African history of Africa is about to begin again" (p. 249, emphasis in original).

Yet if Africans are about to become genuine historical actors again, the stage on which they will appear is not entirely of their own making. Consider the issue of political pluralism, a subject on which Huband holds forth at length. The great bane of the post-Cold War political openings, he asserts, is ethnicity, or, to be more precise, the manipulation of ethnicity. Dictators, with all too many of their detractors, have deployed the ethnic weapon to deadly effect, including ethnic cleansing and genocide. But outside observers of Africa often can see only darkly; things are not always what they appear to be. Taking his cue from the invention of the tribalism paradigm, currently de rigueur in the Western academy, Huband argues [End Page 133] that the politicization of ethnicity is part of Africa's colonial inheritance, a bequest that many postcolonial rulers have made the most of. On this point, he is categorical: "The use of mass slaughter as a political tool, of genocide as a policy, does not emerge as a part of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1978
Print ISSN
0001-9887
Pages
pp. 132-134
Launched on MUSE
2003-04-18
Open Access
No
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