African Intellectuals: Rethinking Politics, Language, Gender and Development

By Houngnikpo, Mathurin C. | African Studies Review, September 2007 | Go to article overview

African Intellectuals: Rethinking Politics, Language, Gender and Development


Houngnikpo, Mathurin C., African Studies Review


Thandika Mkandawire, ed. African Intellectuals: Rethinking Politics, Language, Gender and Development. London: Zed Books/Dakar: CODESRIA, 2005. 234 pp. Notes. References. Index. $85.00. Cloth. $29.95. Paper.

This book grew out of papers presented at the thirtieth anniversary of CODESRIA, a Pan-African institution that continues to play a vital role in the sustenance and promotion of intellectual activities in Africa. Despite talk of democratization and renaissance, the great majority of Africans remain mired in poverty and development continues to elude Africa. The continent's economic and political marginalization in world affairs appears to be more extreme than at any stage since the 1960s. The proliferation of recent conflicts undermines the organs of civil society, infrastructures, systems of exchange, and the state itself across broad swathes of the continent. While the idea of an African Renaissance is not really new, it has lately picked up momentum. However, for an African Renaissance to succeed, the emerging educated elite will have to be its bearers. An analysis of African intellectuals' roles, if any, in the new Africa is what African Intellectuals: Rethinking Politics, Language, Gender and Development has attempted.

In the face of high rates of Africa's brain drain, African Intellectuals sets out to explore the nature and extent of the emigration of Africa's intelligentsia, the indigenous language of African intellectuals, women intellectuals, and the role of the expanding African academic diaspora. It takes as its starting point the uniquely difficult circumstances confronting intellectuals: regimes intolerant of independent debate, economies in sharp decline, societies wracked by violent conflict, and official languages different from people's mother tongues.

Because of the intertwined nature of literature, politics, and society, African literature remains a legitimate expression of political ideas and valid descriptions of both society and politics. As reflections of the human condition in Africa, works of literature provide valuable insights into both the past and the present by sketching the African reaction to colonialism, racism, and independence. Until the very foundations of colonialism were shattered by African writers, the political debate in Africa had effectively been set-with varying degrees of foresight and responsiveness-by European powers.

Several specialists in African political studies have identified the importance of the works of intellectuals in the African revolution. After a shortlived honeymoon between African leaders and writers, the latter began articulating themes of disenchantment and disillusionment. While some intellectuals joined the ruling elite, most postindependence writers reevaluated the objectives and deeds of their nations' ruling classes and criticized the political, social, and economic structures through which elites operated. …

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