Politics in Southern Africa: State and Society in Transition

Article excerpt

Gretchen Bauer and Scott D. Taylor. Politics in Southern Africa: State and Society in Transition. Boulder, CoIo.: Lynne Rienner, 2005. 403 pp. Tables. Map. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $65.00. Cloth. $26.50. Paper.

Politics in Southern Africa: State and Society in Transition is based on eight country case studies: Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Throughout the book Bauer and Taylor highlight the "distinct" character of southern Africa, discussing, inter alia, the AIDS epidemic, women and politics, and southern Africa's international relations. Though different in their levels of development, these countries share commonalities such as common colonial histories: Portuguese, Dutch, and British. All of them, except for Mozambique and Zambia, had large settler populations. The authors argue that the economies of these countries are strong and have the potential for development; indeed, they comment that "white presence in Southern Africa has improved the development prospects for the region" (4) in that the countries have good infrastructure and access to international capital. Southern Africa also has not experienced the military coups that have plagued West Africa. However, it is also the case that the level of dispossession is the highest in this part of the continent, as is its economic inequality, especially in Namibia and South Africa, where a white minority on the ground controls the economy. In addition, all of these countries are threatened in varying degrees of intensity by the AIDS epidemic. No other crisis binds these countries together more than AIDS, which both Allister Sparks (Beyond the Miracle: Inside the New South Africa, 2003) and Patrick Bond ( Talk Left, Walk Right: South Africa's Frustrated Attempts at Global Reform, 2004) have called a "holocaust."

Each case study begins with a historical sketch, followed by an explanation of the challenges that face the countries in the present century. In addition to dealing with the AIDS epidemic, which virtually threatens Botswana with "annihilation" (104), all the countries studied need to restructure their economies to benefit the majority of the people and to create strong civil societies. Other issues differ from country to country. Thus, for example, Namibia and South Africa need to address the land question. Angola and Mozambique must attempt to achieve peace after years of conflict. Strong presidential systems (especially in Zambia and Zimbabwe) must be decentralized.

Despite some degree of optimism from the authors, the reader is left with very disturbing questions. …