Academic journal article African Studies Review

Africa between Despair and Hope

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Africa between Despair and Hope

Article excerpt


Ebere Onwudiwe and Minabere Ibelema, eds. Afro-Optimism: Perspectives on Africa's Advances. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003. ix + 176 pp. Index. $64.95. Cloth.

Torild Skard. Continent of Mothers, Continent of Hope: Understanding and Promoting Development in Africa Today. London: Zed Books Ltd., 2003. xi + 238 pp. Appendix. Bibliography. Index. $22.50. Paper.

Tony Addison, ed. From Conflict to Recovery in Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. UNU/Wider Studies in Development Economics, xvi + 287 pp. Maps. Index. £50. Cloth.

Kempe Ronald Hope. From Crisis to Renewal: Development Policy and Management in Africa. Leiden: Brill, 2002. xiii + 182 pp. References. Index. $53.00. Paper.

Despite their considerable endowment in natural resources, most of Africa's nation-states have proved themselves to be economically unviable as independent sovereign entities. Their inability to integrate effectively has resulted in an unfavorable record of economic and political performance compared to the rest of the developing world (Mistry 2000:554). At the dawn of this new millennium, Africa's record in the realms of economic and social development leaves much to be desired. An overhaul of the continent is in order if Africa is to make up lost ground. The effect of unfulfilled promises of global development strategies has been felt more sharply in Africa than in other parts of the world. Indeed, rather than resulting in an improvement in the situation, successive strategies have made African economies stagnant and more vulnerable than those of other regions to the economic and social crises suffered by the industrialized countries. At the same time, African leaders have for decades adopted policies that have alienated their citizens and made development extremely difficult because of their misunderstanding of the nature and causes of Africa's economic woes (Adedeji 2002).

If the end of the cold war and the subsequent "second independence" (Legum 1990:129-40) were really meant to liberate Africans, the news so far is gloomy at best. African politics seems to remain essentially chaotic. By a curious inversion, corruption, mismanagement, nepotism, civil war, disease, malnutrition, and drought seem characteristic of functioning African polities, not collapsing ones; conversely, struggles for peace, democracy, and social progress appear dysfunctional, almost retrograde (Harrison 2002:158-9). While many countries have held multiparty elections, they lack traditions of democratic culture and institutions. Despite democratization, the gap between governments and citizens continues to widen. A symbiotic relationship between state, civil society, individual citizens, and democratic structures is missing, forcing Africans to put all their hope in the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). However, given the record of African leaders, only a genuinely new paradigm can bring hope to the continent.

In their attempt to offer some hope, the books under review focus on positive undertakings or hopeful signs of political, economic, and social recovery. Tackling this daunting task, the contributors to Afro-Optimism have tried to show that Africa has made more progress than its dismal image suggests (3). In his introduction, Onwudiwe sets for himself a moral imperative to rectify distortions that have negatively affected the continent. He delves into history to find legacies that he maintains are holding Africa back. Subsequent chapters tackle related themes. Thus Ibelema shows the importance of people's ways of thinking in the development process and claims that Africans need to reconcile modernity with tradition, while Irele demonstrates the vibrancy of African culture through a cogent analysis of achievements in creative work. Snipe uses Senghor's Senegal to scrutinize cultural policy and its place in politics and national identity. Ekeh examines the historical contributions of kinship and related institutions to the general welfare of Africans. …

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