Why is Africa, the most centrally located of all continents, also the most peripheral? Mazrui, the eminent Kenyan scholar...


THE AFRICAN CONDITION: A Political Diagnosis

Why is Africa, the most centrally located of all continents, also the most peripheral? Mazrui, the eminent Kenyan scholar who presently heads the University of Michigan's Center for Afroamerican and African Studies, posed that loaded question in the 1979 BBC Reith Lectures, on which this text is based; and in answering it, he challenges not only European ethnocentrism (as Edward Said did, more venomously, in Orientalism), he also puts fellow Africans on notice. His diagnosis proceeds through six further ""paradoxes""--a rhetorical device that strains logic but compels attention. 1) Why is so much of Africa, ""the earliest home of man,"" ""not yet fit for human habitation"" (as instanced, in the sociopolitical sphere, by the pervasive refugee problem)? 2) Why the ""cross of humiliation"" exemplified by African slavery and African colonization (and ""the worst insult of all,"" South African apartheid)? 3) Why have African cultures, ""so different and so distant from western ways,"" capitulated so rapidly ""to the western cultural challenge?"" 4) Why the poverty, still, of resource-rich Africa (while other Third-World societies have materially advanced)? 5) Why is a continent ""large enough to be worthy of a race of huge Brobdingnagians"" inhabited, in fact, ""by Lilliputians?"" Why, that is, the extreme fragmentation? In the last lecture, Mazrui addresses his original paradox in specifically political, and largely prescriptive terms: how can centrally-located Africa cease to be politically marginal and contribute to ""pacifying the world?"" Early on, discussing ""the crisis of habitability,"" Mazrui makes a case for his own course in quitting Amin's Uganda in terms of ""counter-penetrating"" the West, and he sees the African brain drain generally as a healthy outbreak of the Western ""spirit of adventure."" In a similar inversion of the received view, he excoriates African renunciation of nuclear weapons as a latter-day instance of acceding to ""the imperial monopoly of warfare""; rather, he would have African states revive ""the warrior tradition"" (a psychological boost), go nuclear (a technological boost), and frighten the world into total denuclearization. Many of Mazrui's historical judgments (on, for instance, the role of Islamic and Christian universalism in fostering ethnic differences) are equally unorthodox and challenging--as is his equanimity in proclaiming Nigeria the Britain of the 21st century. After the handwringing of recent Western observers, Mazrui's radical shake-up is invigorating.

Pub Date: April 1, 1980


Page Count: -

Publisher: Cambridge Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1980