Academic journal article African Studies Review

Readings in African Politics

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Readings in African Politics

Article excerpt

Tom Young, ed. Readings in African Politics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004. 254 pp. Figures. Tables. Notes. References. Index. $60.00. Cloth. $24.95. Paper.

The essays in Readings in African Politics represent a sampling of some of the most interesting material written about political life in Africa in the past thirty-five years or so. An excerpt from Aristide Zolberg's Creating Political Order (1966) kicks off the volume, and it ends with a reprint of one of Adam Ashforth's many explorations of witchcraft in contemporary Soweto, South Africa (1998). In 1966, Zolberg argued that understanding West African party states required conceptualizing a modern sector distinct from a "residual" sector. The vibrant and extensive residual sector effectively blocked the establishment of a one-party system, and thus his insistence on labeling West African governments as one-party states, as they remained systems only in aspiration. In fact, it made more sense to Zolberg to conceive of West African states as akin to premodern European systems that rested on patrimonial authority. Fast forward to just over thirty years later. Ashforth explains the persistence of witchcraft in post-1994 South Africa as something that threatens the very foundation of the postapartheid liberal democratic state because the residents of Soweto believe that the government has a moral duty to address witchcraft, but this function does not fit easily into modern governance. As Tom Young notes in his introduction, the categories of "traditional" and "modern" continue to be deployed to explain African politics, whether in trying to describe the nature of state power or to explain the logic of political conflict. In fact, the traditional-modern dichotomy has returned in new avatars, through a focus on markets and civil society, for example. Young's somewhat desultory introduction itself represents a microcosm of the evolution of theorizing about African politics. …

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