THE BLACK MAN'S BURDEN: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State by Basil Davidson
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THE BLACK MAN'S BURDEN: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State

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For 40 years, Davidson (Can Africa Survive?, 1974, etc.) has fought to secure Africa's place in world history. The stakes in this battle have been more than academic, as the commonly accepted notion that ""Africa had no history"" served as justification for the European colonial domination of the continent and its peoples. Here, Davidson shows how that historical denial not only allowed colonialism to take root but also contributed to the imposition of European-style national governments after independence. At independence, according to Davidson, a Western-educated African elite rose to power over traditional African leaders because it was commonly assumed that Africa had no indigenous models for ruling nation-states. Gathering the historical evidence, Davidson shows that, before the imposition of colonialism in the late 19th century, Africa was well along in the process of evolving its own models for the nation-state. The Asante kingdom of modern-day Ghana, for example, was ""manifestly a national state on its way to becoming a nation-state with every attribute ascribed to a Western European nation-state."" Historians, though, neglected or were unaware of Africa's rich political history; and so Davidson portrays an Africa stripped of tradition. Africans under colonialism were told that, in order to be civilized, they must cease being African--while at the same time they could never be European. Ironically, this view didn't change after independence, with adherence to African tradition still derided as ""tribalism"" and seen as an obstacle to development. What Africa's leaders inherited, says Davidson, was ""a crisis of social disintegration."" From here he charts the plummeting spiral of economic and social decay that has brought Africa to its current political crisis. Davidson's reach emends through medieval Europe, 19th-century Japan, and to the quandary faced by Eastern European nations today. He offers a rich and fascinating history, essential for any understanding of modern Africa's troubles--and a welcome contrast to the blame-the-Africans-for-their-problems books that have proliferated in the past decade.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1992
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Times Books