- Routledge Handbook of African Politics ed. by Nic Cheeseman, David M. Anderson, Andrea Scheibler
The editors and contributors to this volume are to be commended for writing a useful Handbook of African Politics. The book has thirty-two chapters presented in six parts: “The Politics of the State,” “The Politics of Identity,” “The Politics of Conflict,” “Democracy and Electoral Politics,” “Political Economy,” and “Development and International Relations.”
Part one addresses aspects of the African state, including nationalism (Nic Cheeseman), federalism and decentralization (Rotimi T. Suberu), the rule of law and the courts (Peter Von Doepp), security and the privatization of force and violence (Rita Abrahamsen), neopatrimonialism (Gero Erdmann), and political regimes and the informal practices of civil servants (Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan). Security and the privatization of force and violence involves the relationships between African states and private security forces; however, the nature of the African state is never addressed.
Part two consists of the chapters “Class Politics” (Bill Freund), “The Politics of Ethnicity” (Gabrielle Lynch), “Autochthony and the Politics of Belonging” (Peter Geschiere), “Religion and Politics” (Stephen Ellis and Gerrie ter Haar), “Muslim Politics in West Africa” (Leonardo A. Villalón), and “Women in Politics” (Amina Mama). These authors provide an overview [End Page 106] of the politics of identity in African contexts. Geschiere examines how the politics of who belongs where and when was first used by colonial administrators and how contemporary African leaders have continued to use it whenever it suits them; he uses case studies from Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire to illustrate his argument. Villalón’s “Muslim Politics in West Africa” reminds us that Muslim politics in West Africa has a “long history—in the sense of political action rooted in religious ideas, mobilized around symbolism” (p. 134). Yet in Africa, religion has been marginal in politics. Studies have shown how Islam shaped African political institutions while adapting to some aspects of the culture. This relationship was not without conflict, but it is difficult for Villalón to persuade readers that Muslim politics exists, just as it would be difficult to present “Christian politics,” “Baptist politics,” and so forth. Most experts would agree that Islamic political thought does influence politics, but the notion of Muslim politics is far-fetched, to say the least.
The politics of conflict is the subject of part three. Unfortunately, the relationship between natural resources and conflict is ignored, except for the chapter on the politics of oil by Ricardo Soares de Oliveira, who asserts that oil revenues and the nature of relations between these countries and foreign countries will continue to accelerate conflict, blocking economic development. The other contributions include “Civil War” (Philip Roessler), “Power-Sharing” (Andreas Mehler), “Post-Conflict and Peacebuilding” (Devon Curtis), and “Transitional Justice after Atrocity” (Phil Clark). It is as if the conflicts in the great lakes, Darfur, and Southern Sudan did not exist.
Democracy and electoral politics are the subject of part four. Building on the theme of the preceding chapters, no one defines what is meant by democracy in this context. The contributions include “Electoral Authoritarianism and Multi-Party Politics” (Nicolas van de Walle), “The Power of Elections” (Steffan I. Lindberg), “Emerging Legislatures” (Joel D. Barkan), “Political Parties” (Mathijs Bogaards), and “Public Opinion and Democratic Consolidation” (Michael Bratton). These chapters address various aspects of electoral democracy according to the belief that what works for Western countries is ideal for Africa. The assumption is made that African states are independent actors within the international system, and if anything fails, it is because African leaders are corrupt, or because of African culture, or because of annoying demands from citizens, especially in South Africa, that democracy should lead to economic empowerment. Michael Bratton’s “Public Opinion and Democratic Consolidation” leaves one wondering what has been consolidated, since the assumption is that the only democracy that is valid has to be imported. In this case, democracy must be approved and validated by the international community.
Part five, on political economy and development, contains the...