wa Muiu, Mueni and Guy Martin. A New Paradigm of the African State: Fundi wa Afrika.
Occasionally one comes across an academic whose extensive knowledge of a particular subject is a cause for anguish and fury; as the reader navigates through his/her work anger starkly stares in the face. The Mueni wa Muiu/Guy Martin wife-and-husband team is definitely anguished and tormented about Africa and this comes through in this book. The underlying causes of their indignation are varied but what stands out as fundamental is that:
By using Western concepts to study African countries rather than studying them in their own right and in the context of their indigenous culture and institutions, Africa [then] emerges as a complete failure ... most studies assume that the only path open to African countries is westernization. Africa can only be understood when it is studied in its own right rather than as a mere reflection of Western countries' (p.2).
This is a primary justification for a study which describes and explains Africa in its own terms and from this derives a new paradigm of the African state, Fundi wa Afrika. The contention is
one cannot understand the African predicament without analyzing African indigenous political systems as well as the colonial and neo-colonial states ... Successive historical processes such as slavery, imperialism, colonialism, and neo-colonialism (an ongoing process renamed "globalization") contributed to the creation of the present African state, which reflects the Western state but fails to perform the same functions (italics in original) (p. 193).
For purposes of this review the ten chapters of the book can be conveniently arranged in three thematic groupings. First are the opening three chapters which present a comprehensive examination of indigenous governance and other systems juxtaposed with the colonial and post-colonial state systems. The first chapter summarizes the wide-ranging contestations on the state by an extensive range of scholars, including modernization, dependency, statist, and reconstructionist theorists. Willy nilly, these, particularly the reconstructionist theories, lay the foundations for the discussions in the rest of the book. (pp. 17-21). Chapter 2 delves heavily into the empirical basis of African indigenous systems and institutions from antiquity to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Chapter 3 advances the discussions further into the colonial and post-colonial eras in all their complexities but especially in terms of the interface between European and indigenous African cultures and institutions.
The second thematic grouping is of chapters engaged with issues central to an understanding of the strictures on the state in Africa as regards more effective control and exploitation of the continent's resources (Chapters 4). European conquest and genocide were the means for ensuring access to and control of these vast natural resources. This perspective then serves as a basis for a detailed examination of Africa's asymmetrical position in the global economy and the implications of globalization for African economies and societies (Chapter 5). The framework of analysis so far developed is applied to the Congo (Chapters 6 and 7) and South African cases (Chapters 8 and 9) which serve as templates for other African countries. As anticipated, issues emphasized are the indigenous political systems and institutions, colonial rule, and post-colonial political developments.
The above two themes feed into the third theme which links the introductory chapter (outlining the rationale for a new theory of the African state) to Chapter 10 (detailing the new paradigm of the African state, Fundi wa Afrika). Among numerous features of this paradigm is the preoccupation with replacing 'the present African state with the still functional positive elements of African indigenous institutions in order to create a state that can be both autonomous and democratic' (p.194). Also cardinal to this paradigm is an iterative process of sustained consultation between the reconstituted state and the populations. Sixteen practical aspects of Fundi are also explored by the authors. All these different elements constitute the material basis for the very innovative end-product, the Federation of African States (FAS) which is presented in extensio at the end of the study.
In assessing this book it is first to be noted that the fact that there continues to be a steady throughput of studies on the state in Africa reflects its centrality to an understanding of what makes Africa what it is at the macro, meso and micro levels. Arguably, most studies tend to be diagnostic and end up being stridently critical and, thus, repetitive and predictable. They are woefully weak on evidence-based alternatives. And when they attempt to peddle alternatives they invariably fall back to neo-liberal Western models which, when put to the test, do not fit. On the contrary, one major distinguishing quality of the wa Muiu/Martin study is that it expressly offers an alternative paradigm rooted in African realities. It seeks to destroy certain shibboleths common in Western media and even academic publications. Whether or not one agrees with the paradigm proposed it must be acknowledged as a daring effort to advocate an option to other models that have had such devastating consequences for the African continent and peoples.
In relation to the substantive content there is not much one can say about the background material on the evolution of the state in Africa and the diverse variables impacting its character, purpose and functionality. The case is well made by the authors. What should then be the focus of critical concern are Fundi as a new paradigm/theory/scenario/methodology and the FAS as a reconstructed African state system. Regrettably, space limitations do not permit such investigation in this review.
Fundi is 'a template for understanding Africa' (p.5). In this regard, the arguments advanced by the authors for putting only the experiences of Congo and South Africa under the microscope can be questioned on the grounds that countries such as Nigeria also meet the qualifying conditions. Nonetheless, it must be admitted that the fact that on numerous other subjects the authors liberally cite the experiences of many other African countries sufficiently counters any charge of convenience or suspicions that the authors' knowledge base is limited. The reviewer agrees more with the authors and commends them for the breadth of research displayed in these two case studies.
The book adopts a multidisciplinary approach 'because only then can we get a panoramic view capable of fully explaining the conditions prevailing in contemporary Africa' (p5); therefore, it draws on many disciplines though more especially on history, political science, geopolitics, and economics. This is also a welcomed emphasis as the multidisciplinary approach, whilst very exacting, provides a more total picture of reality and reflects a serious commitment on the part of the researchers to their metier and to a readiness to 'get to the bottom' of matters.
A few 'debit' observations deserving of further reflection. First, as regards the discussion on theories of the state (Chapter 1) the reviewer is of the opinion that not all of the works quoted are 'theories' in a strict sense nor do they all relate to the state. Further value would have been added to the whole book if the overview of 'theories' had been subjected to critical analysis. As is, they are mere summaries--and as such may be considered to be either unnecessary or insufficient, or both.
Then also the rationale for a new theory of the African state as presented in the introduction is not convincing enough. Yet it is the pivot on which the whole study revolves. Attempts by the authors to anticipate grounds for criticisms of Fundi (pp.6-7) are really not of much worth and could have easily been omitted. Instead, more intellectual energy should have been devoted to a further elaboration of the case for a new paradigm for the African state.
Revealing as it is the presentation on indigenous African political systems and institutions (Chapter 2) should have provided an even more solid foundation for what is to come (i.e. the new paradigm) if the thrust was more sharply on 'systems' and 'institutions'. As it is the key dimensions are buried in the complex web of history and anthropology.
All-in-all, the authors of this book are to be congratulated for a thoroughly researched tome. They bring together, quite admirably, a wealth of material to support their arguments. Their breadth of knowledge and their boldness in frontally attacking a rather complex and controversial subject are applauded. Guy Martin's forthcoming book on African political thought (Palgrave MacMillan, 2010) should be a useful companion to the present volume.
Finally, it is gratifying to note that as a follow-up to this path-breaking book the African Studies and Research Forum (an affiliate of the Association of Third World Studies) has initiated a research programme of country case studies using the Fundi wa Afrika analytical framework, and under the leadership of Mueni wa Muiu and Guy Martin. It is the reviewer's expectation that, inter alia, a series of publications should result which would fred their way into the curricula of universities particularly in Africa.
The book is recommended to different categories of readers, including the generalist and the specialist, graduate and undergraduate students, iconoclasts and purists, Afro-pessimists and Afro-optimists, and those genuinely involved in crafting a better future for the continent and its peoples. The Further Readings at the end of each chapter and the 50-page Notes and Bibliography provide space for more innovative research on this all-important subject of the state in Africa.
Jeggan C. Senghor
Institute of Commonwealth Studies
University of London
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|Author:||Senghor, Jeggan C.|
|Publication:||Journal of Third World Studies|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2010|
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