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The Black Man's Burden: Africa and the Curse…
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The Black Man's Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State (original 1992; edition 1993)

by Basil Davidson

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Member:gregvogl
Title:The Black Man's Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State
Authors:Basil Davidson
Info:Three Rivers Press (1993), Paperback, 368 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:africa, history

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The Black Man's Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State by Basil Davidson (1992)

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This is a pessimistic story of how today's African states were founded when colonial rulership was decommissioned in the 1950s. The author argues that the European masters possessed neither the will, knowledge nor the political infrastructures that immediate "state-building" would have required when independence suddenly came. Many educated Africans tried their best to fit their western experiences to African society, but state projects spiraled to strongman rule and elitism despite their best efforts. The great hopes for social improvement which stoked the independence movements were disappointed. The author aims to demonstrate that Africa possessed working political blueprints of popular participation, social responsibility and cooperation before the colonial period, but that these were incompatible with European nation-state scaffolds.

The subject is very interesting and the author has much to say about it. His long personal experience in Africa gives him a unique perspective. However, he writes a free-flowing narrative without much theoretical background or structured argument, and I think that limits his conclusions. Especially his portrait of pre-colonial political organizations is hard to grasp. He presents a few case studies and claims that these African governments were accountable to their citizens, but he doesn't actually explain how that accountability functioned. Furthermore, the book is at least 100 pages too long. The author drifts further and further away from his topic towards the end. He makes a 25-page excursion into the history of eastern Europe which yields no information of interest. His final conclusions take another 30 pages, but it seems like he just scribbled them down as random notes without bothering to recall the most important parts of the book.

In conclusion, I think this is a good book but a more critical editor's eye could have improved it. It is perhaps slightly outdated by now (published in 1992), but still a good starting point for understanding Africa's political problems. Jeffrey Herbst's "States and Power in Africa" is another good work on the same subject.
  thcson | Sep 29, 2015 |
An excellent book challenging some of the sterotypes about the problems Africa faces today. It also challenges a common modern perception that the "nation state" is the norm, whereas in fact it is a fairly modern European invention. ( )
  johnthefireman | Apr 30, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812922107, Paperback)

An absorbing, highly acclaimed examination of Africa's transition from colonialism to revolution to the social turmoil of today.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:06 -0400)

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