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Africa Works: Disorder as Political Instrument (African Issues) Paperback – 1 Sep 2010
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... provocative new book... - Martin Woollacott in THE GUARDIAN
...for those interested in international affairs, but lacking detailed knowledge of Africa, if you read only one book about Africa this year it should be this one. Two distinguished scholars of Africa have written a short, lucid and astringent corrective to the lazy complacency of much conventional wisdom about the plight of the continent. Indeed, if all the litany of disaster is true, it is astonishing that anything works in Africa at all. And yet it does. - Gwyn Prins in INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS
...Despite its iconoclastic tenor, however, the book's value is paradoxically as a good summary of the present orthodoxy in the study of African politics - Jan Kees Van Donge in COMMONWEALTH & COMPARATIVE POLITICS
Are there social, political and cultural factors in Africa which aspire to the continuation of patrimony and conspire against economic development? This work addresses this and other questions in its examination of the political instrumentalization of disorder.
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That is, if we are to assume that development can only take place in a Western manner, we will conclude that Africa is failing. This outlook will prevent us from understanding what is really taking place in Africa, and blind us to what they see as a 'African modernity'.
They argue that Africa is modern without being Western, and that to understand the African rationalities, we must detach ourselves from ethnocentric assumptions and use universal Weberian analytical tools to see the world from the perspective of the African. We can then see how apparently chaotic and irrational processes like 'corruption' are actually logical and even profitable strategies for exploiting resources.
Perhaps a problem with this approach is that it fails to show how uncertainty and corruption are highly destructive for the individuals within these socieities; it seems questionable that ostentatious spending on behalf of a corrupt leader can ever be justified in a nation of intense and deepening impoverishment.
Overall, this is a thought-provoking and interesting text. It is expressed clearly and persuasively, and its criticisms of modernisation theory etc are particularly astute. However, if one hopes to maintain any kind of optimism, it is difficult to agree with the conclusion, which seems to leave little room for future African prosperity.
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In asking these questions, Chabal and Daloz force the reader to reexamine his or her view of Africa and its place in history. They require that Africans no longer be looked at as perpetual victims in the patterns of world events, but as agents in their own destinies. They suggest that African elites have actually engineered the present state of disorder on the continent and do everything in their power to preserve it, and they explain why it is in these elites' interest to do so.
I find their arguments intriguing to say the least, and a refreshing change from the stale, politically correct views that always cast Africa as a helpless pawn of outside powers. "Africa Works" resonates very strongly with my own experience living and working in Africa.
Having said that, though, I am not entirely convinced that the authors are 100 percent on target. They tend to paint developments across the continent with very broad strokes, and offer little in the way of evidence that isn't anecdotal. Furthermore, perhaps their break from the orthodoxy on African politics isn't as significant as they make it out to be. Jean-Francois Bayart, one author whom they repeatedly go out of their way to beat up on, has written articles sounding similar themes.
"Africa Works" is nonetheless an important book and I hope that it touches off a new debate on the character of governance in Africa. The old ideas have clearly done nobody any good.
This book is the first cogent explanation of why Africa is like it is, and will form the basis of my own analysis - the one you have to do to remain sane. It is right on the button with explanations for the corruption and disorder that is Africa. And yet it is not a critical book; nor is it patronising and it does not suggest that the answer to African problems is to be more like the West. It simply gives you clues as to why it is like it is.
This book has given me the ammunition I need to convince myself that there is a great deal of sense in what is happening in central Africa. It sounds silly to suggest that a sociological/development studies book could give an otherwise normal person a real insight into his situation, but it does! I really take my hat off to these guys!
this analysis is done in a unbiased tone, although any proud african will disagree on this. but then proud africans are very touchy when it comes to explaining the miserable reality of most african countries.
the authors put forward that development the western style cannot work in africa, as the basis of a civil society like we know it is simply not there. most frustrating is the fact that there seems to be no proof of an african way to create sustained and stable wealth. if you expect the worst and are happy if it turns out to be just a little better you might have the right attitude to work there.