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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent overview, 2 Dec. 2003
This review is from: Africa since 1940: The Past of the Present (New Approaches to African History) (Paperback)
If you only read one book on the end of colonialism then this should be it....well, thats what I did anyway, because I didn't have time to read any others.
Cooper starts by taking the examples of the Rwandan Genocide, and the South African election, in 1994. He demonstates how these are not just examples of backwardness and modernity, but events shaped by complex processes combining the two extremes.
He analyses, in some depth, the opportunites colonialism presented, as well as those it denied. Using examples of Zimbabwe, Ghana and South African, amongst others, he paints an interesting picture and provides a useful framework for learning about recent African history.
This is quite a short book, and is fairly accessible, even to someone not studying it academically. Many people (including me) don't know anything like as much as they should about African history, and if you want to change that, this book is a very good starting point.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Very Good Introduction, 7 Aug. 2014
S. Smith (London UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Africa since 1940: The Past of the Present (New Approaches to African History) (Paperback)
This book by Fredrick Cooper is designed to challenge conservative treatments of modern African history and politics. It presents a thoughtful summary of the change from colonial to post-colonial times, starting with two major events of 1994: genocide in Rwanda and elections in South Africa. Cooper's aim is to review the historical process that lead to these and other events. He does not accept that this process can be divided into European and African or colonial and post-colonial elements; it was and is a continually changing mixture of all these. He opposes the idea that Africa's current problems are simply a result either of the colonial legacy or to any inherent shortcomings in African political systems, and rejects any idea that the continent can explained in a single way, recognising that its many communities have unique language and culture.

Cooper's historical review is divided into two parts. The first begins with a survey of the pre-1940 period. Pre-1920 colonial attempts to "civilise" Africans by replacing rural subsistence farming with wage labour on white-owned commercial farms or in towns were abandoned in favour promoting indirect rule through genuine or invented traditional rulers and a general neglect of development. Even before the end of World War II, most colonial states attempted to promote development and modernisation; the exception was South Africa where tribalism was promoted as a means of controlling the African majority. On decolonisation, Cooper believes that France generally managed the political transition better than Britain and much better than Belgium, with Portugal completely failing to manage it.

The second part has four themed chapters. First is on economic development between 1945 and 2000, where Cooper believes that colonial structures continue to dominate the political and economic life of the continent. He divides the post-1940s into three periods, rather than just pre-and post-colonial. The first runs up to 1973 and includes the late colonial drive for development, undertaken in parallel with moves towards political independence. Its strategies of urban wage employment and rural agrarian transformation failed and left a legacy of class conflict and vested interests. African economies retained their colonial structures and obsession with development until the 1973 oil crisis, which started a second period of radically changed global trading. Until around 1990, international institutions responded by imposing harsh and often questionable structural adjustment policies on African states. The third (which had only just begun when he wrote) was one of economic reform linked to political pluralism. Next is an account of the late decolonisation of the Portuguese territories, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa and then useful summaries of post-colonial events in the "gatekeeper" states, Ghana, Congo, Senegal, Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania. The final chapter returns to Rwandan and elections in South Africa. Overall, it is a well-written and highly informative review of a complex subject that does not give trite answers. Perhaps it attempts too much in a short space, but it is a very good introduction to this subject helped by a good range of illustrations and five maps.
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