African Politics in Comparative Perspective

By Anthony, Connie | African Studies Review, December 2006 | Go to article overview
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African Politics in Comparative Perspective


Anthony, Connie, African Studies Review


Goran Hyden. African Politics in Comparative Perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. viii + 297 pp. References. Index. $24.99. Paper.

This is a well-developed assessment of important themes in the study of African politics. With one very bold step, Hyden systematically integrates important aspects of the literature on African politics and society into the historically and theoretically rich Eurocentric tradition of state and society, which dominated the field of comparative politics in earlier decades. The themes investigated are compared to the most significant questions raised in classic comparative theory, and Africanist thinkers are compared with nineteenth-century thinkers like Marx, Weber, and Durkeim and more recent analysts like Giddens. While there is a detailed policy discussion, "Quo Vadis Africa," in the final chapters, the analysis as a whole is developed on a very general, theoretical plane.

So how does this theoretical marriage of the literature on African politics and classic sociological theory fare? For the most part, Hyden finds that theories of European political and social development do not help us understand the character of African politics. He argues that Africa has followed a unique pattern of political and economic development. Unlike the situation in many other parts of the world, power is based in relationships of reciprocity and obligations to kinship groups. The exercise of power may result primarily in the maintenance of important social relations rather than in getting "people to do things they might not have otherwise done." Africa's political development is most powerfully rooted in the "economy of affection" and the constraints of the uncaptured peasantry, conditions no other part of the world currently confronts. Equally important is the political movement legacy of modern African nationalism.

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