Africa Today 50.3 (2004) 144-145
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This is a collection of fourteen chapters, contributed by different authors, each examining a group of "endangered" people in Africa and the Middle East. An introduction contains a summary of basic statistical data on each country and an overview of a wide range of political, economic, social, and environmental factors driving change in these regions and in turn generating threats to the cultural and in some cases, physical survival of the groups examined. The factors include population growth, ecological stress, disease, external debt, development programs, and conflict over control of mineral resources. The book is accessible and moderately informative.
The chapters have a uniform layout, beginning with a "cultural overview," followed by "threats to survival," "response: struggles to survive culturally," and finally, "food for thought." Each ends with a set of questions for discussion and a resource guide. The questions are generally good, though some are not answerable from the material offered in the chapters. The guides, especially the websites and lists of organizations, are useful. The uniform organization of the chapters facilitates comparisons among the groups; however, it renders the book somewhat too monotonous to read all at once. The editors offer no explanation why these groups were selected for the book, especially given their great cultural and geopolitical diversity, ranging from the Afghans and the Kurds to the Nuba and the Ogoni. This lack of rationale becomes critical in chapters such as the one on Eritrea and Ethiopia, which combines a population of more than 60 million people and more than fifty ethnic groups with conflicting interests and often hostile relations. Thus, though the chapter contains a good amount of information, it does not gel, both in its own right and in relation to the other chapters in the book, which mostly focus on small, relatively coherent ethnic or cultural groups. The data table given in the introduction, which includes country size, population, type of government, and gross national product per capita, is helpful as a background; however, the presentation is inadequate. Data categories, drawn from the United Nations Population Fund survey of 2000, are adopted as given, with no qualification. For instance, under the type of government, Libya is listed as a republic, Somalia as a parliamentary government, and the Congo (DRC) as a dictatorship, without comment on or caution about the classification itself, the processes by [End Page 144] which "data" are generated, or the cultural and political nature of social statistics in general.
Though the chapters are identical in structure, they are uneven in quality of analysis and writing. Some, such as the one on Botswana, are fairly good. The chapter on the Palestinians is more informative and better written than most, and contains a good historical overview, though it ends abruptly with 1967. Some chapters (for example, the Bisa of Zambia) are good enough to serve well as basic reading in a variety of courses, including anthropology, economics, and perhaps environmental studies, but they must be supplemented by more advanced, analytical texts. Other contributions are of lesser quality. The chapter on the Afghans, which unfortunately is the first in the book, contains little more than general information on the country, with uncritical use of highly contested terms, such as terrorism and fundamentalism. The chapter about the Kurds goes back and forth over historical events in a confusing manner. The study on the Qashqa'i of Iran is interesting and more analytical than other chapters but needed further revision to avoid repetition. A few chapters suffer from more substantive problems. The chapter on the Ogoni is somewhat unbalanced, offering thorough and current coverage of environmental problems caused by oil production in the Niger Delta but weak discussion of political issues. The author draws an overly simple distinction between "democracy" and "dictatorship," describing the Ogoni traditional system of government as "benign dictatorship" because...