The Dark Webs: Perspectives on Colonialism in Africa

By Wilburn, Kenneth | African Studies Review, December 2006 | Go to article overview

The Dark Webs: Perspectives on Colonialism in Africa


Wilburn, Kenneth, African Studies Review


Toyin Falola, ed. The Dark Webs: Perspectives on Colonialism in Africa. Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press, 2005. ix + 486 pp. Photographs. Notes. References. Index. $45.00. Paper.

Toyin Falola has been examining European colonialism in Africa since the 1970s. Editor of the recently published five-volume Africa series from Carolina Academic Press, two volumes of which directly consider colonialism, Falola has produced a separate work here using new scholarship that takes this difficult topic in challenging directions. Whereas the former series was created for the general public and undergraduates, The Dark Webs is an intellectual history more appropriate for professors, advanced undergraduates, and graduate students.

The book is divided into three parts: the context for colonialism in Africa, literary texts on colonialism, and the ideas of African intellectuals and political leaders. The editor provides readers with an introductory chapter that sets the stage for those that follow. Falola considers racism, violence, cultural hegemony, and economic issues-all of which color the tense, unequal relationship between colonial powers and Africa. He concludes with a paragraph that calls for reparations from the West, but does not include references on this topic, such as AIi Mazrui's 1994 African Studies Association Abiola Lecture or Falola's own work; in view of its focus on colonialism, the collection would have benefited from a section in the bibliography on reparations or even a chapter on the historiography of reparations and remedies proposed for the festering legacy of the Atlantic slave trade.

The first part of the book (almost half) focuses on case studies as well as broader themes, including a historical survey of the rise of African nationalism, British plans for decolonization in 1947, the diaspora and pan-Africanism, precolonial society and colonial responses of the Igala in Nigeria, the relationship between African Christianity and Ethiopianism, rents in colonial Africa, and the Niger Delta. A much briefer second part explores literary issues and African identity: fiction and colonialism, colonialism's impact on Africa's new intellectuals, South African literature, and individual figures such as Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Valentin-Yves Mudimbé, and Micere Mugo. Africaniste who draw on literature in their teaching will find this a rich source. The third part considers African intellectuals and is particularly useful for Africanist historians like myself. Common themes in this last section are historiographies of African history and African studies, which are often considered in courses in which Africaniste dispel Western myths about Africa and discuss issues related to sources.

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