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  • African States since Independence: Order, Development, and Democracy by David Christensen and David D. Laitin
  • Dawne Y. Curry
African States since Independence: Order, Development, and Democracy. By david christensen and david d. laitin. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019. xix + 395 pp. ISBN 978-0-300-22661-4. $50.00 (hardcover).

In this compelling monograph, Christensen and Laitin employ social science theory to chart the political and economic failures of post-independent sub-Saharan Africa, and to offer a prognosis for how the continent can shape a better future for its fifty-four nations. The book coalesces around this principal question: why have African colonial states not fulfilled their promise to deliver prosperity, good governance, and security? Christensen and Laitin make several assertions: African states failed to keep up with other members of the "underdeveloped world," and they did not fulfil the promises offered by independent Africa's charismatic leaders—Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Ahmed Sekou Touré (Guinea), Leopold Senghor (Senegal), Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya), Patrice Lumumba (The Congo), and Obafemi Awolowo and Nnamdi Azikiwe (Nigeria). Sixteen chapters explore Africa's great expectations and unfulfilled dreams, its geography and historical constraints, its post-independence policies; and its visions for [End Page 186] a new era. Christiansen and Laitin chart the continent's progression from the optimistic mood at independence to the Afro-pessimism that enveloped African nations struggling to exist following the structural, and geographical imposition of colonialism. Their offering is not a sugar-coated explanation of historic events, financial, and political upheavals, and medical pandemics, but rather the authors portray Africa as an evolving continent whose promise still exists amid the challenges still waged from the wake and the aftermath of colonialism's ubiquitous presence, and hold.

Christensen and Laitin begin this exploration with a brief biographical analysis of the aforementioned leaders to show how they each gained legitimacy. Nkrumah, Lumumba, Kenyatta and the others had to figure out how to win the people's trust. They became legitimate leaders through their western education, colonial-imposed incarceration, and their charismatic appeal. For example, Nkrumah became the continent's first-sub-Saharan nation to gain independence from a colonial power when Great Britain granted the west African nation its freedom in 1957. Nkrumah, who represented a member of an ethnic minority, gained mass appeal by donning Kente cloth, portraying himself as a simple man who could have a meal with villagers, and who visited them in his trademark Cadillac that people touched in reverence (p. 18). Touré differed from all of the other leaders. He chose not accept continued French support when his country, Guinea gained its independence in 1958. Considered a rebel, Touré portrayed himself as a descendant of the great anti-colonial figure Samory. The Guinean gained legitimization by inserting himself within a broader category of nation rather than through an ethnic group or by having an incarcerated past or western education (p. 24). As Christensen and Laitin illustrate, charisma did not lead African leaders and their constituencies to a promised land. Instead, the continent faced grave security, economic, and democratic issues.

One of the reasons for these problems lies with the Berlin Conference and the partitioning of Africa in 1884 and 1885. Christensen and Laitin devise different theoretical categorizations to document how geography has played a role in the continent's formation, its evolution, but also in its underdevelopment, and isolation. Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and seven other nations represent difficult geographies because they have a rimland country separated by vast stretches of unpopulated lands (p. 116). The hinterland nations of Mali, Chad, Mauritania, and Niger have their economic, and political resources concentrated in their respective capitals of Bamako, N'djena, Nouakchott, and Niamey. The authors cite nineteen countries that have favorable political geographies. [End Page 187] Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, and others make this list because they "easily permit the projection of power from the capital city to the countryside" (pp. 119–120). The last category is neutral geographies. These nations do not fit these depictions: large countries with noncontinuous areas, high population densities, or the concentration of population in a small area or within the capital cities. Geography reveals other things. For instance...


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