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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 2 .


State, Conflict, and Democracy in Africa
Richard Joeseph ed.

(Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1999)
527pp. Index bibl. Distributed by Europsan. Hb.: 51.95; ISBN 1-55587-799-0. Pb.: 18.50; ISBN 1-55587-533-5.



"Ex Africa semper aliquid novi," according to the quip of Pliny the Younger, but democracy for Africa? The contradictory outcomes resulting from pressures for political liberalization in the many states of Sub-Saharan Africa since the late 1980s necessitated a volume like this. These twenty three essays, some by leading Africanists, assess the sobering realities of contemporary Africa in the wake of a decade of political reform, false starts, and disappointing attempts to reconfigure power.

The volume scatters theoretical essays among case studies. In the first, or "Overview" section, for example, Crawford Young offers an insightful and "mildly positive"(p.35) balance sheet on Africa's experimentation with political liberalization while John Harbeson uses examples from Eastern and Southern Africa to show that democratic transitions in those regions often begin with rule making rather than elections. Part Two addresses political economy issues while Part Three, the longest section, relies heavily on case studies for its analyses of regime politics. Part Four undertakes a review of ethnic politics in Africa with particular attention to the Rwanda genocide and the ethnomilitary character of rule in Nigeria. Part Five examines elections and consolidation of democratic rule. The volume concludes with a discussion of the prevalence of pessimism about the prospects for democracy and economic development in Africa in the future.

Despite its 500 pages, this volume privileges breadth over depth of coverage. When noted Africanists write exceptionally short pieces on the topics of their particular expertise one feels cheated, or at least teased. A case in point is Marina Ottaway's too brief discussion of the dependency of the "new ethnicity" in Africa on an international context in which ethnic forces are so salient. A few pages do no justice to this topic.

There are some surprises, however. Jeffrey Herbst introduces a little studied, but crucially important new topic, namely, citizenship and ethnicity in the contemporary African state, arguing that more restrictive citizenship laws lead to "significant levels of political violence"(274). Equally interesting is Bruce Magnusson's dynamic account of Benin's transition to democratic rule.

The quality of scholarship and writing remains high and consistent throughout the essays. As a whole, however, the volume fails to sustain a scholarly focus on democratization, ethnicity, or any other particular topic. Finally, if readers find that the volume presupposes real familiarity with political science scholarship on Africa they will nonetheless be greatly aided by the breadth of introduction to contemporary perspectives on that literature this volume offers.


Patrick M. Boyle
Rome Center for the Liberal Arts of Loyola University Chicago




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