Editorial staff
 Table of Contents
 African culture and personality:...
 African culture and personality:...
 Language in development research...
 The challenges facing Nigeria's...
 Book reviews

Title: African studies quarterly
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Table of Contents
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    Editorial staff
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    Table of Contents
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    African culture and personality: Bad social science, effective social activism, or a call to reinvent ethnology?
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    African culture and personality: A comment on James E. Lassiter
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    Language in development research in 21st century Africa
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    The challenges facing Nigeria's foreign policy in the next millenium
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    Book reviews
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Full Text

African Studies Quarterly

Volume 3, Issue 3

Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida

ISSN: 2152-2448

African Studies Quarterly

Editorial Staff

Nanette Barkey
Michael Chege
Maria Grosz-Ngate
Parakh Hoon
Carol Lauriault
Todd Leedy
Richard Marcus
James Meier
Hannington Ochiwada
Ade Ofunniyin

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for
individuals to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000

Table of Contents

African Culture and Personality: Bad Social Science, Effective Social Activism, or a Call to
Reinvent Ethnology
James E. Lassiter (1-21)

African Culture and Personality: A Comment on James E. Lassiter
D.A. Masolo (23-24)

At Issue

Language in Development Research in 21st Century Africa.
Kitula King'ei (25-29)

The Challenges Facing Nigeria's Foreign Policy in the Next Millennium.
Ebenezer Okpokpo (31-36)

Book Reviews

The Anthropology of Anger: Civil Society and Democracy in Africa. Celestin Monga.
Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers. 1998.
Chisanga Siame (37-38)

Ethnic Conflicts In Africa. Nnoli, Okwudiba ed. Nottingham: CODESRIA. Distributed by
African Books Collective. 1998.
Shirley Mthethwa-Sommers (39-40)

Labor and Democracy in Namibia, 1971-1996. Gretchen Bauer. Athens: Ohio University
Press. 1998.
Osaore Aideyan (40-42)

When Hens Begin to Crow: Gender and Parliamentary Politics in Uganda. Sylvia Tamale,
Boulder: Westview Press. 1999.
Rosemarie M. McNairn (42-44)

Aid to Africa: So Much to Do, So Little Done. Carol Lancaster. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1999.
Loren B. Landau (44-46)

Do No Harm: How Aid Can Support Peace or War. Mary Anderson. Boulder: Lynne
Rienner Publishers, 1999.
Angela M. Wakhweya (46-47)

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000

Land, Ecology and Resistance in Kenya, 1880-1952. Fiona D. A. Mackenzie. Portsmouth, New
Hampshire: Heinemann, 1998.
Opolot Okia (47-50)

The Moral Economy of the State: Conservation, Community Development and State Making
in Zimbabwe. William A. Munro. Athens: Ohio University Center for International Studies
Publications. 1998.
Yilma Gebremariam (50-51)

The Pillage of Sustainability in Eritrea, 1600s -1990s: Rural Communities and the Creeping
Shadows of Hegemony. Niaz Murtaza. Westport: Greenwood Press. 1998.
Fouad Makki (51-53)

Quest for the Jade Sea: Colonial Competition around an East African Lake. James Pascal
Imperato. Boulder: Westview Press. 1998.
Chris Bulcaen (53-54)

War on the Savannah: The Military Collapse of the Sokoto Caliphate under the Invasion of
the British Empire, 1897-1903. Risto Marjomaa. Helsinki: The Finnish Academy of Science
and Letters, 1998.
Funso Afolayan (55-56)

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000

African Culture and Personality: Bad Social Science, Effective

Social Activism, or a Call to Reinvent Ethnology?


Abstract: Western sodal scientists abandoned typical personality and national character
studies during the 1960s. However, many sub-Saharan African scholars in various
disciplines, those resident on the continent and elsewhere, have continued to identify,
describe and make use of what they consider to be widespread African psychological
characteristics and patterns of cultural adaptation. These include core African cultural
values and themes, and what the scholars believe are common African responses to the
requirements of social life and external cultural influences. To them, the analysis and use
of these widely shared values, themes and adaptive responses are crucial for achieving
viable and sustainable African national and community development. In fact, a number
of the thinkers argue this endeavor is necessary for the ultimate survival of Africa and its
cultures. In contrast, Western and non-Western social scientists have given up pursuing
such broad concepts and adaptive processes as areas of invalid and/or harmful social
science inquiry. This paper attempts to identify and assess the nature, range, quality, and
utility of research and writing by selected African scholars on African culture and
personality and recurring African responses to indigenous social life and Western
acculturation. It does so by reviewing and analyzing a sampling of writings by African
scholars published since the mid-1960s. Generally, the paper asks: What are African
scholars, commentators and the public, saying about Africa's various ethnicities and
Africanness and why is it important to them? The feasibility of applying such
understandings to the socioeconomic conditions and practical problems of contemporary
African societies is also examined. In terms of social science theory and methodology, the
paper offers justification for reinstating within anthropology, and more specifically
ethnology, the study of African and non-African core values, cultural themes and
patterns of response to social needs and external cultural forces. Finally, the contrast
between the approaches of social scientists and the African scholars surveyed is
discussed in the context of the historical shift in the social sciences from generalization to
particularism; and, more broadly, in the context of the rise and dominance of
individualism over communalism in the global community.


This paper surveys and assesses the writings of selected African scholars on what they
regard to be pan-African culture and personality traits, and patterns and processes of African

James E Lassiter is currently a Senior Refugee Program Manager in the U.S. Department of Justice, Immigration and
Naturalization Service (INS), Office of International Affairs in Washington, D.C. He was trained in anthropology and
African Studies at the University of Oregon (M.S., 1975; Ph.D., 1983) and has published in his area of expertise. In
addition to conducting anthropological research in Swaziland from 1980-83, he served as a Peace Corps administrator
in Tanzania and Ghana and as a Senior Desk Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya.

http:/ /www.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v3/v3i3al.pdf

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

2 I Lassiter

cultural adaptation 1. Suggestions are also made for reinventing the study of African social,
cultural and psychological characteristics, and using such knowledge to help solve
socioeconomic problems in Africa. Finally, comments are made regarding the impact of
sociocultural particularism and Western individualism on the study of culture and cultural
During the late 1950s and 1960s, national character and typical personality studies were
broadly condemned, breathed their last gasp, and were ultimately relegated to the dustbin of
bad social science. Since that time, various African scholars outside the social sciences have
nevertheless been sustaining and redirecting group personality inquiry. They are not, however,
approaching their subject as did Western social scientists in the first half of this century who
used questionnaire instruments to determine if Africans were "traditional" or "modern" 2. This
was a particularly popular approach among Western occupational psychologists working in
Africa in the 1950s and 1960s who sought to scientifically assign statistical coefficients of
modernization to African populations. They did this, for the most part, to find out which
African groups were better suited for white or blue collar work in the colonial and post-
independence socioeconomic setup 3. The majority of prior culture and personality researchers
focusing on Africa were interested in creating and testing a "traditional/Western measuring
device" (Dawson 1967), "assaying psychological modernization" (Doob 1967), or "measuring
individual modernity" (Smith and Inkeles 1966, Kahl 1968, and Gough 1975 and 1976).
African scholars writing on these subjects since the early 1960s have taken a humanistic,
liberating or empowering approach. They have been specifically interested in identifying and
explaining African psychological processes, personality characteristics, and the processes of
African cultural adaptation to indigenous social conditions and exotic influences. For example,
the work of University of Nairobi philosophy professor Joseph M. Nyasani (1997), which
features prominently in this paper, is a recent attempt to define the "African psyche."


Since the 1960s, the predominant approach to social and cultural research among social
scientists has been to examine a clearly defined society, population, sector, geographically
defined area, or topic. Such research tends to steer away from cultural and psychological
generalizations at higher levels of social organization such as the ethnic group, society, nation
or geographical regions such as sub-Saharan Africa. Culture and personality and broad cultural
adaptation studies became and remain the target of the most severe criticism by social scientists
and social advocates. Many, in fact, consider such inquiry to be no more than unscientific
stereotyping, usually with malevolent intent and effect. Some argue that group personality
studies are an anathema to cultural relativism and the particularistic study of singular
populations and topics. Still others go as far as to assert that all culture and personality studies
obscure the uniqueness of the individual, and divert attention and resources from more fruitful
lines of inquiry such as the dynamics of class struggle and the scientific study of particular
social structures and functions. At its worst, critics and social advocates say, group personality
studies and inquiry into broad patterns of cultural adaptation on the part of social scientists
exacerbate racism and bigotry. So, for the sake of not giving legitimacy to broad cultural

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 1 I 2000

African Culture and Personality I 3

generalizations, which the detractors say will most likely be misused to oppress or persecute a
particular group, all efforts in the social sciences to identify and study core cultural traits and
make cross cultural comparisons in search of broad patterns of cultural adaptation are
condemned and rejected.
I do not mean in any way to disparage particularistic types of academic and problem-
oriented research. African social scientists, in general, like their Western particularist
counterparts, have also moved toward greater topical and problematic specificity in their social
research to more accurately focus their efforts 4. However, the work of African scholars outside
the social sciences, such as that surveyed here, suggests that it is time to reintroduce culture and
personality and cultural adaptation studies of contemporary populations into the social science


From the early sixties to the present, African scholars outside the social sciences have
consistently claimed that there have been, are and will continue to be widespread psychological
and cultural themes and patterns that there are unique to sub-Saharan Africa 5. They also argue
that these broad themes and patterns are undergoing rapid change in a similar manner and
most often for the worse throughout most of the continent. The strength of their commitment to
these concepts is reflected in the fact that the scholars persist in their efforts despite a historical
intellectual context that eschews such inquiry. This survey reveals they have done so to clarify
and extol the virtues of what it means to be African in the face of increasing global
Westernization, and to identify and promote the importance of "Africanness" in African
national and regional development. African scholars also seek to reassert Africa's importance in
the broader philosophical and cultural evolution of humankind. Although some of the works
contain significant methodological shortcomings which will be addressed below, most of the
scholars' assertions and arguments are well-reasoned and extremely compelling.
Social scientific approaches to African culture and personality are regarded by many
African thinkers to be part of a long-standing and concerted Western effort to suppress and
dominate Africans (See especially Thairu [1975] and Nyasani [1997]). In contrast, African
scholars' approaches outside the social sciences have been theoretically and methodologically
eclectic and intended to protect and liberate Africans, not dominate or control them. For
example, Kenyan medical doctor and author Kihumbu Thairu (1975) offers a personally
challenging approach that focuses on the need for Africans to rediscover who they are,
independent of their assimilated Western values and ways of thinking and behaving.
South African professor and former Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of the
Witswatersrand M. W. Makgoba (1997), using a more practical and problem-focused approach
to bring matters back to the social scientists, sees a prominent and practical role for African
social scientists in the post-colonial reconstruction of Africa. He writes:
Africa has faced some of the great social changes in this century in terms of race, ethnicity,
politics, violence, labour relations and industrialisation. Graduates in the social sciences are
going to be a critical component to the success of African democracies as they struggle to
emerge from the mess in which they have been. Universities are not only essential for the

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 1 I 2000

4 I Lassiter

training and nurturing of highly-skilled scholars in this area, but are poised to make a unique
contribution to the overall development of post-colonial Africa (1997:180).


All the scholars surveyed believe there are categories and processes of thought that are
unique to Africa. African scholars also believe that the African way of organizing and
cognitively engaging the world derives from a strongly restrictive indigenous sociocultural
milieu, and that this approach to social life and the broader world has been negatively effected
by Western cultural influences. Regrettably, however, the African scholars surveyed sometimes
use what is normally regarded to be social scientific terminology in making reference to what
they regard to be widespread African psychological and cultural characteristics, yet do not
clearly define or qualify such usage. With the exception of Geyekye (1988), they also fail to
clearly and consistently link their assertions and arguments to historical and ethnographic data.
For example, political scientist and historian Ali A. Mazrui, in his most recent attempt to place
Kiswahili language as a crucial element in East Africa's political and economic development
and ultimate regional integration, refers to the "East African mind" as follows:
"The psychology of living together is also undergoing a change and Kiswahili is part of
the new East African mind in communion with the modern world" (Mazrui and Mazrui
1995:134). Further, Mazrui's collaborator and linguist, Alamin M. Mazrui, in a discussion of
nationalism and the contributions of African Americans to Africa, states that "African
Americans have made important philosophical and political contributions to the formation of
movements like Negritude, pan-Africanism, and the African personality" (1995:161, emphasis
Nyasani (1997) is no more reticent in his vaguely defined references to the "African mind"
and its characteristics. He believes that "in the same way reference is made to the Greek or
Roman civilization, it must be quite appropriate and legitimate to refer to a particular strand of
mind that is quite peculiar to Africa and which shapes the prevailing conditions or permits itself
to adapt to those conditions. ... (T)here is a distinctive feature about the African mind which seems
to support the claim that the mind in black Africa may not necessarily operate in the same strict
pattern as minds elsewhere in the world.... (I)t is the way our mind functions and operates under
certain conditions that we are able to arrogate to ourselves a peculiar status, social identification
and geographical label" (1997:51-55, emphases mine).
According to Nyasani (1997:56-57), African, Asian and European minds are products of
unique "cultural edifices" and "cultural streams" that arose from environmental conditioning
and long-standing cultural traditions. Within the African cultural stream, Nyasani claims, are
psychological and moral characteristics pertaining to African identity, personality and dignity.
Makgoba (1997) goes further and argues that throughout the African Diaspora peoples of
African descent:
"are linked by shared values that are fundamental features of African identify and culture.
These, for example, include hospitality, friendliness, the consensus and common framework-
seeking principle, ubuntu, and the emphasis on community rather than on the individual. These

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 1 I 2000

African Culture and Personality I 5

features typically underpin the variations of African culture and identity everywhere. The
existence of African identity is not in doubt" (1997:197-198).
Regarding personality characteristics he believes to be inherent in the African mind,
Nyasani identifies and discusses sociality, patience, tolerance, sympathy and acceptance as:
"areas in which the African mind seems to reveal itself in a somewhat dramatic way. It
reveals itself through what may rightly be called a congenital trait of sociality or sociability. It
further reveals itself as a virtuous natural endowment of patience and tolerance. And lastly it
manifests itself as a natural disposition for mutual sympathy and acceptance. These three areas then
appear to serve as important landmarks in the general description of the phenomenology of the
African mind" (1997:57, emphases mine).
Caught in a social pyramid characterized by a one-way vertical authority structure and a
two-way horizontal family and communal support system, the African mind, beset with
superstition and destabilized by Western acculturation, is relatively unilinear, uncritical, lacking
in initiative and therefore "encapsulated," says Nyasani. This, Nyasani (1997) insists, has been
extremely negative for Africa, especially in terms of the African individual's creativity and
ability to innovate:
(W)hat we experience in the practical life of an African is the apparent stagnation or
stalemate in his social as well as economic evolution.... It is quite evident that the social consequences
of this unfortunate social impasse encapsulationn) can be very grave especially where the
process of acculturation and indeterminate enculturation is taking place at an uncontrollable
pace.... By and large, it can safely be affirmed that social encapsulation in Africa works both
positively and negatively. It is positive in as far as it guarantees a modicum of social cohesion,
social harmony and social mutual concern. However, in as far as it does not promote fully the
exercise of personal initiative and incentive, it can be regarded as negative (Nyasani 1997:130-131,
emphases mine).


The African scholars surveyed, with the possible exception of Ghanian philosopher Kwame
Gyekye (1988), regard African concepts of the individual and self to be almost totally dependent
on and subordinate to social entities and cultural processes. Kenyan theology professor John S.
Mbiti (1969 and 1992), for example, believes that the individual has little latitude for self
determination outside the context of the traditional African family and community. He writes:
"Whatever happens to the individual happens to the whole group, and whatever happens
to the whole group happens to the individual. The individual can only say: 'I am, because we
are; and since we are, therefore I am.' This is a cardinal point in the understanding of the
African view of man" (1969:109).
For Ghanaian philosopher Kwame Gyekye (1988), the individual, although originating
from and inextricably bound to his family and community, nevertheless possesses a clear
concept of himself as a distinct person of volition. It is from this combined sense of personhood
and communal membership that the family and community expect individuals to take
personally enhancing and socially responsible decisions and actions. Although he accepts that
the dominant entity of African social order is the community, Gyekye believes "it would be

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 1 I 2000

6 I Lassiter

more correct to describe that order as amphibious, for it manifests features of both communality
and individuality. ... African social thought seeks to avoid the excesses of the two exaggerated
systems, while allowing for a meaningful, albeit uneasy, interaction between the individual and
the society" (1988:31-32).
Agreeing with Gyekye, Senegalese philosopher Leopold Senghor (1966) regards traditional
African society to be "based both on the community and on the person and in which, because it
was founded on dialogue and reciprocity, the group had priority over the individual without
crushing him, but allowing him to blossom as a person" (1966:5).
South African philosophy professor Augustine Shutte (1993), citing the Xhosa proverb
umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (a person is a person through persons), writes:
This (proverb) is the Xhosa expression of a notion that is common to all African languages
and traditional cultures.... (It) is concerned both with the peculiar interdependence of persons
on others for the exercise, development and fulfilment of their powers that is recognized in
African traditional thought, and also with the understanding of what it is to be a person that
underlies this.... In European philosophy of whatever kind, the self is always envisaged as
something "inside" a person, or at least as a kind of container of mental properties and powers.
In African thought it is seen as "outside," subsisting in relationship to what is other, the natural
and social environment. In fact the sharp distinction between self and world, a self that controls
and changes the world and is in some sense "above" it, this distinction so characteristic of
European philosophy, disappears. Self and world are united and intermingle in a web of
reciprocal relations (1993:46-47).
In contrast to Gyekye's mutually enhancing understanding and Shutte's idea that the
community empowers and inculcates "personness," Nyasani (1997) possesses a far less
egalitarian view of the individual in African society. According to Nyasani, the African
individual hardly knows how to act outside the context of his community's prescriptions and
proscriptions. For Nyasani, the existence of the individual in African society is a "quasi-
dissolution into the reality of others for the sake of the individual's existence" (1997:60). For him,
"everything boils down to the 'me' in the 'we' or rather to the survival of the self through the
enhancement and consolidation of the 'we' as a generic whole....Thus, in Africa, the individual
will go to all lengths to ascertain the condition of the corporate 'we' and to play his part, if
necessary, to restore the balance of wholesomeness" (1997:81-82).
There are many particularistic studies of the attitudes and values of Africans by African
and non-African scholars that support the assertions made by Nyasani and others regarding
African concepts of self and the place of the individual in African societies 6.


Nyasani (1997) identifies the traditional African family as a setting wherein the vertical
power structure of the society is introduced and sustained as predominant over the freedom of
individuals. For Nyasani there is a "fundamental difference between the traditional African
child and a child in the Western culture. The child in Africa was muzzled right from the outset
and was thereby drilled into submission to authority from above" (1997:129).
Within the communal context, Nyasani (1997) argues that Africans exhibit an

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 1 I 2000

African Culture and Personality I 7

"endemic and congenital trait of what could be described as a natural benign docility generally
brought about by years of blind social submission and unquestioning compliance to the
mystique of higher authority that reigns surreptitiously yet effectively in all black African
societies in varying degrees. This benign natural docility is generally regarded as positive,
legitimate and virtuous strictly within the context of a traditional social regime" (1997:113,
emphases mine).
Community norms, he says
"are merely received but never subjected to the scrutiny of reason to establish their viability
and practicability in the society.... Maybe, it is because of this lack of personal involvement and
personal scrutiny that has tended to work to the disadvantage of the Africans especially where
they are faced with a critical situation of reckoning about their own destiny and even dignity"
(Nyasani 1997:63-69).
Steven Shalita (1998), Kampala bureau chief for The East African, the sub-region's premier
English weekly newspaper, blames the colonial past, in part, for African passivity and
complacency. He argues that a
"passive attitude to life is common in many parts of Africa, where most people are satisfied
with the minimum. Many Africans prefer to engage in subsistence farming rather than farming
for profit and even then, they wait for some bureaucrat to tell them about food security to save
them from starvation when drought strikes. ... This complacency by ordinary people can partly
be blamed on the colonial legacy which put such emphasis on government. It caused them to
believe that government owed them a living and if things went wrong, why then government
was to blame and must find a solution" (1998:10).


Senghor (1966), in comparing Africans and Europeans, argues that there is a unique
African world view focused on what he describes as "being" and "life forces." He writes
(T)he African has always and everywhere presented a concept of the world which is
diametrically opposed to the traditional philosophy of Europe. The latter is essentially static,
objective, dichotomous; it is, in fact, dualistic, in that it makes an absolute distinction between
body and soul, matter and spirit. It is founded on separation and opposition, on analysis and
conflict. The African, on the other hand, conceives the world, beyond the diversity of its forms,
as a fundamentally mobile yet unique reality that seeks synthesis....This reality is being, in the
ontological sense of the word, and it is life force. For the African, matter in the sense the
Europeans understand it, is only a system of signs which translates the single reality of the
universe: being, which is spirit, which is life force. Thus, the whole universe appears as an
infinitely small, and at the same time infinitely large, network of life forces..." (1966:4).
Shutte (1993), like Senghor, argues that the force or energy of life (seriti) is at the center of,
sustains and permeates the traditional African world view. As such it
"is the most fundamental (feature) in traditional African world-views.... It is moreover a
dynamic system in that the force of everything, at least all living things, is continuously being
either strengthened or weakened. Human beings continuously influence each other, either
directly or indirectly by way of sub-human forces or through the ancestors" (1993:52-54).

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 1 I 2000

8 I Lassiter

From Nyasani's (1997:97-100) perspective, the world view of the African under colonialism
became one where African cultural traditions, beliefs and behaviors were regarded by Africans
to be inferior when compared to non-African ways. This, he says, resulted in self-loathing
among Africans. In fact, he asserts, the world view of most contemporary Africans was replaced
by and therefore is in many ways indistinguishable from the European world view.


In general, the authors surveyed argue that the African individual's response to
overpowering foreign influences has been and remains derived from the personal strategy he
uses for survival within the African family and community context--unquestioning acceptance
and conformity. Therefore, the larger world, like his family and communal milieu, presents the
African individual with an equally formidable set of circumstances and requirements he is
conditioned not to challenge, is dependent on and from which he cannot escape.
Makgoba (1997) clearly identifies the motives behind the interest of this larger world of
non-Africans as follows:
"Knowledge about African people is always political, useful in maintaining intellectual
neo-colonialism, propagates Western culture, helps generate and perpetuate an inferiority
complex (in Africans), fosters individualism amongst Africans, disrupts organisation and unity
in the (African) community because there is inherent fear of a united, organised Afrocentric
community, or a combination of all of the above. In short, we are (regarded to be) a people who
can only succeed, realise our potential and destiny by being controlled, policed, nursed and
guided by Europeans. We are (therefore) incapable of being masters of our own destiny"
Concerning the impact of foreign socioeconomic ideology, Gyekye (1988) argues that
preeminent African leaders such as Senghor, Nyerere and Nkrumah, all of whom underwent
advanced Western education, incorrectly regarded Western socialism to be compatible with
traditional African communalism. The consequences of their efforts to use Western socialist
ideology as a framework for nation-building in Africa were devastating, he says. Gyekye argues
that African communalism is "essentially and basically a socio-ethical doctrine, not economic;
whereas socialism, as I understand it, is primarily an economic arrangement, involving the
public control of all the dynamics of the economy.... (Not) everything that can be asserted of
communalism can be asserted also for socialism, and vice-versa" (1988:24-26).
Kenyan philosopher D. A. Masolo (1995) agrees that "the failures of Nyerere's ujamaa were
due, more than anything else, to the poor sociological assessment of the causes of the apparent
communalistic 'attitudes' in African traditional social relations. ... Taking the communalistic
phenomenon of African traditional society as a given, Nyerere proceeded to inappropriately
build upon it a social-political structure--the ujamaa system" (1995:27-28).
Culturally, it is as if the traditional African script of "submit to family and community
authority and immerse yourself in and partake of all group values and norms" was rewritten
during the colonial period. Through force, Western education and missionary proselytization,
the colonialists subordinated traditional African authority and the values and norms of African

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African Culture and Personality I 9

communalism in the minds of Africans. This new anti-African script, argues Nyasani (1997),
remains deeply imbeded in the minds of contemporary Africans to the point that they:
"have adopted and assimilated wholesale whatever the West has to offer. The end result is
not just a cultural betrayal but a serious case of self-dehumanization and outright self-
subversion both in terms of dignity and self-esteem. Indeed there is no race on earth that abhors
its own culture and is so easily prepared to abdicate it and flirt with experimental ideas which
promise no more than vanity, to a large extent, like the African race.... Africa is simply
overwhelmed and decisively submerged by the never-receding tide of cultural imperialism"
Psychologically, Nyasani argues that the Africans' "natural benign docility" contributed to
and exacerbated Africa's widespread social and cultural demise via Western acculturation. He
argues that "it would not be difficult to imagine the ripe conditions encountered at the dawn of
European imperialism for unbridled exploitations and culture emasculations which left many
an African society completely distraught and culturally defrocked. Indeed the exploiting
schemers must have found a ready market glutted with cultural naiveties for quick but effective
alienation" (1997:113-114). The post-colonial era has been no different, Nyasani says, in that
contemporary "black Africa is painfully crucified on the cross of blackmailers, arm-twisters and
their forever more enslaving technologies and each nail of the cross belongs to the economic aid
donor nation" (1997:96)!
Regarding the impact of Westernization on African community and family life, Preston
Chitere (see Kimani 1998), Kenyan rural sociologist at the University of Nairobi, offers the
following observations regarding the current state of the African family in Kenya, a state or
condition that exists in many other sub-Saharan African nations:
"The effects of capitalism are already being felt in our families. Individualism in society is
increasing. Even families in rural areas like to operate in isolation, and those who offer any help
are keen to help their immediate families only. The (conjugal) family is becoming more
independent. The loss of community networks and the development of individualism have
resulted in (increased occurrences of) suicide, loneliness, drug abuse and mental illness. The
communal system is breaking down. The extended family had certain functions to perform, for
instance, to reconcile couples at loggerheads with each other, but this is no longer the case. It is
no one (else's) business to know what's happening in one's marriage today (Kimani 1998:1)."


Ghanaian historian Osei (1971:62-63) believes that Africa should chart its future from its
indigenous cultural traditions and adopt and adapt only those aspects of non-African cultures
that are compatible with Africa's needs, goals and circumstances--namely, a scientific
perspective and Western educational practices. Taking a broader perspective, Thairu (1975:168-
169) argues for a future of greater regional integration through educational and cultural
exchanges within and between African nations. This, he says, will bring into the open pan-
African cultural similarities, promote more widespread understanding and tolerance on the
continent, and contribute to greater overall African unity. Philosopher Gyekye (1988) shares
much of Nyasani, Makgoba and Thairu's concern over Africans too often forsaking indigenous

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10 I Lassiter

African values and their wholesale and uncritical adoption of Western ideologies and
One of the most unusual efforts among contemporary African scholars to apply traditional
African concepts to national development is that of South African Lovemore Mbigi of the
Ubuntu Institute near Pretoria. Professor Mbigi (1997), freely using expressions such as "ancient
African wisdom," argues that the traditional African concept ubuntu ("I am because we are. I
can only be a person through others.") is useful for African corporate and organizational
executives, managers and others pursuing organizational or national transformation. Mbigi
argues that "birthing rituals are important in African societies....Leaders must carry out the
birthing rituals of creativity and innovation in organizations. They must have a sense of legacy
and selflessness if they are going to define the ultimate mystery and meaning of human
existence to their followers" (1997:37).
The emphasis on Africa's traditional past as found in the writings of Nyasani and the other
African scholars reviewed in this paper, however, is not without its African detractors. Kenyan
philosopher Masolo (1995), for example, in his discussion of "ethnophilosophy" (formal efforts
to systematically describe traditional African beliefs and practices) finds little in Africa's past
that can be applied to the present and future of the continent. He believes that
"philosophers who are seeking to revive and reinstate the traditional African philosophy as
the appropriate philosophy for Africa today are ... doing disservice to Africa in trying to
pretend that that philosophy is still sufficient or useful or applicable to Africa's needs, i.e., that it
is able to cope with the new and modern problems and issues facing Africa today as brought in
with encroaching modernization. And because this encroachment requires new methods of
investigation and analysis, which must be diversified due to the complexity of the situation,
ethnophilosophy just has no place in it" (1995:225).
Similarly, Gyekye (1996) abhors the fact that ancestors continue to be of paramount
importance in modern and traditional African life. He also recommends that for Africa to
progress scientifically and technologically, "science should be rescued from the morass of
(traditional) African religious and mystical beliefs" (1996:174). Nevertheless, Gyekye insists
there are many "cultural values and practices of traditional Africa (that) can be considered
positive features of the culture and can be accommodated in the scheme of African modernity,
even if they must undergo some refinement and pruning to become fully harmonious with the
spirit of modern culture and to function... satisfactorily within that culture" (ibid.). He discusses
these traditional African values at length under the following chapter headings: humanity and
brotherhood, communalism and individualism, morality, the family, economic system,
chiefship and politics, human rights, knowledge and wisdom, and aesthetics.
Kenyan social commentator Mwiti Mugambi (1998) pragmatically argues that the future of
Africa can only be forged from accepting and mending the sociocultural present. For Mugambi
it is only from aggressively addressing the practical problems found within African nations that
improvements in Africa can be made. Colonial cultural hangovers, pervasive Western cultural
inundation, and aid-giving arm-twisting donors are, he argues, here to stay and no amount of
looking into Africa's past will make them go away. He asserts that:
"Colonisation and westernisation have brought a permanent and irreversible change in
Africa.... As long as we continue talking of Africanisation and 'going back to our roots' yet we

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African Culture and Personality I 11

remain quiet on the reality of modern society, we will sound foolish, out-dated and out of touch
with reality. ... What African writers and scholars should do is deal with the issues that are
afflicting our society such as violence, corruption and rising costs of basic needs, rather than
waste time on the issue of 'Africanness'.... (T)he effects of Westernisation are here to stay and
the faster we adapt to living with them the better for us and the generations to come" (1998:111).
Finally, Sam Mwale (1998), journalist and commentator on Kenyan public policy issues,
writing on U.S. President Clinton's recent visit to the continent, believes that the U.S. head of
state's references to an "Africa that works" and an "African Renaissance" were premature.
Mwale argues that, yes, the nations that Mr. Clinton visited have, in fact, instituted significant
reforms; however, "Africa does not work" in three of Africa's four largest regional economies--
Nigeria, Kenya and Congo-Kinshasa. Mwale believes that a true renaissance can only be said to
have occurred when fundamental changes in how African societies operate have taken place.
That "economic development on the continent is taking place in a cultural and philosophical
vacuum. The cultural foundations of virtually all African nations remain undefined--an
unrefined mish-mash of traditional, colonial and neo-colonial cultures and identities. From this
have often arisen the clan, ethnic, racial and religious fault-lines that have been the bane of
independent Africa" (1998:23).
For Mwale, an Africa "that works" would show signs of reversing the crushing conditions
of poverty and low economic opportunity under which over eighty percent of Africa's people
now live. Regrettably, says Mwale, not one of the countries mentioned as "working" has as its
first budgetary priority solving these two most basic of problems. Mwale's solution to Africa's
future lies in the emergence of ethnically pluralistic societies on the continent. He argues that:
"despite the wonderful talk of an African renaissance, there is no evidence of attempts to
evolve an all-embracing culture which allows a healthy expression of diversity. Without a
mosaic (national) culture that provides room for co-existence, there cannot be an inclusive
political philosophy that allows all to become stake holders in government. Neither can there be
a moral order--upon which all development is predicated--without a solid cultural
foundation.... Africa's post-colonial trauma results from institutions, governance and economic
development models without any cultural underpinnings" ibidd).


In the 1960s, cultural relativism came to dominate the social sciences and civil rights
emerged at the top of America's sociopolitical agenda. Both historical movements were
welcome and necessary for the emergence of a greater respect for the individual and his
humanity, and for acknowledging and respecting cultural diversity in a rapidly shrinking
global community. These changes were significant and a very much needed improvement over
the narrow, ethnocentric approaches to ethnicity that preceded them. Regrettably, the response
within the social sciences to the ascendance of cultural relativity and heightened ethnic
sensitivity and politicization was to retreat from studying broad patterns of culture and cultural
adaptation toward a narrower focus on particularistic studies of societies and cultures.
This resultant lack of social scientific interest in the study of the broader aspects of African
culture and personality manifests itself in the often vague, inappropriate and less than effective

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12 I Lassiter

manner with which the African scholars surveyed in this paper, for example, use social
scientific terms and concepts. Despite the lack of social scientific interest in this form of inquiry
and the fact that there is no unanimity regarding the meaning of culture and personality terms
and concepts, there are nevertheless many terminological and conceptual usages cited in the
foregoing excerpts that easily exceed or violate the most liberal of social scientific definitions.
This is of concern because the high intellectual status of the writers legitimizes such usage. It
also misinforms and misleads non-social scientists and other readers of their works. For
example, an editorial essay in the March 23-29, 1998 edition of The East African, East Africa's best
English weekly newspaper, made the following comment on U.S. president Clinton's 1998 visit
to Rwanda:
"His aim in Kigali will be to condemn the 1994 genocide and to stress that ethnic killing
must be rooted out of the African psyche. Genocide is by no means unique to Africa but our
record of violence stemming from tribalism is a bad one, as recent incidents in Kenya, for instance,
attest. If President Clinton can convey the repugnance of the international community for this
shameful and recurring madness that afflicts Africa, more power to him" (emphases mine).
This reference to the "African psyche" may well have been derived from someone on the
East African's editorial staff having read and been convinced of the validity of such usage as it
appears in Nyasani's (1997) book of the same title 7.
I do not agree with those who argue that the non-participation of social scientists in group
culture and personality studies is as it should be. I do accept and agree that purposeful
insensitivity to the validity of any social group's ethnicity, values and beliefs is never acceptable
and should be challenged from all quarters. However, cultural relativity, social science
particularism, and social activism should not be allowed to block, overtly or subtly, responsible
inquiry into the patterns and processes of contemporary global cultural adaptation. The African
scholars, as evidenced by their generalistic yet persuasive works cited in this paper, are
obviously undeterred by such inhibiting influences. As such, they should be encouraged and
joined by social scientists in these areas of inquiry. Both levels of inquiry, the particular and
general, are needed if for no other reason than to promote more informed, accurate, and
effective international discourse and relations. An emphasis on sociocultural differences and
uniqueness is important and, in fact, essential for enhancing individual identity and social
cohesion, and furthering sociopolitical goals.
Particularism, however, needs to be counterbalanced and contextualized by studies that
emphasize cross-cultural similarities such as the works cited in this paper. If not, the evils of
cultural stereotypes, ethnocentrism and bigotry spawned by past culture and personality
studies will be replaced by particularism's negative outcomes of greater cultural exclusivity,
arrogance, intolerance, xenophobia, mistrust, and inter-group conflict. Put simply, it is generally
recognized that conflict is more likely to arise among peoples who accentuate their differences
and uniqueness rather than among those who acknowledge and celebrate their similarities. If
nothing else, there should be a freeing-up of academic and public discourse such that
sociocultural uniqueness is respected and the characteristics shared by related or similar
sociocultural groups are acknowledged, discussed, and used to find common ground for
resolving conflict and sustaining cooperation. Regrettably, free discourse of this kind does not
widely characterize the current state of discourse within academia. Such discourse and goals are

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African Culture and Personality I 13

also lacking in international (especially inter-governmental) relations where national and sub-
national sociopolitical uniqueness, competition and efforts to control and dominate are most
often touted and pursued.


In light of both the strengths and the weaknesses of contemporary African scholars' efforts
at generalizing about African culture and personality, I encourage among African and non-
African social scientists a reinvention of African ethnology and crosscultural studies. To the
particularist core of the social sciences should be added an inter-disciplinary approach where
the focus is on African core cultural values, cultural themes and, most importantly, widespread
patterns and processes of cultural adaptation. The focus should not be on stereotypes, typical
personalities, modernity coefficients, etc., but rather on adaptive cultural processes and trends.
The descriptions and insights derived should be firmly grounded in the substantive data of
history, particularist ethnographies and applied anthropology case studies.
Reinventing ethnology along these lines will not be easy. The social sciences, in the United
States in particular, it appears, are suffering from a malady similar to that in the humanities
described by University of California, Santa Cruz Professor Emeritus John Ellis (1996). In his
book Literature Lost: Social Agendas and the Corruption of the Humanities, Ellis argues that:
"academic literary criticism has been transformed" from traditional inquiry into a
overarching search for relevance and significance applicable to modern society. That literature
and humanistic inquiry are subverted to quests for political power such that "the universities
should have an overtly political function, work directly for social and political change, and
inculcate a particular political viewpoint in their students."
Every piece of literature, Ellis argues, is too often reduced to issues of race, gender and
class where expressions of victimization and oppression are focused on to the exclusion of all
else. Ellis argues that "if we are determined to take from literature only the attitudes that we
bring to it, it ceases to have any point". A large group of contemporary scholars, Ellis notes,
"have no real interest in what literature might say (in its full diversity), only an interest in what
they can use it for" (1996:13).
What Ellis describes for the humanities is also true for Western social science, at least
where culture and personality studies are concerned. Social scientists and/or social activists
who seek to promote greater diversity in the controlling sectors of society, and related agendas,
are too often the first to restrict social science inquiry to areas of theory and methodology that
promote or at minimum support their particular brand of political and social activism. For
example, at present, at least in the U.S., culture and personality studies or their associated
concepts are condemned when they are seen as harmful to social and political change, yet
embraced when they are seen as advancing such causes. This low tolerance for a wide diversity
of approaches in the social sciences is such that academic freedom is stifled from a fear of
offending a colleague at the academy, or being lambasted as being a bigot for suggesting that it
may be worthwhile researching and describing core cultural values and broad patterns of
cultural adaptation within and between large contemporary populations.

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14 I Lassiter

If social scientists, as Makgoba (1997) asserts, have a crucial and practical role to play in
African socioeconomic development, we must identify particular and general themes and
patterns of cultural adaptation and their attendant psychological processes throughout sub-
Saharan Africa. The first step in expanding what are acceptable social science areas of inquiry is
to look at what scholars in the lesser developed societies such as those in Africa are focusing on.
This paper has made an attempt to move discussion and debate in this direction. The second
step is to investigate the validity of specific claims of pan-African cultural and psychological
traits and adaptive responses. The assertions made by the African scholars surveyed above
suggest new areas of research as follows:

1. Do traditional African authority structures and communal proscriptions and prescriptions
give rise to psychological handicaps, such as "natural benign docility" or "mental encapsulation"
(Nyasani 1997:113, 130-131), that have and continue to put Africans at a disadvantage when
confronting non-African cultural influences? Or, is Gyekye (1988:31-32) correct in asserting that
African communalism allows for and demands individual expression and accountability; and
that the causes of Africa's cultural maladaptations are to be found elsewhere? Are Masolo (1995)
and Mugambi (1998) correct in insisting that the solutions to Africa's problems and its future are
not to be found in Africa's traditional past, rather in addressing the problems of the present,
using contemporary methods?
2. Is Nyasani (1997:51-55) justified in insisting there is such a thing as an African "mentality" or
"psyche" that arose from and reflects a long history of social, cultural and environmental
adaptation and acculturation? Is he justified in positing the existence of African, European and
Asian "cultural streams and edifices" (1997:57)?
3. Mazrui and Mazrui (1995:1-3) argue that Kiswahili has promoted detribalizationn" in East
Africa in the sense of "declining 'ethnic behavior'". Yet, they say there is "stable or even
increasing ethnic loyalty in terms of emotional attachment". Do ethnographic and other sources
support this? Attitude and values surveys should be conducted to test this assertion. If true,
how widespread and intense are these ethnic 'behaviors" and "loyalties"?
4. Are prominent Kenyan social commentator Philip Ochieng's (1998) assertions about Luo
culture, group personality and origins valid? Has Luo cultural arrogance undermined their
pursuit of political power in Kenya? How do Luos view their history and culture vis-a-vis other
tribes and ethnic groups?


Numerous core values, cultural themes and patterns of cultural adaptation unique to
Africa have been presented in this paper, as identified in the writings of selected African
scholars. Most of the writers effectively argue that there is a widespread pattern of social and
cultural maladaptation within African societies evidenced by continuing national development
under-achievement and less than optimal regional socioeconomic integration. This is regarded
by the majority of the writers to be a post-colonial legacy, the result of ongoing external
interference, and a now endemic and intense African admiration of Western culture over
African culture. The African scholars' prescriptions for Africa's future focus on economic

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 1 I 2000

African Culture and Personality I 15

independence through educational processes that combine Western techno-economic theory
and practice with the best of African sociocultural traditions. Overall, the efforts of the African
scholars examined in this paper are significant and provocative contributions to understanding
Africa and its peoples. However, their works, excluding Gyekye (1988), are not clearly or
consistently tied to ethnographic and historical data. This omission weakens their often
innovative insights and arguments. It also prohibits independent cross-cultural comparison and
verification of their generalizations and persuasive assertions. Finally, their conclusions and
recommendations are weakened by their not adequately addressing cultural and behavioral
variation and deviance within and outside Africa.
Social scientists, including ethnologists, should join African scholars outside the social
sciences in studying the broader core values, cultural themes and adaptive responses of
Africans to indigenous sociocultural circumstances and external influences. Regrettably,
eminent Western scholars such as Eric Wolf (1994) continue to encourage anthropologists along
the narrow path of particularism in their studies of culture in order to "take much greater
account of heterogeneity and contradictions in cultural systems" (1994:7). Conceptions of race,
culture and people will indeed remain "perilous ideas", as Professor Wolf calls them, if social
scientists continue to avoid such broader global cultural landscapes that in fact unite us, and
focus only on particularistic studies of societies and cultures that separate us and allow us to
stand proudly apart. What is worse, however, is that without generalistic studies of cross-
cultural similarities and broad patterns of cultural adaptation serving to complement
particularistic studies, we risk increasing the global occurrence and intensity of cultural
isolationism and arrogance, xenophobia, inter-cultural misunderstanding, and international
conflict. Perilous ideas, indeed!
Anthropology should not allow itself to be influenced by or become the exclusive domain
of contemporary Western culture, political correctness, or social and political activism.
Anthropology, and ethnology in particular, should freely pursue a full range of understandings
of culture, specific cultures and their similarities and differences, the processes of regional and
global cultural adaptation, and how such knowledge can improve human living conditions.
Particularistic studies of cultures, groups and sociocultural topics, alone, are not enough. To this
must be added the study of core cultural values and themes, patterns of regional cultural
adaptation and global acculturation. The imprecise usage of cultural and psychological
terminology and concepts by scholars outside the social sciences and the social science
community's refusal to attend to large group psychological processes and the broader patterns
of human cultural adaptation are significant matters. They tend to draw attention away from
our common humanity and destiny, and impede understanding of on-going global cultural
processes of utmost importance. However, all of us, Africans and non-Africans, scholars, social
scientists and the public, have a personal responsibility to ensure, by all means possible, that
such broad cultural and psychological understandings are not used to legitimize injustices or
promote malevolent struggles for political power and dominance.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 1 I 2000

16 I Lassiter


1. The opinions and conclusions expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.
They in no way reflect or otherwise represent the policies or official positions of the
United States Immigration and Naturalization Service or any other U. S. Government
entity. I wish to express my sincere appreciation to the following African scholars and
educators who reviewed and commented on this paper in the earliest stages of its
preparation: Howard University Education Professor Emeritus Paul Emoungu, Mr. Yves
Kore, M.Ed., M.P.A., and Ms. Immy Rose Namutosi, B.A., D.S.E. I am also most grateful
to Anthropology Professor Vernon R. Dorjahn and Assistant Anthropology Professor
Jerry Marr of the University of Oregon who reviewed and provided comments on early
and later drafts of the paper. Their candid and at times sharp criticism were invaluable
and greatly improved the paper in many ways. The fact that they reviewed and
commented on drafts of the paper does not mean that they necessarily endorse all the
opinions I have expressed, approaches I have taken, or conclusions I have drawn. The
shortcomings that remain, and opinions expressed, in this article are mine alone and for
which, I am fully responsible.
2. The terms "tradition" and "traditional" occur frequently in the writings of the Western
social scientists and contemporary African scholars cited in this paper. However, all the
scholars seldom, if ever, define the terms outright. "Tradition" and "traditional" are
usually presented in contrast to terms that represent the scholars' research aims, namely
how "modern" or "Western" their subjects are. For example, Smith and Inkeles (1966)
defined "modern" as a "set of attitudes and values, and ways of feeling and acting,
presumably of the sort either generated by or required for participation in a modern
society..." (1966:353). Similarly, the African scholars surveyed give much attention to and
examples of African "traditions" and "traditional African culture", yet seldom if ever
clearly define the terms. For the sake of clarity and the general purposes of this paper,
and as an expression of what I understand the general definition of the term to mean to
the African scholars I have cited, I have employed the following working definition of
"traditional African culture": generally widespread sub-Saharan African core values,
beliefs, cultural themes and behaviors as they existed prior to European contact; and as
they still exist, especially in the rural areas and to a lesser extent in the urban areas of
Africa; and upon which many, if not most, fundamental thought processes and
behaviors of contemporary sub-Saharan Africans are based and continue to be derived
3. See for example the works of Biesheuval (1954), Smith and Inkeles (1966), Dawson (1964
and 1967), Doob (1967), Kahl (1968), Hoogvelt (1974), and Gough (1975 and 1976).
4. Most of the African scholars' works cited in this paper have not come from social
scientists. African scholars I have spoken with believe the lack of social science
involvement in this area of research is due, in large part, to an inadequacy of resources
in African university social science departments to support indigenous social research.
They also believe it is due to the generally oppressive nature of post-independence
African central governments when it comes to academics and their students studying

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 1 I 2000

African Culture and Personality I 17

and exposing various social ills, including government corruption, incompetence and
criminality. (Kenyan philosopher Masolo argues that this "suppression of knowledge
and the resultant brain-drain remain Africa's foremost cause of underdevelopment and
sociopolitical instability" [1995:50]. Therefore, since the mid-1960s, African scholars in
philosophy, history, and education have made greater strides in this area than their
colleagues in the social sciences primarily because central governments have seen them
as engaging in "academic" or "purely intellectual" pursuits, as a result, less threatening to
the status quo than are social scientists. African governments, therefore, have allowed
scholars other than social scientists greater intellectual freedom of expression.
5. The African scholars focused on in this paper include the following: Senegalese Leopold
Senghor (1963 and 1966); Ghanaians G. K. Osei (1971) and Kwame Gyekye (1988 and
1996); Kenyans John S. Mbiti (1969 and 1992), Kihumbu Thairu (1975), J. M. Nyasani
(1997); and South Africans Augustine Shutte (1993) and M. W. Makgoba (1997). The
selected works of these writers span a period of thirty-five years and come from three of
Africa's major sub-regions West, East and Southern--where the largest number of
contemporary African scholars have intellectually pursed the issues associated with
pan-African cultural and psychological traits and adaptive processes. As such, the
selections are regarded to represent serious and significant scholarly efforts on the part
of Africans to describe and/or analyze pan-African cultural and psychological traits and
widespread patterns and processes of African cultural adaptation. Other key African
works and commentary discussed or cited in the paper include Mazrui and Mazrui
(1995), D. A. Masolo (1995) and Philip Ochieng (1998). Still other important works by
African scholars addressing these topics should have have also included in the review
but were omitted due to their not being readily available to the author in Africa when
this project began. These include H. Olela (1971 and 1984), C. A. Diop (1974), P.
Hountondji (1983), Kwame Appiah (1987 and 1992), V. Y. Mudimbe (1988), Kwasi
Wiredu (1990 and 1992), Yoweri Museveni (1992 and 1997) and others. Finally, a number
of other important works published during the past twenty years by contemporary
African scholars offering analyses and solutions to Africa's current political and
socioeconomic problems were available to the author and were reviewed and
considered for inclusion. However, they were excluded from the paper because they
make little or no reference to pan-African culture and personality traits or patterns and
processes of African cultural adaptation. These include: P. M. Mutibwa (1977), Gideon S.
Were (1983 and 1>992), R. I. Onwuka and A. Sesay (1985), Philip Ndegwa (1985 and
1986), Thomas R. Odhiambo (1988), P. Anyang' Nyong'o (1990 and 1992), Thabo Mbeki
(1995), Eric M. Aseka (1996), and others. In limiting the scope of this paper to the works
of scholars from Africa I am not discounting the efforts of Western scholars such as
Aidan Campbell (1997), Richard Werbner and Terence Ranger (1996), Verena Stolcke
(1995) and Eric Wolf (1994), for example, who continue to make significant contributions
to the study of African and non-African ethnicity and individual and group identity. I
have simply deferred for the time being trying to place my findings within the
contemporary intellectual context that includes non-African scholars writing on African
ethnicity and identity.

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18 I Lassiter

6. See for example Vilakazi (1979), Decalo (1980) and Lassiter (1983) regarding Swazi and
Batswana secondary school students and university graduates.
7. The reference to "violence stemming from tribalism" is also noteworthy. Ethnically
defined conflict is a symptom not a cause. It is fomented and used by individuals and
groups seeking wealth and/or political power. It does not arise inherently, as the writer
and many others imply, from ethnicity or ethnic values, identity, loyalty or behavior.


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Campbell, Aidan. 1997. Ethical ethnicity: A critique. The Journal of Modern African Studies,

Dawson, J. L. M. 1964. Traditional values and work efficiency in a west african mine labour
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Reference Style: The following is the suggested format for referencing this article:
Lassiter, J. E. 1999. African Culture and Personality: Bad Social Science, Effective Social
Activism, or a Call to Reinvent Ethnology? 3(2): 1. [online] URL:

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 1 I 2000

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000

African Culture and Personality: A Comment on James E.



The last two decades of the nineteen hundreds witnessed a pleasing upsurge in African
scholarship, particularly in the humanities and social sciences. This upsurge signaled a
significant shift in African studies that saw African scholars take leading discursive roles. It also
shifted the nature and direction of African studies as African and Africanist scholars expanded
the discursive scope through interactions across disciplines. This development was enabled by a
critical dialectic whose moments are at times fair, congenial and complementary, but at other
times also not quite so fair, congenial or complementary. As often occurs in academic
endeavors, there have been both good and bad products, as well as good and bad criticisms.
James E. Lassiter's essay, "African Culture and Personality: Bad Social Science, Effective Social
Activism, or a Call to Reinvent Ethnology?", is an example of very bad criticism of some aspects
of recent African scholarship.
Lassiter argues that the pollution of the social sciences in African studies is occurring
mainly as a result of the freelance attitude and practice by African scholars, especially when
influential scholars venture into and use concepts from disciplinary fields they have only little
or no knowledge of. The result, he argues, is devastating to the integrity and growth of a
tradition of scientific and respectable African social studies. He picks out a handful of works by
scholars from the East and South Africa for a demonstration of the extent of this devastation. In
particular, he names Kihumbu Thairu and Joseph Nyasani, two Kenyan scholars, a medical
doctor and philosopher respectively, who, in his view, have ventured into discussions of what
they claim to be African cultural traits (for example what they claim to be the African psyche or
African personality) with total neglect of and aberration from the noble rules and methods of
ethnographic studies set in place by Western cultural and social anthropologists. The result of
this regulatory and methodological aberration is that "such inquiry [becomes] no more than
unscientific stereotyping, usually with malevolent intent and effect. "(Lassiter, p.2).
Let me surprise my readers by saying that there are points I tend to agree with Lassiter on.
But such points are few and far apart compared to those I severely differ with him on. I will
explain as I go along. I agree that the claims made by Thairu and Nyasani are harmfully
general. Yet they are part of a much wider tradition of literature which Lassiter, perhaps only
conveniently, chooses to leave out of his discussion. Although he points out correctly that part
of this kind of literature is liberatory and anti-colonial, Lassiter fails to connect it to the
ethnophilosophical movement in the United States which is descended partly from the
ethnophilisophical and Afrocentric movement in the United States which is descended partly
from ethnophilosophy and Janheinz Jahn's cultural pan-Africanism on one hand, and partly
from the Pan-Africanist movement in the strict political sense, on the other. Taken together, the

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mistake of the African or African-American scholars in the heart of this discourse on cultural
Pan-Africanism does not lie in the fact that they discuss African culture. One hopes here that
Lassiter is not suggesting that these scholars lack the legitimacy to talk of who they think,
imagine, or believe they are, or what their beliefs and practices are or should be. Their
weakness, in my view, lies in attributing differences of beliefs among peoples to biology rather
than to experience. This biologization of culture appears at the core of Afrocentrism as practiced
in the United States today, but its recent roots, as I mentioned above, are in the premises both
stated and implied by arguments of ethnophilosophy. My position, which Lassiter cites in
support of his critique of Nyasani, was taken against this collectivist and fossilizing genetic
assumption about the nature of the minds of Africans which represents it as impervious to the
dialects of experience. One is therefore able to detect a dangerous contradiction in Nyasani's
thesis, and this brings me to another point against Lassiter: that he chooses particularly weak
and clearly problematic publications by Africans which contextualize and amplify discussions
on these issues; he also discusses his selections widely out of context. For example, failure to
read Nyasani's text at least partly in relation to the rest of the history of African professional
philosophy over the past seven decades makes it easy for Lassiter to accuse Nyasani of
obfuscating the disciplinary boundaries between the social sciences and the humanities. To say
the least, Lassiter's failure to take note of recent advances in anthropological discourse, and his
failure to take advantage of readily available recent publications in African philosophy are
utterly inexcusable, despite his attempt to hide behind a wide but unused list of reference texts.
Mudimbe, Wiredu, Gyekye, and Appiah, to mention just a few, have all recently published
excellent scholarly philosophical works which top lists of cogitative discussions of significant
conceptual implications of changes African societies continue to undergo.
Lassiter accuses African scholars of failing to define their new (mis)uses of well established
scientific terms. But his (p.3) swipe at Ali Mazrui does not indicate that his own critical
understanding and practice is better. His highlight of the phrase "The new East African mind"
in a passage quoted from Mazrui and Mazrui (1995:134) suggests that he is questioning the use
of the term "mind" in the passage, but one sees no difficulty at all in the context of the entire
passage. He also questions the use of the term "African Personality" from another passage of the
same work. The said passage, it appears to me, refers to the historical evolution and affinity
between the movements which the terms stand for. For Lassiter to suggest that Mazrui and
Mazrui have in the passage misused a purely psychological term (personality) clearly indicates
his ignorance of the historical genealogy of that term and others listed with it. Lassiter's
objection indicates his serious misreading of both the intent and the context of the text. But even
worse, it appears that Lassiter takes Mazrui's and Nyasani's respective uses of the term "mind"
to be synonymous. If so, this is an indication of a gravely careless reading by someone wishing
to present himself in such a critical manner.

Reference Style: The following is the suggested format for referencing this article:
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African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000

Language in Development Research in 21st Century Africa



Africa's development in the next millennium must be research driven. Only socio-cultural
and economic investigation can provide the vital data necessary to arrive at sound, well-
informed policies governing development for all facets of society. Given that most of Africa
remains rural and illiterate, the issue of which language is to be a medium of research is
especially crucial. Verbal communication is often the only option that trained researchers have
to obtain information and attain their research goals. Indeed, this is the only method through
which scientists and administrators may seek to influence social or collective behaviour and
direct it toward development objectives. This paper contends, therefore, that development
research in Africa has failed to make substantial improvements in the quality of life for the
majority, mainly because development theory and practice have failed to exploit local
languages as media for research and development work. Although, as a result of colonialism,
European languages are part and parcel of Africa's heritage, these languages remain foreign for
the majority of ordinary people, for whom development is intended.
Language is never simply a neutral instrument to convey meaning, but rather a culturally
subjective system reflecting peoples' worldview. Language symbolizes the common beliefs and
psychological make-up of the community from which it springs'. For Africa, the use of
language in social research and policy must consider the mobilization of human resources for
development. No meaningful change can occur without the full participation of the masses. The
importance of speaking to people in their own languages cannot be over-stressed.


The major purpose of development research is to provide fundamental and long-term
solutions to social problems. Research of this nature provides a venue for the discussion of
major issues in socio-economic and political-cultural development. Social science research
should ideally aim at discovering and understanding such problems. Social development
remains a complex phenomenon that brings into play a multiplicity of factors. These variables
are often quite fluid in nature. However, research becomes a complete waste of resources if the
findings do not reflect the true feelings of the target population. Unless that happens, results
and recommendations contribute little to a collective understanding of the problems or the
policies envisaged. Such failure in Africa has been attributed to (a) the lack of communication
between researchers and potential beneficiaries of research; and (b) little public awareness of
the various findings and programmes. Overall dissemination of research findings continues to

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26 I King'ei

be very poor2. The nature and level of the discourse involved is frequently cast in complex,
exclusive jargon understood only by a tiny minority of technical and academic elites. The
absence of free-flowing communication between investigators and beneficiaries accounts for the
bottle-to-mouth model of development research in Africa. As a result, social research over the
years has become an essentially academic exercise.


As a result of IMF/World Bank assistance, the 1980s and 1990s saw the adoption of economic
liberalization in Africa. Before entering an era of liberalisation and market-driven economies,
the population must make a psychological leap from traditionalism into the 21st century. Only
then can a society meaningfully address areas of immediate concern such as the eradication of
poverty, ignorance, disease and hunger. The process of development entails not simply
accelerated economic growth but also changes in traditional structures, values and practices 5.
Thus, for markets to work, the crucial issue becomes how to negotiate desired social and
behavioral changes. What role does the development researcher play in facilitating this
process? As many scholars have stressed, unplanned or uncontrolled change in the name of
modern "development" often results in social behaviours that counter the intended spirit of
development. But social science research in Africa has tended to neglect the cultural and
language issues of local communities. This "top-down" planning approach denies popular input
and participation in the determination of economic and social policy 6.
The manner of conducting policy without local development research also contributes to
the isolation and alienation of the masses from the process of development. Exclusive and
highly academic forums such as scholarly journals, dissertations/theses and technical ministry
reports reach only a small group of intellectual elites, effectively cutting off the majority.
Research results must flow through more informal and accessible channels of communication
such as extension education, grass-roots conferences, workshops, exhibitions and demonstrative
teaching. Such channels should be utilized when generating knowledge for broad social
consumption. If information and data are to help achieve the desired development goals, they
must be presented to the people in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner.
Therefore, the use of local languages/dialects that draw their idioms from an accepted cultural
landscape is essential.


The problem of understanding and effectively communicating with people in a second
language represents a problem most social science researchers recognize but fail to address. In
all stages of research (from problem identification to the reporting of findings) the researcher
must continually bear in mind the linguistic and communication complexity at hand. Special
attention should be paid to the choice of language and level of discourse because language as a
system of communicative symbols only receives meaning from culture and society 7.
Social science researchers can use language to study the attitudes of various African
societies toward change. Through language the researcher may gain insight into aspects of

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000

Language in Development Research in 21st Century Africa I 27

cultural tolerance, accommodation of divergent views and the mechanisms of coping with
change. Language and culture play a vital part in shaping individual and collective behaviour
and values. A researcher armed only with a casual level of local language competence will end
up with only a partial understanding of the social phenomenon or problem under scrutiny. If a
researcher cannot understand the meaning and application of various oral forms (e.g. idioms,
proverbs, popular sayings, tongue-twisters, riddles, myths, legends, songs and poetry) in a
given community, he or she may not fully understand the politics, economic activities, social
organization and cultural values of that locality. The principal claim is not that only researchers
fully fluent in local languages may engage in research. Rather, the point is to stress the crucial
role of understanding local language and culture as tools of deepening research understanding
that would be the case if a researcher did not use them.
Although multilingual, Africa possesses regional languages that have long enabled
different far-flung communities to communicate and do business. These languages spread
widely, gradually becoming culturally widespread and sometimes politically neutral. This
historical process has resulted in their acceptability across and beyond the boundaries of
modern states. Examples of these common languages are Hausa, Wolof, Kiswahili, Arabic,
Amharic and Berber. To a lesser extent, one may also add Zulu, Shona, Lingala, Ndebele, Xhosa,
Tswana and several others.
In East and Central Africa, Kiswahili is the lingua franca, having a long written tradition
that has been used as a medium of education at different times in history. Since it is estimated
that only 20% of people in this region speak or understand English (and even fewer know
French), the potential of Kiswahili as a tool for social communication and development cannot
be over-emphasized. Given the high level of lexical borrowing between Kiswahili and the
languages of this region, as well as the large body of literature available in the language, social
research cannot afford to ignore or overlook Kiswahili.
Having mentioned the role local languages may play in research, we may pay our attention
to the national versus local cultural issues. The importance of "local" as opposed to "national"
loyalties in matters of development should never escape the serious social science researcher.
With the possible exception of material acquisition and embracing new values through formal
education or Christianity, most Africans still owe their ethnic origins considerable loyalty and
obedience. In effect, many Africans still cling to what they consider values and attitudes while
practising a modicum of "modern" life. In other cases it has been demonstrated that local
"traditions" are invented from new and old experiences. Social science researchers must
acknowledge this in order to avoid offending research subjects and to better understand the
responses they encounter. Some of these values and practices a researcher faces have a direct
bearing on the community's attitude toward modern development. To an uninitiated scholar,
such values and practices may only appear as remnants of a distant past, but the communities
concerned often find it necessary to incorporate them in development. Rather than simply
dismissing them, the researcher needs to investigate the social basis of their origins and
persistence. There is no better place to start such an investigation than with the various forms of
creative language such as the oral genres.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000

28 I King'ei


One of the major concerns of social science research has been to understand human life and
society as objectively as possible. However, since the data derives (directly or indirectly) from
individuals with unique personal qualities, recent thinking on social science methodology has
refuted the claim that such inquiry can ever be purely objective 8. These individual qualities
colour data whether the inquiry is experimental, survey or evaluative in nature. Individual
differences become clear in the language of responses to various questions and in observable
preferences for certain words, phrases, sentence structures and idioms. Two levels of thought
based on language may be at play here. Individualised language habits or idiolectss" form part
of the social personality and affect the worldviews expressed to the researcher. The social
science researcher should differentiate these two epistemological types as they occur in the
research discourse by analyzing meanings on both the linguistic and cultural levels. This ability
directly affects the validity and reliability of the final results as the researcher attempts to
distinguish opinion from fact. The effort to refine the process of communication and language
use in social science is imperative to understanding the sources of authenticity in any society. In
each community there are institutions and personalities regarded as the custodians of
indigenous values or ways of life. These people wield untold authority within their community,
often influencing language use and social thought. So by studying the expressive behaviour
patterns of a subject community, social scientists gain an understanding of the meanings
attached to various symbols and how these can reflect power relations. The objectivity and
verifiability obtained by the social researcher in that manner is vital in formulating
development policies.


The keystone of social science research is observation. However, it is impossible to interpret
such observations without the careful employment of language as a medium of communication.
Utmost attention must be paid to the meaning and application of language to guard against
producing distorted accounts. The language used deserves as much attention as description of
the phenomena under study. Only then can observation in research reduce the chance of
unnecessary errors. There are many sources for error in social research. For instance, a keen
researcher may discover cases of either over-generalization or selective observation by a
respondent. Although the problem can be addressed by attempts to refine such results, a more
profitable alternative would be paying closer attention to patterns of the language used to
respond to the researcher. Language analysis helps unearth errors emanating from
misinterpretation of data, misinformation, or the mystification of cause-and-effect. These
aspects are central to the success of social science research and cannot be taken lightly.
This essay has discussed the importance of language, culture and communication in social
research intended to promote development. Research is a social enterprise that makes use of
linguistic and cultural tools. Meaning-formation or conceptualization is a culture-bound
process. The objectivity, validity and reliability of findings depend upon the researcher's ability
to operate effectively within the confines of culture and language. A close relationship exists

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000

Language in Development Research in 21st Century Africa I 29

between habits of language use and thought processes as well as between socio-cultural
mechanisms and the nature of human language. Therefore, problems in social research cannot
be resolved solely through the use of non-African languages that currently dominate the
literature on African development. Local languages and/or dialects must also be at the core of
research and development discourse. The end results for African development might be better
than what we have now.


1. Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Decolonising the Mind : The Politics of Language in African
Literature. Heinemann: Nairobi, 1988, 15.
2. G. Eshiwani, Background paper to Report on Educational Research and Development in
Kenya. Nairobi: Bureau of Educational Research, Kenyatta University, 1981, 2.
3. G. Warren et. al., The Planning of Change. New York: Hort Rinehert, 1969, 58.
4. M.S. Archer, Culture and Agency : The Place of Culture in Social Theory. New York :
CUP, 1994, 38-39.
5. Frank Blackler (ed.), Social Psychology and Developing Countries. New York : John
Wiley, 1983,8.
6. Penina M. Mlama, Culture and Development. Uppsala: Scandinavian Institute of African
Studies, 1991, 8.
7. Barrie Walde (ed.), Language Perspective. London: Heinemann, 1982, 90.
8. Earl Babbie, The Practice of Social Research. Belmont: Wardsworth Publishing
Company, 1992, 311.
9. F.A. Hanson, Meaning in Culture. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975, 20-21.
10. S.H. Irvine and J.T. Sanders, Cultural Adaptation within Modern Africa. New York:
Teachers Press College, 1972, 16.

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Kinge'i K. 1999. Language Development Research in 21st Century Africa 33: 3. [online] URL:

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000

The Challenges Facing Nigeria's Foreign Policy in the Next




Since Nigeria became independent in 1960 its foreign policy, like that of most other
countries, has witnessed successes and failures. The current debate on President Obasanjo's list
of Ambassadorial nominees sent to the Senate for approval provides Nigerian citizens with an
opportunity to contribute to the debate on who should be nominated and why. I will leave
relating to the "who and why" to observers more concerned with the internal political situation.
My contribution will go beyond the internal debate concerning the disrespect of the "federal
character" and the purported bias in these nominations. I will focus on the content and
objectives of Nigerian foreign policy in the new millennium.
In his article on Obasanjo's foreign policy, Reubin Abati, gives an interesting and complete
overview of Nigeria's foreign policy since its independence'. He rightly points out that Nigeria
has been extraordinarily naive by restricting its foreign policy to Africa as its cornerstone. It was
a laudable goal before the 1990s, but its evolution is needed for Nigeria to meet the needs of
today's diplomacy as we move into the next millennium. Africa as the centerpiece of Nigeria's
foreign policy no longer suffices; a broader perspective is necessary. Although Nigeria hasn't
got the means and might to have a global foreign policy, it should endeavour to take more into
consideration current trends in international relations and diplomacy such as globalization,
human rights, and democracy.
In my opinion, successive military dictatorships in Nigeria have used the Africa
cornerstone slogan to lure compliant like-minded African regimes to support their unpopular
regimes. This was the price Nigeria had to pay for the support of dictatorial African states.
Now, we are a democracy and we have to speak out and stand tall within the international
community. We no longer have to beg for support from other military dictatorships for limited
gains within African diplomatic circles. Africa alone should no longer be the one and only
reason for the existence of a foreign policy in Nigeria. None of the important international
diplomatic actors, such as the USA, France and Great Britain, build their foreign policy on only
one pillar. Nigeria shouldn't be an exception if it wants to play a role in current high level
diplomatic circles.

Ebenezer Okpokpo a Nigerian citizen, is currently with the Nigerian embassy, Paris. He holds a Ph. D. in
International Law from the University of Paris I-Panth6on-Sorbonne, France. Since 1994 he has taught at the
American Graduate School of International Relations and Diplomacy, Paris.

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Internal political events usually have a lot of impact on foreign policy. Nigeria is no
exception as the following discussion will demonstrate. Nigeria should henceforth cultivate the
idea, recognize and accept that military coup d'etats are not solutions to internal political
problems. If such were the case, governments in industrialized countries would have been
toppled very often because of political crises. The solution is a culture of political dialogue and
debate between opponents and Nigerians are up to that task. Encouraging political dialogue as
the principal mechanism for the resolution of crisis situations would show the international
community that Nigerians are a mature people worthy of a respectable place within the
community of nations.
When Rueben Abati mentioned that the Babangida regime gave a lethal blow to Nigeria's
image abroad and its foreign policy in particular, he gave as examples the financial waste but
omitted human rights abuses and the cancellation of the June 12 election at a time when every
country, in particular the G7 and most OECD countries had made democracy, good
governance, and human rights essential determining elements in international politics and in
their relations with developing countries. It is worth noting that since the famous La Baule
speech by President Mitterrand of France in 1983, democracy became a determining factor in
relations between France and developing countries, in particular, African countries. This
applied to other western states also.
Worse still, after its cancellation, no official inside Babangida's government was capable of
giving cogent reasons for the annulment of the June 12 elections and accusations concerning
human rights violations. The international community, therefore, rightly believed our top
military officers were up to something. The aftermath was nothing to write home about. That
was the beginning of Nigeria's misunderstanding with the international community notably
the USA, Canada, the Commonwealth countries, and the European Union.
The issue of June 12 had not been resolved when General Sani Abacha pushed the
transition president Chief Ernest Shonekan out and took his seat without any agenda on how to
improve relations between Nigeria and the international community, outside its traditional
African brother countries. That coup d'etat worsened the international image of Nigeria. No
creditworthy transition programme was published; instead General Abacha embarked upon a
self-aggrandising effort that led Nigeria to the brink of war because of the most flagrant human
rights abuses any military regime had ever committed in the country since independence.
Nigeria became a pariah state with whom none except compliant African countries talked
to. It was at this time that experienced diplomatic advice would have saved Nigeria. None was
given a chance; instead a select delegation of incredible, though famous Nigerians, was sent
abroad to explain the unexplainable to the international community. One such delegations led
by Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu visited Europe, but its failure was obvious.


Under General Abacha, foreign policy was crudely mishandled. Records show that Nigeria
was like a country without a foreign minister and a foreign policy during that period. No one

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000

The Challenges Facing Nigeria's Foreign Policy in the Next Millenium I 33

person should be blamed for the absence of a foreign policy but someone should explain why
there seemed to be no useful policy advice to General Abacha during the time2. The questions to
be answered include those relating to the aimless intentional tug-of-war declared by the regime
against the international community.
Explanations should be given as to why that regime was incapable of foreseeing the
devastating effects of the hanging of the "Ogoni nine", including Ken Saro Wiwa, and lastly,
why there was no government official capable of making the regime to shift the horrible
decision to hang the Ogoni activitists until the end of the Commonwealth summit. That regime
unjustly imprisoned many people, including the incumbent President Olusegun Obasanjo, and
hung Ken Saro Wiwa when all Commonwealth Heads of State and Government were meeting
in Australia. These were all terrible acts and diplomatic blunders because they underrated the
importance of internal policy including democratic reforms and the place of human rights in
international relations and diplomacy.
When we hear some Nigerian's cry wolf today concerning the ambassadorial nominations
by President Obasanjo, they should be asked why many ambassadorial positions remained
vacant and no diplomats were posted out during Abacha's tenure of office3. Nigeria's
diplomacy was grounded during the Babangida-Abacha era. This explains why the current
government recalled all ambassadors and designated new ones. In Foreign Minister Lamido's
words, it is in recognition of the important roles played by heads of missions that they recalled
them to dismantle the "old order"4. Also, how would Nigeria have explained the confirmation
by a democratically elected government of ambassadors who were apologetic to the military?
The annulment of the June 12 presidential elections and the hanging of the "Ogoni nine"
were two lethal blows that those regimes gave to Nigeria's image abroad. Nigeria's bad image
has not been repaired and those who contributed toward this should be humble in their
utterances against the choices made by a democratically elected government.


Despite immense efforts by diplomats and other officials in the Babangida and Abacha
years to explain Nigeria's stance to countries outside Africa, their efforts were fruitless because
Nigeria maintained an obsolete definition of national sovereignty. They argued that human
rights and related issues were Nigerain internal affairs about which outsiders had no say. Yet,
gone are the days when any ruler could sit down within the boundaries of his country and treat
citizens as he liked without reaction from the international community. In spite of the existing
double standards in the field, NATO intervention in Kosovo, former Yugoslavia, is an example.
Henceforth, democracy and human rights, which in the recent past were considered in law and
international relations as purely internal affairs, are becoming important determinants in
foreign policy.
Though the recent crisis in East Timor (Indonesia) gave no pride for the international
community, and in particular, the United Nations, the international community has tried
various humanitarian and sometimes military rescue operations where there were human rights
abuses. In Africa, Rwanda, during the ethnic crisis, was a case in hand. Nigerian policy and
decision-makers should henceforth recognize that democracy and human rights are subjects of

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000

34 I Okpokpo

international concern and they should therefore inculcate these elements into the decision-
making process.
Regarding image building, it was astonishing to observe how Nigerian diplomats and
information ministry officials were incapable of formulating a message destined for
international consumption to counter the international press campaign against Nigeria. The
incapacity of Nigerian officials at the time to explain these decisions to the international public
led to the deteriorated image of Nigeria abroad. The effects are very deep-rooted and years will
be required to correct the image.
President Obasanjo and Foreign Minister Sule Lamido's task is to bring Nigeria out of this
dead end by consolidating democracy at home, respecting fundamental human rights and
encouraging liberal economic reforms, good governance and transparency with a view to
boosting international economic cooperation with G7 countries as well as the dynamic Asian
economies5. The task ahead is hectic and the choice of competent officials actors is therefore


The policy actors in this immense task are both internal and external to the foreign
ministry. Although it is primarily a foreign minsitry affair, it should be mentioned that internal
actors such as the president, the foreign minister, ambassadors and embassies abroad, the press
and the business community are all active players in the foreign policy formulation process. The
role and place of our embassies should be redefined. A dynamic and performance-oriented
foreign policy leaves no room for amateurism like in the past. Our ambassadors and embassies
should sit up and live up to national expectations. Nigeria's foreign policy has to produce
results for the country and its citizens. The training programme for our diplomats should be
reviewed to give them the necessary knowledge to practise the art and science of diplomacy
because they are at the frontline of our foreign policy.
Our vital national interests have to be redefined. Does Africa still represent the cornerstone
of our foreign policy when we have more respect from other countries than we get from African
nations despite our whole-hearted commitment to them? If yes, what are the benefits we get
from the choice? If the response is no, then we should reorient our foreign policy towards more
profitable ventures like economic, scientific, cultural and technical cooperation with more
advanced countries including Asia.
The economic development and well-being of Nigeria should henceforth be the mainstay of
our foreign policy. We should revive and reinforce what was termed economic diplomacy by
General Ike Nwachukwu. Fot instance, why would we continue to sit aloof and see Cameroun
lay claim on Nigeria's territory? In the name of African unity and good neighbourhood, Nigeria
has sacrificed a lot and continues to sacrifice for our continent. That is praiseworthy but most
southern African countries have forgotten the sacrifices made by Nigeria to bring them out of
their woes. Sierra Leoneans and Liberians have forgotten the loss of lives by Nigerian soldiers
in their efforts to defend unity and peace in these countries. Though Africa should not be
forgotten, Nigeria's interests should come first in all our foreign policy analysis and decisions.
Retired General Danjuma wasn't saying anything different when he said "Right now, we are

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000

The Challenges Facing Nigeria's Foreign Policy in the Next Millenium I 35

becoming the United States of ECOWAS at very great cost to us. We think this is unaffordable
to us now"6. He further stated that Nigeria's needs are enormous.
Regarding important sensitive internal policy issues that would have effect on our foreign
policy, a decision-making forum comprising Presidential Advisers, top-level officials from the
Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defence, Internal Affairs, Justice, Economy and Finance, inter alia,
should meet to discuss and access them with a view of defining a coherent policy. Officials from
the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, the National Institute for Policy and Strategic
Studies and the National Institute for Advanced Legal Studies should be invited to give expert
opinion on such issues in order to avoid the diplomatic blunders of our officials during the Ken
Saro Wiwa crisis.
Nigeria should therefore precisely define in policy terms what it's cultural policy is and
what it aims to achieve outside the country. What does cultural cooperation with foreign
countries imply? Does it simply mean encouraging foreign artists to organise tours in Nigeria or
foreign countries to establish flourishing cultural and language centres in Lagos, Abuja and
elsewhere in the country? Where in the world does Nigeria have a cultural centre worthy of its
title? In the field of defence, what is our defence policy? Does it simply mean protecting the
external and internal territorial integrity of the Nigeria? Protecting the integrity of the country
against who? In short, who are our enemies and who are our friends? What type of relations
should we have with all our French-speaking neighboring countries considering that all of
them have over thirty years old defence and military pacts with France, one of the world's
leading military and industrial powers?
On Nigeria and its citizens abroad, what does the country intend to do to make them
contribute in their own way to the economic, cultural, scientific and technological development
of the country? In certain African countries, citizens residing abroad vote and take active part in
political activities. What would Nigeria do to encourage its democracy to evolve toward such
an objective? Nigerians living abroad should be encouraged to have closer relations with the
motherland. Nigeria's foreign policy should include all these actors for a more global approach
to policy issues than in the past.
Democratically elected regimes have a wider scope and more leeway in policy decisions
than regimes resulting from military coups d'etats because they are legitimate. In Nigeria's case,
we have voluntarily or unconsciously restricted most vital foreign policy decisions or
diplomatic initiatives to the African continent since we do not seem capable of going beyond
Africa. We should no longer be satisfied with our fictional "giant of Africa" image and watch
other African diplomatic "giants" like South Africa and Egypt work hard to get a name and
maintain their place within the international arena.


The scope of Nigeria's foreign policy should no longer be limited to continental affairs. Its
should be focused world-wide and geared toward the promotion of our cultural heritage, and
scientific, economic and technical cooperation with viable partners. Its goal should aim at
enhancing our national development, and military arrangements with NATO countries in order
to give peace a permanent character in our societal needs and our sub-region. Finally, Nigerian

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000

36 I Okpokpo

foreign policy should aim at creating benefits for the betterment of the people. It should no
longer focus on Africa without clearly defined policy objectives.
Such a policy shift would mean a very careful choice of external actors. Although I would
not advocate dropping Africa, Nigeria needs to make a careful choice of our closest allies based
not on the wealth or technological advancement of the partner but on Nigeria's vital national
interests in the cultural, economic, political, scientific and technical areas as well as in the
military field. A commission comprising diplomats, top-level military officers, university
professors and politicians should be set-up to review our foreign policy objectives and to
redefine our vital national interests. Its mandate should be short and precise. These interests
should be made the fundamental guidelines of all our foreign policy objectives in Africa, the
European Union, America both North and South, Asia and the Pacific. Nigeria's foreign policy
objectives should henceforth focus on the benefits of such policy for its people. President
Obasanjo's task would be to make the ordinary Nigerian feel the positive effects of the
government on his or her life.
At another level, Nigeria's foreign policy should encompass a clear opinion and strategy on
major international issues such as the reform of the United Nations, bilateral relations between
Nigeria and members of the European Union outside the ACP-EU framework, discussions with
the dynamic Asian economies on how best to boost their investment in Nigeria, how to make
G7 governments encourage more foreign capital flows to the vital areas of our economy
through a liberal foreign investment policy. Lastly, as a representative of Africa at large, Nigeria
should campaign strongly to get admitted as a permanent member of the Security Council.
These achievements would make the ordinary Nigerian realise the usefulness of the country's
foreign policy in real, not abstract terms.


1. The Guardian, 29/8/99, (See http://www.ngguardiannews.com/editorial/en/59501.htm).
2. On comments relating to the attitude of Nigeria's authorities, see Bolaji Ogunseye -
« In defence of career diplomats; The Guardian. 6th September 1999.
3. P.M. News, Lagos, 25th August 1999, (See
4. See THISDAY, The Sunday Newspaper, August 8, 1999, p. 10, I will surprise my critics -
5. See Pierre Poret, "Liberalising capital flows : Lessons from Asia," The OECD Observer,
October/November 1998, pp. 39-40.
6. See Vanguard August 18, 1999.

Reference Style: The following is the suggested format for referencing this article:
Okpokpo, E. 1999. The Challenges facing Nigeria's Foreign Policy in the Next Millenium 3(2): 4.
[online] URL: http://web.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v3/v3i3al6.htm

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000


The Anthropology of Anger: Civil Society and Democracy in Africa. Celestin Monga.
Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998. pp. 218, paper $19.95.

Celestin Monga's The Anthropology of Anger articulates an alternative to the study of
democratization in Africa. He finds the paradigmatic approaches to African politics inadequate
and often demeaning to Africans. Since, according to Monga, Western academics and
governments alike do not take Africa seriously, he intends to elevate the discourse on Africa in
order to repair the damage done by cavalier and ethnocentric studies of Africa. He proposes to
accomplish this task through "a political anthropology of anger," which incorporates what he
variously calls the "grassroots perspective," "everyday-life approach," and "everyday-language
approach". The anthropology of anger -- a putatively intellectual response to situations that
produce anger -- is intended to supplement a more conventional approach to understanding
politics as involving "political markets."
One fails to see what is fresh and original about such an approach. The concept of political
markets, like that of laissez-faire capitalism, is based on a view of society as consisting of
egoistic individuals pursuing purely selfish interests. Although there is no lack of egoism
among Africans, the concept of political markets scarcely fits societies still characterized by
mutual aid, still under the sway of tradition (by Monga's own admission), and whose solidary
relations remain largely intact (p. 153). It therefore seems odd that Monga, who blames some of
Africa's most intractable problems on the reluctance of Africans to modernize and enter history
(Chapter 3), would promote the concept of political markets as part of a methodology for
understanding African politics.
The Anthropology of Anger also suffers from a glaring lack of complete and systematic
argumentation, and some of Monga's critical terms are poorly defined. At various points, it
seems as if he is finally going to demonstrate how his "everyday-life" approach works, but he
falters, moving on to once more merely argue the merits of the approach (p. 110). Similarly, he
continually refers to the concept of "indiscipline" without explicating it, let alone demonstrating
its practical relevance. He defines civil society to mean society as a whole. Moreover, we are not
sure whether democracy is merely a system of government that disperses power and maximizes
governmental accountability, or "a quest for greater public welfare" (p. 70). Equally, we are not
sure whether he believes Africa is modern when he declares "... those in charge of what passed
for cultural politics in Africa missed the arrival of modernity" or questions whether outmoded
ways are hampering modernization (p. 90). Monga does not explicate "modernity" and
"modernization" in ways that would strengthen his argument.
This work also relies too heavily on secondary sources. The only evidence of primary
research consists of a small number of interviews with musicians. The connection between the


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aims of the book and the views of the artistshowever, is nebulous. The few examples of
interpretations of everyday language also have no discernible connection to the author's
proposed aim. He discusses the plight of youth in Africa and their supposed proclivity to
violence. Yet apart from general statements about youth joblessness, he offers no concrete
instances of the plight of youth in even one country to enable us to properly assess his claim.
Throughout the book one notices Monga's overwhelming tendency to generalize about Africa.
We have the inexcusable statement, "In an Africa where cable stations like CNN are watched in
every home..." (p. 28). We also come across the claim, "... only a tiny minority of Africans can
read the language they speak fluently" (p. 74), a claim Southern Africans in particular will find
hard to accept.
Monga's book is engaging for its brilliant prose. It fails, however, to provide a satisfactory
alternative to understanding political development in Africa. Monga dulls discourse by treating
arguments outside his philosophical frame as motivated by a posture of cultural superiority.
Carol Lancaster, for instance, is supposedly contemptuous of African voters because she does
not think they behave like citizens in modern democracies. Instead, she argues that African
democracy is bound to be different from Western democracy (p. 36). Rather than the Western
intellectuals whom he cites as culprits of African denigration, it is seemingly Monga who
disparages African society in a most regrettable manner. Taking a stance outside the narrative
of the multitudes and ensconcing himself among "those who do not feel any allegiance to the
habits and customs of their ancestors," Monga calls African peoples "social misfits" and
"marginalized players in the construction of history" (p. 90). Although a central theme of the
book seems to be the liberation of Africans (defined as the ending of the dictatorship of the
group and the promotion of individualism), Monga displays an unusually intense interest in
canvassing foreign intervention in African affairs.
Monga's version of dialectical materialism has much to do with his misdirection. This
approach declares that the dialectic outcomes must come to pass, regardless of what the people
actually think. The concept of progress, a process that he identifies with thorough-going
modernization, governs Monga's enterprise as a dialectician. His method leads to apoplectic
generalizations of African political scenes as consisting of villains (the rulers) and victims (the
Monga's anger is directed mostly at what he perceives as African injustice, and at outsiders
who refuse to acknowledge that Africa's peoples are capable of embracing modernity. Although
we may understand and even share Monga's anger at the injustice perpetrated by some of
Africa's rulers, we should insist that anger is a poor substitute for proper research and

Chisanga Siame
Department of Political Science
Northwestern University

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000


Ethnic Conflicts in Africa. Okwudiba Nnoli,ed.Nottingham: CODESRIA. Distributed by
African Books Collective, 1998. pp. 417. paper: $30.00

Images of Albanians and Serbs ravaged by ethnic conflicts have been blasted all over the
western news media, but the fratricide occurring on the African continent draws little attention.
This is due to, inter alia, what has seemingly become a universal belief: ethnic conflicts in Africa
are an everyday occurrence. Undergirding this belief is the idea that Africans are enraged
beings who murder one another ebulliently and are, therefore, undeserving of extensive media
coverage. Ethnic Conflicts in Africa debunks this mythology through the documentation of
multidimensional origins and contingent resolutions of ethnic conflicts in some African
In the first chapter, the editor provides an overview and analysis of the book that seeks to
provide answers to the following questions. Why is ethnic identity conducive to severe conflict?
If and why ethnic conflict in Africa is more severe than in Europe and North America?What are
the goals of ethnic conflicts? What are the causes, dynamics, and consequences of ethnic
conflict? Who benefits from ethnic conflicts; and why? Responding to the aforestated questions
in ten to thirty pages seems like a nearly insurmountable task. The authors, however, manage to
address these questions and how they apply to Nigeria, Burundi, Rwanda, Liberia, Cote
d'Ivoire, Ghana, Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Kenya, Tanzania, Zaire, Zimbabwe and Benin.
Each author adheres to the structure of tracing the origins of ethnic conflicts from the pre-
colonial, colonial to post-independence eras. This provides a reader with a sense of the
beginnings of ethnic antagonism, the impact of colonialism on inter-ethnic relations, and how
independent nations have handled such conflicts.
As to why ethnic conflict is more severe in Africa than other parts of the world, the authors
provide various explanations, including the fact that colonial incursions exploited and
compounded inter-ethnic inimicable relations. For example, in countries like Nigeria, Burundi,
Rwanda, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Mauritania, Kenya, Tanzania, Zaire, and Zimbabwe, colonial
powers utilized the segmentation of ethnic groups to their advantage. The divide-and-rule
policies of colonial administrators assured the docility of different ethnic groups and thus
shielded them from the menace of insurrection. In other words, it was feasible to divide ethnic
groups and pit them against each other so that they could focus their energies on fighting one
another rather than overthrowing colonial governments. This was also the strategy utilized by
the apartheid regime in South Africa. In the case of Burundi and Rwanda, the authors posit that
the promulgation of the hamitic mythology has been the source for recent pogroms in the two
countries. However, as Mustapha informs us, the totality of the colonial experience is not
reducible to just segmentation. For colonialism contained within it many cross-cutting
contradictions, even at the level of identity formation and inter-ethnic relations" (p. 38).
As author after author points out, the corrosive, hierarchical, and divisive nature of
capitalism is also responsible for the severity of ethnic conflict in Africa. As people perceive
other groups to be more economically secure, they often turn to ethnicity as an anchor,
particularly if those who are economically better off belong to a different ethnic group. This is
not mere jealousy, but a need for every person to be economically secure, exacerbated by the
inability or refusal of those who possess wealth to equally distribute resources. Whether it is the

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000


peasants in rural Nigeria, the impoverished "indigenous" people of Liberia, or blacks in
Mauritania, they are all pushed into conflict by socio-economic needs.
As to the beneficiaries of such conflicts, the authors concur that prior to independence, the
colonialists were the most obvious. In post-colonial Africa as well such conflict does not benefit
anyone but elites and those in power. For example, in Liberia, the members of the ruling group
and other elites benefitted from the antagonistic relations of African-Liberians and Americo-
Liberians. Osaghae's analysis is worth quoting: "Underneath conflicts which are apparently
ethnic are personal (and class) ambitions which are desperate, opportunistic and violence
prone. This is an indictment of the elite Americo-Liberians and African-Liberians whose
rapaciousness is responsible for the deterioration of relations among ethnic groups" (p. 156). In
Benin, the Batombous had access to positions from which other groups were barred. Hence,
those at the center of the society benefit at the expense of the marginalized, as is the case in
many western countries.
The authors in this book argue that ethnic conflicts in Africa are rooted in various socio-
economic and political factors rather than Africans' exigency to engage in blood letting. Ethnic
groups are often compelled to fratricide by legitimate issues. The authors, however, point out
that this documentation of the causes does not make ethnic conflict inevitable and thus
ineradicable. As Sithole states, "The problems of social engineering are more like algebra and
calculus than simple arithmetic. It is not a matter of taking an equal number from each ethnic
group [into leadership positions]. It is who amongst the ethnics are added that achieves the
balance. Are they to be perceived to be representative leaders by the particular community?
What positions are they given relative to others" (p. 377)?
This book is well researched and written. It will be invaluable to beginning and advanced
scholars of political science and history. Students of policy development will also find this book
quite useful. I highly recommend it. My main criticism is the editor's postulation that ethnic
divisions were not always a source of conflict and were even a conduit for solidarity during
colonial rule in Africa. However, with the exception of Zimbabwe, the authors maintain that
ethnic divisions were never a positive factor during colonial times. This discrepancy between
the editor's introduction and the rest of the book is rather unsettling. Aside from this, the book
is a great contribution to our understanding of ethnic conflicts in Africa, providing important
lessons for the new democracy of South Africa about the need for socio-economic stability for
all people, as well as recognizing the danger of the oppressor within all of us.

Shirley Mthethwa-Sommers
Department of Social Foundations and Leadership
University of Toledo

Labor and Democracy in Namibia, 1971-1996. Gretchen Bauer. Athens: Ohio University Press,
1998. pp. 229 Cloth: $34.95; Paper: $17.95.

The literature on democratic transitions occurring in many African countries has recently
moved from comprehensive studies of the transition process (i.e., elections, national

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000


conferences, constitutions, etc.) to detailed case studies of democratic survival. A secondary
focus has been on the role civil society can play in the democratization process, particularly in
democratic consolidation. Labor and Democracy in Namibia, 1971-1996, both analytical and
documentary in style, provides a critical case study for this growing body of literature by
examining the involvement of labor movements in the struggle for democracy in Namibia.
Bauer draws on materials not widely available before independence in 1990 and on
interviews with political leaders, community activists, trade unionists, and employers. She has
two aims. The first is to provide a current description as well as trace the historical origins and
development of unions, the central labor movement, and industrial relations in Namibia.
Within this frame of reference, the author examines various influences on the labor movement,
relations between unions and employees, attitudes of employees and employers toward
unionism, the role of the state, and the political and industrial strategies of the unions. In
particular, the author examines the industrial strike of 1970-1971, which was to ultimately shape
industrial relations in Namibia.
The second aim of the book is to describe how the labor movement in Namibia can
generate strong, autonomous, organizations which then play a major role in building and
safeguarding democracy in Namibia. However, in the first years of independence, labor
appears to be in a weakened and precarious position, thus diminishing the prospects for the
successful consolidation of democracy in Namibia. The reasons for this weakness lie in the
skewed nature of the economy and the legacy of labor policies produced by oppressive colonial
and apartheid regimes. This weakness is also attributed to the close affiliation of the major trade
union federation in Namibia, the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW), with the
nationalist political party South West Africa Peoples Organization (SWAPO).
Not everyone will agree with Bauer's arguments and conclusions, particularly members of
the central labor movement. The book suggests that they decided to subordinate the unions to
the nationalist struggle and postpone development efforts until after independence. A more
detailed analysis of how this issue affected consolidation efforts would help clarify a potentially
controversial conclusion. Although democracy and democratic consolidation features in the
title, the book includes little discussion on democratic consolidation at the conceptual level. For
example, what factors assist or impede democratic transition? Near the beginning of this book,
Bauer asserts that Namibia has brighter prospects for the consolidation of democracy than any
other country in Africa. There is no reasoned account to this optimism. In specific terms, what
will it take to consolidate Namibia's nascent democracy? Perhaps, with these and related issues
more fully addressed, Bauer's conclusions on the role of labor in Namibia would appear less
This work should be manifestly situated within the labor relations literature, and latently
situated within the democratic discourse. Except for the last chapter and a brief highlight in the
introductory chapter, the book is a complete documentary analysis of labor, employer, SWAPO,
and state relations in the colonial period and early years of independence. Very little attention is
given to the political vanguard role that labor unions often play in the democratization process.
Rather, this book shows how labor unions in Namibia have used their relative power (through
strikes and violence) to play a traditional role (to improve the terms and conditions of
employment). The author points to this as part of the overall strategy for national liberation.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000


This book is very well written and organized, but its greatest strength lies in demonstrating
the value of interviews and the participant observation method for social research. This is
especially true for Africa, where most scholars on democracy churn out quantitatively informed
books. The findings of these studies are, in many cases, at variance with the reality on the
ground. The interviews employed by Bauer provide for a more balanced account and analysis.
Students (graduate and undergraduate), teachers, labor leaders, and general interest readers
seeking a clear discussion on the role of labor movements in Africa will find this work useful
and beneficial.

Osaore Aideyan
Department of Politics
Claremont Graduate University

When Hens Begin to Crow: Gender and Parliamentary Politics in Uganda. Sylvia Tamale.
Boulder: Westview Press, 1999. pp. 272. Cloth: $ 65.00.

The intriguing title of Sylvia Tamale's study, When Hens Begin To Crow, sets the pace for this
rich and fascinating study of gender and politics in Uganda. "Wali owulide ensera ekokolima?"
["Have you ever heard a hen crow?"] as Tamale explains, was shouted at a woman candidate
during the 1996 Ugandan general elections. "Female chickens do not normally crow. At least
popular mythology claims that they cannot. Hence, in many African cultures, a crowing hen is
considered an omen of bad tidings that must be expiated through the immediate slaughter of
the offending bird... The message was clear: Women have no business standing for political
office" (p. 1).
In spite of a historical tradition of political marginalization, women across Africa are
increasingly taking their place in the public arena of politics. Whereas in western society,
affirmative action for women is more commonly found in education and employment, in Africa
positive acts to end historical and systemic discrimination against women have focused largely
on constitutional provisions and legislative actions to ensure representation by women in
national and/or local political bodies'. Uganda provides excellent material for a case study on
the (re-) emergence of African women's political voice. Uganda has had some notable successes:
designated parliamentary seats for women from each of the districts2 (1995 Constitution); a
national machinery for gender (1988) and a National Gender Policy (1997); one-third women
members in Local Council executives (Local Governments Act, 1997); and the first woman vice-
president in Africa, Dr. Speciosa Wandire Kazibwe.
The significant contribution of women in the National Resistance Movement (NRM) bush
war, the formation and activism of women's NGOs following the 1985 Nairobi UN Conference
on Women, and the coalition of women, youth, and disabled delegates during the 1994
Constituent Assembly ensured that the affirmative action policies of the NRM of President
Yoweri Museveni (1986) continued under the new constitution. Tamale's study focuses on the
beneficiaries of affirmative action, documenting both the successes of and challenges to women
parliamentarians in Uganda.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000


Culture remains the largest obstacle to equitable treatment of women, whether they are
politicians or rural agriculturalists. As Tamale states, "... policies such as affirmative action
provide the space for women's entry into politics and a potential for change. But the
contradictions of implementing such policies under existing patriarchal structures ... [means
that]... hens may begin crowing but they will continue to lay and hatch from eggs (the old
patriarchal order)" (p. 26). Female parliamentarians are subjected to sexual harassment from
their colleagues, ridicule in parliamentary debates and the media, the burden of double and
triple duty, and the reminder that for most of them their presence in parliament is tokenism.
Although elected as women members of parliament (MP), once in the House they are
admonished that they do not represent women per se, but must represent both men and
women. Yet they are only heard (and largely ignored) when they debate women's issues. A case
in point is the recent passing of the Land Act (1998). MP Miria Matembe lobbied for and
succeeded in passing an amendment to include provision for co-ownership by women of the
matrimonial residence (a major accomplishment, as women customarily do not own or have
rights to land). The Land Act was promulgated, but the amendment was omitted! Likewise,
patriarchal opposition to the reform of the Domestic Relations Bill (largely in relation to
polygamy) has stalled the passage of that bill through Parliament. In spite of the successes of
women in Uganda, tradition dies hard.
Whether the presence of women in politics in Uganda is at the pleasure of the NRM or
sustainable in the long run is still open to debate. It is interesting to note that Winnie Byanima (a
participant in the bush war and MP in an open seat), although expelled from the Movement
Secretariat for openly criticising the Movement on the issue of corruption, is still one of the most
widely respected politicians in Uganda. Some have even suggested that she run for president in
Tamale uses qualitative methods: intensive interviews of 40 female and 15 male legislators4
; observation of parliamentary debates, committee meetings, and workshops specifically
organized for women parliamentarians; interviews with leaders of prominent women's NGOs
and grassroots rural women; and a constituency visit alongside Byanima. Tamale has also
extensively mined documentary sources such as Hansard (colonial and post-colonial),
Constituent Assembly proceedings, media reports and a wide range of secondary literature.
Tamale scrutinizes her material in an analysis that is grounded in the "dialectical relationship
between gender, class, ethnicity, religion, imperialism and neocolonialism [that] is especially
pertinent for an analysis of gender relations in the African context" (p. 3). Both for newcomers
and those who are gender specialists, her introduction and the interweaving in subsequent
chapters of the themes developed provide a comprehensive overview in accessible language of
gender issues, as well as thoughtful insights and new directions for political analysis on Africa
and elsewhere. Those interested in African politics, women's movements, gender relations, or
socio-political history will find that Tamale's work provides a wealth of information and


1. Affirmative action constitutions or legislation in countries such as Uganda, Ghana,
Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Sudan, Egypt, Algeria, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia,

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000


Mauritius, Namibia, Rwanda, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe have resulted in some
instances of a greater percentage of women representatives than in many "first world"
2. Thirty-nine in 1995, increased to 46 with district reorganization. Women, of course, can
and have been elected to Parliament in openly contested seats. There are also mandatory
seats for Youth and Disabled under the Constitution.
3. The National Resistance Council established the Ministry of Women in Development in
1988. This became the Ministry of Women in Development, Youth and Culture in 1995
and is currently the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development.
4. Interviewees were selected to ensure balance "through geographical region, political
inclination, socioeconomic background, age, religion and political experience" (p. 206).

Rosemarie M. McNairn
Department of Womens and Gender Studies
Makerere University, Uganda

Aid to Africa: So Much to Do, So Little Done. Carol Lancaster. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1999. pp. 272. Cloth: $ 55.00, Paper: $22.00.

In a time when Overseas Development Aid (ODA) is under threat throughout the
industrialized west, Carol Lancaster's Aid to Africa contributes a measure of reason and
empiricism to a debate that is otherwise driven by competing commercial, ideological and
political interests. With this book, Lancaster, a former deputy administrator of USAID,
addresses "why, with so much aid, has there been so little development in sub-Saharan Africa?"
Her effort includes both an explanation for past failures and suggestions meant to improve
future performance. Using a wealth of economic indicators, her response begins by comparing
the achievements of six donor countries (the US, Britain, France, Japan, Sweden, and Italy) and
two multilaterals (the World Bank and the European Union) whose contributions together
account for 60 percent of the concessionall" aid to sub-Saharan Africa.
Lancaster's generally negative assessment should not surprise even the undergraduate
development studies audience for which this text is best suited. But the focus on aid agencies'
political/institutional characteristics provides an unusual perspective with real payoffs for those
not attuned to aid debates or organization theory/analysis as applied to development assistance.
Through her country case studies, Lancaster concludes that it is not the general misallocation of
aid, nor the ineptitude of African leaders and bureaucracies that bear primary responsibility for
continued failures. Rather, political and bureaucratic interests combine with ineffective
organizational structures and institutionalized dysfunctions to prevent donors from effectively
evaluating, improving and coordinating their development initiatives. It is neither the level of
aid nor the recipients that are to blame, but the way aid is delivered.
The author's assertion-that it is primarily the entrenched "bureaupathologies" of donors
that lead to failure-can be taken to two logical conclusions. The first is Lancaster's: since the
donors are at fault, western lobbyists can do something to ameliorate deplorable levels of waste

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and corruption, and, in the process help eliminate poverty, illiteracy, and injustice. This is a
refreshing position that self-consciously distances Lancaster from the fevered
deconstructionist/hypercritical pitch adopted by many current students of development. This
departure also affords her the freedom to put forth a set of concrete recommendations: that aid
agencies be given more autonomy from political pressures (as in the British model); that they be
encouraged to coordinate to avoid working at cross-purposes; and that standardized measures
for gauging success be developed and employed. All of this, Lancaster argues, will allow better
evaluation of past efforts so that future campaigns will be more effective. While her case studies
are well (albeit unevenly) substantiated, in making such recommendations Lancaster breaks
from the logic of her analysis. Although she has definitely contributed to an understanding of
the problems associated with ODA to Africa, her attempt to procure a solution is itself
Considering her second conclusion brings the pitfalls of Lancaster's analysis into relief.
This position holds that because the environment (politicians, other government and non-
governmental actors, and agency staff) is responsible for aid agencies' pathologies, there is little
latitude for improvement. As Lancaster's own analysis suggests, donor agencies are embedded
within an intrinsically political system encompassing deep-seated forces unlikely to be
dislodged by something as uncompelling as "aid to Africa". The hard-liners of this camp, many
already wishing to cut ODA, will publicly conclude that aid must cease and desist all together.
On the other hand, those content merely to reduce and reform the system will seize quickly on
Lancaster's suggestion that aid be dedicated entirely to "effective" programs. However, the
demand for "effectiveness" will likely direct funds only to those areas in which progress is easily
quantified. Not only will this eliminate support for many "softer" social programs, but the
poorest of the poor-the ostensible targets of ODA-are likely to be excluded all together. Rather
than fruitless spending on the deeply impoverished, experience suggests that those on the
upper margins of poverty will be offered just enough so that a given initiative might be
considered a success. One can take an example from with the text itself. Lancaster suggests that
US aid to South African civic groups during the 1980s and early 1990s counts as a rare
American success. While such assistance may indeed have helped expand the diversity and
impact of these organizations, arguing that it is responsible for an already burgeoning civil
society is something of a fancy, as shown by Robert Price in his 1991 book, The Apartheid State in
Crisis. Even with this plethora of groups, post-apartheid South Africa must still provide social
services to its impoverished, many of whom remain unrepresented by these civic organizations.
It is unfortunate that Lancaster detracts from her valuable and generally insightful
organizational analysis with a set of untenable and potentially delusional recommendations.
The review of the terminology and major themes of development discourse provides a welcome
entrance into the theory of economic and political development. Her comparative analysis,
influenced by work in economics, political science and public management, introduces an
analytical dimension many development economists and consultants would be wise to heed.
Perhaps the greatest irony of this book is that while suggesting that politics and organizational
pathologies are the problem, Lancaster then ignores these realities in proffering her solutions.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000


Loren B. Landau
Department of Political Science
University of California Berkeley

Do No Harm: How Aid Can Support Peace Or War. Mary Anderson. Boulder, Colorado:
Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1999. pp. 147. Cloth: $35.00; Paper: $16.95.

In Do No Harm: How Aid Can Support Peace-or War, Mary Anderson invokes the time-
honored words from the Hippocratic oath that calls upon medical doctors to put the interests of
their patients first. The book's primary goal is to "challenge aid agency staff members to take
responsibility for the way their assistance affects conflicts" (p.161). Anderson encourages aid
staff to applaud themselves where aid has affected a conflict situation positively. The challenge
is to step back and look more closely at the conflict situation that they are operating in and seek
lessons from past actions by other aid agencies to try and decrease the negative impact of aid.
She is quick to point out that she is often accused of a "rosy optimism" (p.vii), but accepts this
verdict because, even in the most atrocious war conditions, she has borne witness to the
greatness of the human spirit. The book's target audience includes aid agency staff and the
wider international development community.
The book is an easy read, divided into three sections. The first section covers war in general
and the impact of external aid viewed through the lens of relative resource transfers, as well as
the implicit ethical messages that often come with aid. It also offers an analytical framework for
mapping a particular conflict setting in which one is administering aid. The framework walks
the participant through a series of questions that seek to identify the "connectors" or "local
capacities for peace" that bring cohesion in a society as well as "tension" or "dividers" that have
the capacity to push a society into conflict or keep a society in conflict. The second section
covers five case studies in Tajikistan, Lebanon, Burundi, India and Somalia. Here, she seeks to
bring out the positive actions by aid agency staff in catalyzing peace initiatives, as well as
actions by the communities in which conflict was rife, that showed a capacity to seek an end to
the conflict. The third section is a short summary of the main lessons learned from the
theoretical framework presented in the first section and case studies.
Anderson satisfies the continued need among NGO staff to step back and look at the
impact of the aid they are administering. NGOs have been under attack for over a decade
concerning the negative impact of aid policies and implementation plans. Most of these
diatribes have been scathing. Anderson attempts to center the debate by pointing to examples of
the positive effects of aid while analyzing the negative aspects in those very same cases. This is
a difficult endeavor. The first section attempts to categorize the reasons why wars are fought
and what shapes responses among communities to pursue or not to pursue war. As with all
categorization, the beauty of it is in the eyes of the beholder.
Although the text in the first section makes a good effort to describe how one would carry
out an analysis of an intensely complex emergency, the analytical tool seems too simplistic and
bare. Furthermore, the case studies omit four important prolonged conflicts that would have
shed more light on any lessons learned: the former Yugoslavia, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,

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the war in Northern Ireland, and the Sudan conflict. For the five cases presented, however, she
provides a solid background summary of the political economy of the conflicts. This is achieved
without turning this section into a dense history text. Each of these case studies represents a
different phase of a complex emergency. How the model determines the specific phase of a
conflict was not immediately clear.
The final section could have presented the lessons learned in a much more comprehensive
manner. One needs to come away with a clear summary of how aid can "do no harm"-when an
adequate analysis of the conflict is carried out in a dynamic fashion, when "local capacities for
peace" are identified and nurtured throughout the various phases of conflict, when "tensions"
and "dividers" are identified and diffused as best one can as aid is distributed. Instead, this
section seems hastily put together, leaving the reader to summarize any lessons learned from
the text.
Two important caveats to the conclusion section need further analysis and study. The book
is unable to show how micro-level support for local peace capacities can be linked to the macro-
level efforts or hindrances often occurring simultaneously. All NGOs grapple with this in their
programming, advocacy and outreach efforts. None has found a suitable answer to how to do
this best, but in this Information Age, the answer might be around the corner in the recipient
communities as they increasingly access information and an education. The second caveat
concerns the role of "outsiders" who comprise the majority of NGO staff. Anderson fails to
mention a changing trend, as NGOs are increasingly staffed by "insiders" who struggle to
maintain objectivity and provide an appropriate lens to the conflict setting, ensuring that
programming achieves its overall aim to "do no harm."
Anderson's book reads well. It is not geared for a heavily academic audience. The
bibliographic essay is sparse, but gives enough leads for a more rigorous examination of
peacebuilding. NGO staff members are encouraged to put some of their scarce time for learning
aside to read this book, provide the fodder for future learning and advocacy, and ensure that
aid does indeed support peace, not war.

Angela M. Wakhweya
Independent Health Policy Consultant
Wollaston, Massachusetts.

Land, Ecology, and Resistance in Kenya, 1880-1952. Fiona D.A. Mackenzie. Portsmouth:
Heinemann, 1998. pp. 286, paper $26.00.

On 14 April 1948, the "Revolt of the Women" occurred in Muranga District of Kenya's
Central Province. Twenty-five hundred women marched upon the District headquarters with
"Amazonian war cries" to protest against the use of coerced labor for state soil conservation
measures. Although wider peasant unrest occurred in Muranga between 1947-1948, this event
was significant due to the gender and class issues raised. As such, it provides the backdrop for
Fiona Mackenzie's work, Land, Ecology and Resistance in Kenya, 1880-1952. Mackenzie examines
the dialectic of ecological improvement within the reserves in Kenya and the subsequent social

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000


impact upon African communities. Her specific purpose is to examine the antagonisms of class
and gender which arose as aspects of this discourse of ecological improvement.
In the 1930s and 1940s, environmental degradation became a major preoccupation of the
colonial state in Kenya. As one result, soil conservation campaigns broadened in scope. These
campaigns became part of the overall intensification of an administrative presence in the
reserves. For Mackenzie, these campaigns also served as a subterfuge for an underlying
discourse of control. The rhetoric of ecological improvement served as a veil for settler
apprehension concerning land tenure. Settler concerns for the spread of diseases and soil
degradation associated with African farming methods disguised fears for their holdings in the
White Highlands. Consequently, environmentalism became a weapon to legitimize settler land
tenure (associated with right farming practices and correct land use) and reinforce state support
for settler agriculture. The campaigns of the 1930s and 1940s also recast the political crisis over
land as a technological problem that privileged Western agricultural practices while portraying
indigenous agricultural practices as unscientific (p. 9). Since much knowledge about agriculture
in Africa was the purview of women, such privileging of Western knowledge entailed the
silencing of female voices.
The campaigns of ecological "betterment" reduced the status of women as the main
cultivators of the land and keepers of agricultural knowledge. These programs were
implemented in an atmosphere of increasing land scarcity within Central Province. As a result,
the British attempted to define customary land law more clearly, with an eye toward
formulating policy. These attempts resulted in a fluid and dynamic system becoming rigid and
static. The net effect was a system of customary law that weakened the position of women and
the poor against that of the rich peasants or "Big Men" (p.17).
Mackenzie's work is divided into seven chapters and uses extensive archival sources,
mainly Colonial Office records, in addition to European travelers' accounts and oral evidence.
The first three chapters examine the role of women in pre-colonial Muranga as the primary
agricultural cultivators and how this role changed when the British began to redefine
customary law. Pre- colonial rights to land were dynamic and complex, leaving space for the
negotiation of women's rights to land. The reassessment of the customary land laws served to
effectively suppress women's rights to land. Although women previously could technically not
own land, their rights to land were secured through recognition of their value as cultivators (p.
Mackenzie states there were latent tensions within this customary land system. The fluidity
of customary land law masked tensions that would later surface more acutely. These
underlying tensions between the Mbari (subclan) and the individual or between women and
men would become much more problematic as land became scarce under colonialism. British
attempts to define customary land law exacerbated the tensions underlying the customary land
system. For example, since the Mbari controlled rights of allocation of land, heightened social
differentiation and increasing land sales threatened the solidarity of the sub-clan. Mackenzie
points out that in Kiambu, this had been the case. Due to the impact of long distance trade on
the southern part of Kikuyuland during the nineteenth century, the solidarity of the Mbari had
given way to increasing individualization by the time of British conquest. In Muranga, on the
other hand, Mbari power over land allocation remained strong due to the lesser impact of long
distance trade.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000


These attempts took place through an assortment of commissions and inquiries.
Mackenzie's analysis examines The Committee on Native Land Tenure in Kikuyu Province in
1929 and the Kenya Land Commission of 1932-1934. As evidenced in Kiambu and Muranga,
these commissions encountered class and gender issues reflecting contradictory views of
customary land law. In Kiambu, where the process of individualization had been more acute,
witnesses reconstructed a version of customary land law which reinforced the idea of
individual land sales. This served to protect the rights of accumulators who were amassing land
and wealth. In contrast, many Muranga witnesses reconstructed a version of customary land
law which stressed the power of the Mbari over land allocation. In both Muranga and Kiambu,
the evidence laid before the commissions did not diverge regarding women's rights to land: it
uniformly stressed rights of allocation over rights of use. Since women derived many of their
rights to land through their power over usufruct, the stress upon allocation rights over use
rights weakened women's negotiating power (p. 90).
The second half of the book discusses the impact ecological improvement campaigns upon
the resource base and women's agricultural knowledge. According to Mackenzie, concern over
environmental degradation belied an ulterior motive. By the end of the 1930s, European settlers
feared the African success with maize production. The colonial administration was becoming
alarmed at the rapid growth of African accumulators (p. 142). The solution was to blame it on
the Africans. The problem of land degradation became a problem of African farming methods.
As a result, the ecological improvement campaigns articulated methods involving Western
knowledge or techniques. State programs relied upon engineering as opposed to
biological/agronomical methods in controlling soil degradation. To combat soil erosion, the
state recommended time and space consuming methods such as terracing. However, the use of
terracing often proved problematic. Since terraces pulled much land out of cultivation, many
African farmers preferred biological methods, such as contour hedges and mixed farming to
control land degradation.
The suppression of indigenous knowledge also occurred in the effort to increase
agricultural productivity within the reserves. To stimulate maize production, the Department of
Agriculture began a massive seeding campaign, which involved dispersing seeds bred for high
yield, marketability, and varietal uniformity. The environmental effect of these campaigns of
"betterment" in the reserves was twofold. Ecologically, the seeding campaign resulted in a high
yield maize crop but one which lacked genetic diversity and resistance to pests, disease and
drought. The promotion of maize also resulted in the decline of millet production, a more
nutritious and drought-resistant crop. The state also advocated the use of monocropping
methods, as opposed to the indigenous inter-cropping methods. The emphasis on maize
production demanded a heavy reliance upon imported agricultural knowledge, undercutting
women's authority since they were the main purveyors of indigenous agricultural knowledge.
As Mackenzie states ".. .the negotiation of gender relations of production was linked to the
politics of knowledge production (p. 202).
The discourse of ecological improvement in Kenya had already been covered by scholars
such as David Throup. But Mackenzie uniquely adds to the scholarship on this subject by
projecting women's voices. Mackenzie attempts to write history "from below" by discussing the
role of women in the discourse of environmentalism. She does not bring gender into the picture
so much as cast light upon a dark recess which has been ignored by previous scholarship on the

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000


subject. However, on this point I also find fault with Mackenzie's analysis. In her re-enactment
of pre- colonial customary land law, Mackenzie relies almost singlehandedly upon Jean Fisher's
Anatomy of Kikuyu Domesticity and Husbandry (1954) to reconstruct the role of use rights in
giving women more power of negotiation against the patriarchal structure. Moreover, most of
her oral evidence comes from female informants without any counter point from male
informants. The danger here is the problem of creating herstory, whatever it may be. However,
this work is needed and students of Kenya's history will find it a worthy contribution.

Opolot Okia
West Virginia College

The Moral Economy of the State: Conservation, Community Development and State Making
in Zimbabwe. William A Munro. Athens: Ohio University Center for International Studies
Publications, 1998. pp. 461. Paper: $26.00.

The Moral Economy of the State examines the political economy of state-formation and
nation-building in colonial and post-independence Zimbabwe. The book chronicles the
historical process by which Zimbabweans developed an intense desire for social, political,
economic, and cultural transformation. The book also examines the colonial state's attempts at
state-formation and the transformation of Zimbabwe from post-independence visions to a
modern industrial society.
Munro begins his treatise with a firm and thorough survey of the Zimbabwean
socioeconomic and cultural literature. His study presents processes rather than structures to
explain the genesis and entrenchment of constraints on contemporary state-formation. In so
doing, he explores the processes shaping institutional and organizational change in rural
Zimbabwe amidst growing demands made by the state. This exposes the contradictions often
found in state-countryside relations in Zimbabwe. The state has encouraged rural communities
to take on responsibilities which it cannot manage or will not undertake.
The author initially "sets out to resolve the tension between structure and process in state-
society relations by focusing on state practice--i.e., the actions of state agents but also the
political and ideological logics that drive their actions and make them intelligible" (p. 3). He
then traces the political effects of contradictions in development processes, examining
institutions as a powerful force in the reproduction of colonial discourse about land distribution
and use in rural Zimbabwe. Debates between differing factions of white settlers about the
postwar expansion of land reforms and appropriations reflected the colonial state's spiraling
crisis of social control (p. 140). The government embarked on a new hegemonic project, one
based on a thorough reassessment of state structures and their relationship to society (p. 141).
The author also lays out the historical paradox of state authority. Here, Munro canvasses a
number of specific state-formation and nation-building campaigns intended to legitimize the
state by forging connections between pre-and post-independence Zimbabwe.
Munro examines the powerful legacy of state intervention in peasant patterns of land
tenure and use, as all facets of land management became issues of potential state-peasant

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000


contention (p. 233). He outlines the government's interest in land control and its articulation in
technocratic terms. The author describes the ambiguities of rural land control in terms of the
resettlement program, the "squatter problem," and the fluidity of rural politics. He analyzes the
state's social institutions of common resource management as a route to rural empowerment.
Finally, Munro shows how institutions designed to widen the realm of local political
interaction often failed to create a close link between technical interests, management, and
governance. This analysis also offers considerable insight as to why state intervention continued
to be a fragile initiative (p. 257). Community development was a state-directed attempt to
combine market participation with self-reliance and limited proletarianization. It remained a
precarious co-optive strategy, partly because of technocratic state traditions and interministerial
insecurities reminiscent of the colonial era, but also as a result of the enduring adversarial
quality of state-peasant relations (p. 223).
The book concludes that any study of state-formation in Zimbabwe must not casually
dispense with the heterogeneity of Zimbabwean culture. State-formation and nation-building
are beyond the capacity of any one institution, as has been evidenced by the historical failure of
state intervention. State-formation in Zimbabwe has more than a little to do with a failure to
develop communities. Munro's book manages to relate the conditions of early state intervention
with the prospects of contemporary Zimbabwe and also those of other African states struggling
with the process of state-formation. Perhaps the conclusion to be drawn from this book is that
state power does not work by culturally dominating passive subordinate groups (mainly rural
women and youth). Rather, that it works by forcibly organizing and dividing the elements of
participatory democracy during state-formation.

Yilma Gebremariam
Department of Economics
Southern Connecticut State University

The Pillage of Sustainability in Eritrea, 1600s -1990s: Rural Communities and the Creeping
Shadows of Hegemony. Niaz Murtaza. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1998. pp. 224. cloth:

In the relatively tranquil space opened up between Eritrea's liberation in 1991 and the
igniting of war with Ethiopia in 1998, scholarly research on a range of issues has made a modest
start. Niaz Murtaza's book is one product of this early period of research and, as such, exhibits
both the promise as well as the limitations of pioneer work into a region that for too long
remained off limits to scholars. The central argument of this study is that the recurrent threats
of famine and environmental degradation afflicting the area are rooted in the long-term
consequences of actions by hegemonic forces on traditional production systems. Such systems
represented rational responses to the constraints of local environments. If not always highly
productive, they allowed for the sustainability of rural communities.
Following a conventional periodization, Murtaza suggests that before Italian colonization
in 1889, intermittent ethnic conflicts or attacks by various regional armies might have caused

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000


large-scale destruction of life and property, but there was little interference in the production
process per se. Italian colonization (1889 -1942), in the form of a modern and centralized power
structure, represented a radical departure. Utilizing a greater technological capacity to extract
resources, Italian power realigned the colonial economy to meet its own consumption patterns.
This fundamentally altered the relationship of rural communities to both state and market.
While pre-colonial forces exacted tribute or siphoned-off surplus from rural output, the colonial
state engaged in directly expropriating the resources of traditional communities. Heightened
regional immigration, intensified deforestation, and a more intrusive state (controlled by a
social stratum not dependent on the output of traditional communities) significantly
transformed local production systems. The subsequent Ethiopian period (1952-91) was
characterized by a mixture of both the traditional and the new means of expropriation. The
crisis of local systems precipitated by Italian colonial policies was further compounded by the
Ethiopian state in its imperial war against the national liberation movements.
Murtaza conducted primary research in villages both in the highlands and lowlands. Using
analytical variables such as empowerment, viability, adaptability, and vulnerability, he suggests
that rural communities suffered a gradual erosion of their asset base (expressed as the quantity
and quality of agricultural and grazing land, forests, and animal herds). A number of crucial
organizational principles and community institutions were likewise undermined, including the
"reciprocal relationship between the highlands and lowlands, the synergy between agriculture
and animal herding, and the diversification provided by large animal herds." The scale of such
changes indicated something more than a cyclical crisis. By the 1980s, many rural communities
succumbed to a trend of diminishing resources caused by these long term disruptions.
Liberation in 1991 brought an end to the violence, but the damage done under Italian and
Ethiopian rule left permanent scars. Animal herds were depleted, while soil erosion and
deforestation left a denuded landscape. The government faces a shortage of resources. Aid from
international donors is either inadequate or comes attached to recommendations that are
potentially unfavorable to rural communities. Accordingly, Murtaza maintains that traditional
production systems must be strengthened, with rural communities assigned a leadership role.
By taking the indigenous capacities and perspectives of rural communities as the building
blocks for designing programs, locally appropriate and cost-effective strategies can be devised
to deal with these problems.
Only a few cursory remarks will be made for this wide-ranging book. For one thing, the
concept of 'traditional' communities that Murtaza deploys as a baseline for his study is
misleading, particularly for a region that was a component part of the vast Red Sea-Indian
Ocean trading network for over two millennia. Consequently, there is a tendency to view these
traditional communities as monolithic and thereby devoid of antagonistic social conflicts that
have negatively impacted on their self-reproductive capacities. A relevant example in this
regard is the struggle by the Tigre agro-pastoralists against the pastoral aristocracy. An analysis
of this conflict, which came to a head in the 1940s, could have revealed the way in which local
struggles are decisively influenced by regional and extra-regional actors. An unmediated and
polarized view of viable indigenous communities fending off outside forces leaves many
questions unanswered. Arguably, it is the ongoing dynamics of local communities, the
possibilities for change, the manner in which local structures can be animated and empowered,

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000


and the ways in which they are articulated with national or global hegemonic forces that
constitute the most interesting and challenging fields of research.
Nonetheless, this is a clearly organized and valuable study that provides a good starting
point for further inquiry. Murtaza's striving to identify the nexus between the policies of
hegemonic actors and the downward trajectory of indigenous social systems is revealing. His
contention that famine and poverty are consequences of policy rather than a dictate of nature is
salutatory. The numerous graphs and statistical tables are instructive. Moreover, the book
comes at an opportune time, serving as a clarion call not only against the horrifying war
currently unfolding in the region, but also the long-term threat it poses to the viability of rural

Fouad Makki
Department of Sociology
Binghamton University

Quest for the Jade Sea: Colonial Competition around an East African Lake. Pascal James
Imperato. Boulder: Westview Press, 1998. pp. 332. Cloth: $35.00.

The exploration of the Lake Rudolf (Turkana) area receives little attention in studies of
colonialism. The wars between Ethiopia and Italy, Britain and the Mahdi State, and the
competition between Britain, France and Belgium over Equatorial Sudan are usually cited as the
determining factors of the colonial scramble of the region. Nevertheless, at the end of the
nineteenth century Lake Rudolf was the subject of many expeditions which "reflected
misguided colonial judgments about its economic and strategic importance and its presumed
relationship to the Nile" (p. 2). In his chronological overview of this frenetic activity, Pascal
Imperato draws a sharp distinction between expeditions that originated from geographical
concerns (identifying the course of rivers, especially the Nile) and those with explicit political
goals (claiming territory). He believes the first expeditions were oriented to science and sport,
although their original impetus might have been political (e.g. the interest of Crown Prince
Rudolf in the Teleki expedition, 1886-88). Only from 1896, in the enterprises of Bottego,
Marchand, Bonchamps and Macdonald, does Imperato detect clear political aims. The
subsequent 1899-1900 British expedition of Harrison and Whitehouse was the first to claim
territory and draw borders. The book ends with a brief sketch of the actual demarcation
expeditions and the more recent history of the region.
Imperato is far more confident when discussing the personal, logistic and geographical
aspects of the expeditions than their political backgrounds. In the introduction he expresses his
admiration for these "bold, resourceful, and unorthodox" adventurers (p. 6). His book is a
straightforward and accessible account of these "glorious ventures." Although Imperato, is a
doctor specializing in African tropical diseases, he acts here as an amateur historian at his best.
He has researched a plethora of archives, sometimes in obscure places, and interviewed
descendants of the explorers, which enables him to reveal many colourful details about such
enterprising or eccentric men as Teleki, von H6hnel, Donaldson Smith, Bulatovich, Leontiev,

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000


etc. His open perspective also saves him from ideological or theoretical blindness. He thus
understands colonial competition as a complex, interrelated history. Enterprising men and
indigenous powers played an important role next to colonial powers and underlying socio-
economic forces. He gives due attention to the hesitant, sometimes indifferent position of the
British government and the expansionist policies of Menelik as determining the political
relevance of later expeditions to the Lake Rudolf region.
Imperato's approach, however, begs for a more systematic, critical analysis of political
contexts and consequences of colonialist exploration. It is unsettling that the author wraps up
his story at the moment of actual demarcation between Ethiopia and British East Africa.
Imperato seems aware of more profound and long-term aspects (e.g., the changes in the
demography and ecology of the area caused by the expeditions) but refrains from elaborating
upon them. His introduction takes issue with recent, postmodern studies of nineteenth-century
travel accounts that seek to uncover Eurocentric, imperialistic attitudes and appropriation of
local knowledge. He warns against anachronistic judgments and concludes positively that
these studies have allowed us to understand better the cultural and social references of the
travellers. But in this book, there is very little trace of even this weakened version of a critical
approach to colonialist exploration. The travel accounts are taken at face value, so that stories of
"treacherous local traders," "deserting porters,"and "hostile tribes" are uncritically rehearsed.
Imperato is more critical of the extensive and enthusiastic shooting of game, particularly of
the expeditions led by Neumann (1895) and Cavendish (1897). Cavendish is also reproached for
his harsh treatment of the Boran and Turkana, but this critique only stems from other accounts
of that expedition. Imperato does not expand beyond his archives by incorporating indigenous
oral histories of the region or by approaching the travel accounts in a discourse-analytic way.
As for the one 'indigenous' side in this book, it is useful that Imperato does discuss Ethiopian
expansionist politics and he treats Ethiopia as a major player alongside Britain and France. But
the discussion is also somewhat rhetorically attenuating for colonialism in general. There is a
blatant imbalance between the recurrent emphasis on the atrocities committed by the Ethiopian
expeditions and the largely uncritical reliance on the Western travel accounts. One would at
least expect a contextualization of Ethiopian politics as a reaction to European invasion, just as
Britain reacted to the Ethiopian expeditions.
In sum, I consider Imperato's book to be a well-researched overview of nineteenth-century
geographical exploration in that little-studied region around Lake Turkana, rather than a critical
analysis of the political context of those expeditions. Its clear style and rich details will appeal to
a wide audience.

Chris Bulcaen
Department of English
University of Gent, Belgium

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000


War on the Savannah: The Military Collapse of the Sokoto Caliphate under the Invasion of
the British Empire, 1897-1903. Risto Marjomaa. Helsinki: The Finnish Academy of Science
and Letters, 1998. pp. 305.

Scholars have long pondered the ease and suddenness with which the European conquest
of Africa occurred during the closing decades of the nineteenth century. Marjomaa's book, War
on the Savannah, is an attempt to grapple with this broader problem through a focus on the
British conquest of the Sokoto caliphate. Forged under the combustive crucible of religion and
militarism, the Sokoto caliphate was the most extensive and politically formidable empire in
Africa on the eve of European conquest. Marjomaa's book is not so much concerned with the
reasons why but rather with the method of British conquest. The study restricts itself to the
traditional field of strategy and tactics exemplified in specific military engagements or battles.
The study is divided into five sections. The first two sections examine the strategies, tactics
and tools of warfare employed by all the parties involved. The third focuses on nine crucial
battles in the struggle for the control of the Caliphate. The final two sections attempt to
articulate the motivations that drove rulers and soldiers to the horrors of warfare. Confronted
simultaneously by at least three European imperial powers, separated by great distances and
divided by internal squabbles, the emirates could not muster enough resources to confront the
European menace. Instead they adopted an evasive policy, sometimes resorting to mass
emigration (hijira) and hoping that the British would eventually depart. In the ensuing
encounter with British tactics of pitched battles and artillery bombardment, the caliphate
strategy of attrition and static defense failed dismally.
The author notes that the fundamental differences in military traditions between Caliphate
and British forces should provide fertile ground for comparative studies in weapon systems,
strategies, and in the motivations of the combatants. This emphasis on societal contrasts,
predicated on a postulated dichotomy between the forces, breaks down on the final point: the
nationalities and composition of the combatants. Europeans did not fight on the side of Sokoto,
while Africans constituted the bulk of the British regular army (not its officer cadres).
In explaining why the Caliphate was unable to successfully repel British military conquest
and domination, the author maintains that the strongest British asset "was their indisputable
superiority in firepower" (p. 89). As for the Caliphate, Marjomaa argues repeatedly that their
chief undoing was an inability "to adapt to changing circumstances" (p. 217). While some of
these points must be conceded, they cannot be pushed too far. The case of Burmi shows that the
Caliphate was not as closed to innovation as the author seems to infer. After recovering from
the shock of their initial defeat, it took the Burmi defenders only a matter of weeks "to envisage
the same tactics, trench warfare, as European military theorists were adopting to escape the
effects of the firepower of modern weapons" (p. 218). With this adaptation in tactics, they
inflicted a major defeat on the British forces.
That other emirates were unable to follow the path of Burmi, was not due to "their
intransigence" nor to their "anachronistic" "inflexible" and "highly hierarchical military
organization" (p. 218). Rather, the Caliphate, surrounded by the three imperial powers, did not
have time, space or access to the modern weapons needed for a decisive response to the British
military assault. As the Burmi experience shows, the encounter with European heavy firepower
was not always as overwhelming as scholars have assumed. One of the lessons of modern

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000


history (from Vietnam to Somalia) is that the possession of superior killing power does not
always guarantee victory: sometimes other non-military factors are equally important.
Finally, Marjomaa spends much time analyzing the aims and strategies of the British but
writes very little on those of the Caliphate authorities. He explains the motivations and tenacity
of the British officers through references to the "noble" ideology of the civilizing mission. Yet he
precludes the possibility of any ideological vision beyond self-preservation and material
interest in explaining the "intransigence" and "stubborn" resistance of the Caliphate. Even the
possible influence of a jihadist vision on this important Islamic state is examined in roughly two
pages (pp. 261-263) and dismissed summarily as insignificant. The author's disclaimer, that his
study is based on "source material heavily dominated by British view," should not extenuate
this imbalance (p. 7).
These criticisms notwithstanding, Marjomaa should be commended for producing a well-
researched history of the clash of aims and arms that resulted in the demise of the most
formidable Islamic empire in Africa. While one may not always agree with some of his
conclusions, one cannot but be impressed with the lucidity of his account, as well as his
penetrating and incisive analysis of the nature, the muddle and the dynamism of British
imperialism. This important study should be in the library of every individual and institution
with an interest in military tactics or strategies, as well as the clash of civilizations and cultures
perceptively portrayed in this book.

Funso Afolayan
Department of History
University of New Hampshire

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 3, Issue 3 I 2000

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