- Africa in World Politics: Engaging a Changing Global Order ed. by John W. Harbeson and Donald Rothchild
Africa in World Politics: Engaging a Changing Global Order is a collection of seminal essays discussing the resurgent and vibrant, yet troubled continent of Africa. The book focuses on engaging a changing global order and at the sub-systemic level how it has impacted the nature of polity and socio-economic dimensions of African states. The authors analyse the complex set of forces that have marginalized Africa and, at the same time, are poised to be an integral part of a transformative global political order. The editors, John W. Harbeson and Donald Rothchild, have posed the “fundamental question of to what extent Africa’s growing prominence on the world stage will translate into greater and more sustainable well-being for the continent in political, socio-economic, environmental, and cultural terms” (p. xv). One of the primary reasons why the nation building process has not made deeper inroads in most African states has been due to decades of postcolonial totalitarian and corrupt regimes, and thus it is rooted in uneven development, fragile democratic institutions, and pervasive clientelism. These impediments, as outlined by Crawford Young in Chapter 2, have severely compromised development in spite of an informed citizenry and citizen constituencies.
Chapter 3 summarizes sub-Saharan Africa’s engagement with international capital and how it has been problematic throughout long years of struggle for independence. Indeed, Todd Moss argues that the growth of African economies has not been uniform across the board to the detriment of indigenous growth and that this problem has been an impediment to much needed international capital. What is critical in the case of Africa is how the early stages of economic growth have been mismanaged. The author of this chapter could have delved more deeply into the genesis of this problem. Ali Mazrui’s chapter succinctly explains the “Salad Bowl” nature of the African continent as it has been receptive to and the [End Page 245] epicenter of global cultures and sub-cultures. For example, Christianity, through the activities of missionaries, as well as European languages, has spread faster in a single century in Africa than it did in Asia over several centuries. However, as Mazrui has states, Africa’s willingness to welcome new cultures has been both its strength and its weakness. Africa’s cultural receptivity over time has made others dependent on Africa and this has a definitive effect on issues involving acculturation and assimilation (p. 53).
Subsequent chapters discuss the principle of responsible sovereignty and examine challenges that preclude the full manifestation of sovereignty in sub-Saharan Africa and slow down the process of democratization. While Chapter 5 attributes lack of momentum in democratization to insufficient citizen engagement in the competitive electoral arena, Ali Mari Tripp in Chapter 6 provides the background of civil society’s zeal and efforts in extending the scope of human rights in Africa for a more equitable social and economic order along with struggles to establish civil and political rights. What is perhaps also needed in this connection is the helping hand of international agencies such as United Nations and its allied organizations. Chapters by Will Reno, I. William Zartman, and Ulf Engel evaluate African’s continuing efforts to enhance the foundations of the weak and fragile states even despite competing interests and the complexities of individual states. Full credit must be given to these efforts of African states as they strive for regional cooperation and self-reliance and envision a more unified, peaceful, integrated, and inclusive Africa.
Overall, the book is a valuable addition to emerging scholarly works on Africa. The wealth of information and the balanced explanation of Africa’s myriad challenges by various authors in this edited volume enrich our understanding of the complex nature of African states. The book is a must for students, research scholars, policy makers, area study specialists, and international relations experts who will find it to be very instructive as Africa tries to fit in with the changing...