Africa's Media: Democracy and the Politics of Belonging

By Arnaut, Karel | Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, March 2007 | Go to article overview

Africa's Media: Democracy and the Politics of Belonging


Arnaut, Karel, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute


NYAMNJOH, FRANCIS B. Africa's media: democracy and the politics of belonging. 308 pp., bibliogr. Pretoria: UNISA Press (Zed Books), 2005. $85.00 (cloth), $29.95 (paper)

This book deals with the two--literary and political--dimensions of 'representation': journalism, the public and private press, as well as 'new' and so-called 'small' media (cartoons, rumour, etc.), on the one hand, and democracy, elections, and majority rule, on the other hand. In addition, Nyamnjoh is interested in how autochthony, the presently ubiquitous 'obsession with belonging', and identity politics affect these two dimensions of public representation in Africa in general and in Cameroon in particular. Finally, and not unlike other recent reflections on the public sphere, this book contributes to the debate on citizenship, postcoloniality, and recognition.

To that end, Nyamnjoh brings together his earlier work on mass media and multi-party politics, particularly in Cameroon, with his more recent work on the politics of belonging, citizenship, and the problematic of exclusion and xenophobia in and outside Cameroon (e.g. in Botswana and South Africa). The result is a very rich and accessible book which contains important bits of Cameroonian political history and adequately situates these within broader historical and geographical (African and global) spheres. With such a wealth of material, this book seeks to address a central quandary underlying three cognate phenomena that constitute the African post-Cold War public sphere: (a) a heavily partisan press; (b) a liberal democracy that is firmly guided by particularistic interests of a clientilist or ethnic nature; and (c) projects of identity politics in which collective rights outweigh individual rights. Rather than perceiving these phenomena as provisional or local deficiencies or anomalies, Nyamnjoh claims that they are triggered by a set of underlying 'African notions of personhood and agency' (p. 20). This leads the author to assert that liberal democracy--with its focus on individuals as 'citizens' and 'autonomous and disembedded units' (p. 237)--is based on a narrow, parochial, and Western perspective which does not sit comfortably with 'Africa's sociality, negotiability, conviviality and dynamic sense of community' (p. 21). The challenge for African power elites, politicians, and journalists, according to the author, is to domesticate liberal democracy by broadening its definition--'one that allows for ethnic cultural citizenship as well as civic citizenship and for the straddling of both' (p. …

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