Rainbow nations defy grand theory

An Introduction to African Politics. Second Edition

November 24, 2006

A major problem confronting the new student of Africa is the Western tendency to view the continent and its peoples as homogenous.

A great strength of Alex Thomson's Introduction to African Politics , therefore, is that the work, despite being continental in scope, specifically warns against any such viewpoint.

This is especially important in a textbook used on introductory courses, which, its author states, is intended to lead students to more specialist works dealing with specific African countries.

This intention is well supported by the work's pedagogical apparatus, which includes comprehensive lists of further reading and an invaluable guide to online resources.

The thematic approach of the book also emphasises Africa's political diversity. Analytical chapters dealing with ideology, ethnicity and religion, class, coercion, legitimacy, sovereignty, authority and democracy in African contexts provide general fields for discussion.

Thomson's discussion does have something of an underlying master narrative -that African experience is characterised by the failure of engagement between state and civil society - but this never becomes an overpowering grand theory that dismisses facts and reduces arguments to formulae.

The diversity of African politics is further illustrated by the inclusion of detailed case studies of individual countries, accompanied by boxed summaries of the main points in each chapter.

African politics is often characterised by rapid change, and this second edition of Thomson's work has been updated to address changes that have occurred since the first edition of 2000, particularly in giving more attention to questions of religion and ethnicity. In this connection, the chapter dealing with class might perhaps have been shorter.

This, however, is a minor point, which does not detract from the general usefulness of a textbook which is well presented and user friendly.

Alexander du Toit holds a PhD in imperial and colonial history from London University.

An Introduction to African Politics. Second Edition

Author - Alex Thomson
Publisher - Routledge
Pages - 284
Price - £75.00 and £18.99
ISBN - 0 415 28261 and 628262 4

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