Africa: Social Problems of Change and Conflict

Africa: Social Problems of Change and Conflict

Africa: Social Problems of Change and Conflict

Africa: Social Problems of Change and Conflict

Excerpt

Pierre L. van den Berghe

To say that the present collection of essays fills a gap in Africanist scholarship is perhaps an overstatement, since all of them have already been printed elsewhere. The papers contained herein do nevertheless highlight a new look at the continent, and put known facts in a different perspective.

From the late nineteenth century until fairly recently, much of subSaharan Africanist scholarship shared, albeit in more sophisticated, subtle and disguised form, what might be termed the "colonial ethos." In few cases has the impingement of ideology on social science research been as blatant. The situation is hardly surprising, since scholars from the colonial powers nearly monopolized the field, and since many of them even were direct or indirect participants in the colonial systenm (e.g., administrators, missionaries, technical advisers, and the like). To be sure, many social scientists rejected the racist mythology of white superiority, but the majority implicitly accepted a number of ethnocentric postulates which made them look at black Africans as a very different kind of people, and made them adopt particularistic criteria and concepts in dealing with their subject matter. Only recently are we experiencing the explosion of the myths of Africa as a primitive, unchanging, ahistorical, isolated continent, fragmented into a multiplicity of self-contained, mutually antagonistic, but internally stable and harmonious "tribes."

The colonial tradition in Africanist scholarship split, broadly speaking, in two main directions. First, there developed a history, not of Africa, but of European conquest and colonialism in Africa, which has generally been characterized by ignorance of indigenous African traditions and by ethnocentric naiveté and condescension. This tradition may be termed the "civilizing mission" school of African history.

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