Academic journal article African Studies Review

The Challenges of History and Leadership in Africa: The Essays of Bethwell Allan Ogot

Academic journal article African Studies Review

The Challenges of History and Leadership in Africa: The Essays of Bethwell Allan Ogot

Article excerpt

Toyin Falola and E. S. Atieno Odhiambo, eds. The Challenges of History and Leadership in Africa: The Essays of Bethwell Allan Ogot. Trenton and Asmara: African World Press, Inc., 2002. lxvi + 684 pp. Bibliography. Index. $99.95. Cloth. $39.95. Paper.

In 2001 Professor Bethwell Allan Ogot received the Distinguished Africanist Award from the African Studies Association at its annual meeting in Houston in recognition of his many contributions as a historian and a public intellectual. It is especially welcome that we now have this excellent collection of his work from the period 1961 to 1998. The editors have brought together a selection of forty-six essays from Ogot's prolific output of articles, book chapters, book reviews, and opinion pieces, which they have organized under seven thematic headings. The introduction by Atieno-Odhiambo lists the many ways Ogot influenced and promoted the course of scholarship in East Africa from 1964 to 1980. This is supplemented by commentaries on Ogot's accomplishments by Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, J. F. Ade Ajayi, Ali Mazrui, and John M. Lonsdale.

Although this is clearly not a book to be read straight through, I would have found it more useful to have had either a simple chronological presentation of the essays or else a less fragmented arrangement than that provided by the division into seven parts (none of which is organized chronologically) . In his preface, for example, Ogot himself divides his scholarly and intellectual production into two phases, the first of which covers the period from 1961 to 1980 and was "largely nationalistic in spirit and Pan-Africanist in scope," the second covering the period 1980 to 1998 in which "the focus of most of the essays is Africa's new place in the world" (v). I also found Zeleza's tripartite thematic division of Ogot's essays into the categories "Fighting Historical Dogmas," "Reconstructing African Histories" and "Confronting Contemporary Challenges" to be intellectually more useful than the arrangement chosen by the editors. My reasons for preferring a less interventionist approach is that I believe part of Allan Ogot's genius-and I do not use the word lightly-is that he has from the beginning of his career managed to function as both scholar and public intellectual, and that part of what makes his essays so interesting is the interplay among them as they appeared sequentially over time. …

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