Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

The Pan-African Nation: Oil and the Spectacle of Culture in Nigeria

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

The Pan-African Nation: Oil and the Spectacle of Culture in Nigeria

Article excerpt

The Pan-African Nation: Oil and the Spectacle of Culture in Nigeria. By Andrew Apter. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005. Pp. x, 334; maps, charts, figures. $24.00/£17 paper.

Andrew Apter's The Pan-African Nation is something of a hybrid text, and this is meant in the spirit in which he has actually written that text, as both a compliment and a complaint. It is a hybrid text, first, in that it is ostensibly "about" (and one must use scare quotes here) the 1977 second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture-more popularly known in Nigeria as FESTAC-while at the same time being about a great many other questions of theoretical and substantive import to the country. It is a hybrid text, secondly, in that it attempts to crossbreed a particular type of social history with cultural criticism of a more rarified style. The problems, as well as some of the virtues, of hybridity are therefore necessarily on display throughout.

There are striking moments of clear-sightedness in the book, when the pageantries of colonialism, nationalism, and pan-Africanity are revealed to be very much the same pageantry, endlessly refracted by ruling elites and painfully enacted by less powerful persons. Then there are the muddier, more difficult moments in the text that are not so much resolved by the author as declared resolved or frankly left to vex the reader. I would not swear that these are without purpose; it is entirely possible that Apter, drawn into the "419" (advance fee fraud) world of Nigerian spectacle, has decided to play trickster himself. Or it may well be that there is something about Nigeria that defies conventional description or analysis. Certainly there are pages in the text that imply just this, as well as awkward pairings of high social theory and Nigerian historical experience that seem to come from not always successful attempts to move beyond the usual way of doing scholarly, Africanist business.

So, what to make of a text like this? If the reader is not of a theoretical disposition, or simply wants to learn more about the making of a 1970s cultural festival in Nigeria, I would recommend that he quickly scan through the "mise en scène" section, picking up background on Nigeria's oil boom, then concentrate on the meaty chapters of the "spectacle of culture" section. …

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