In This Review
The Search for Africa: History,Culture, Politics
Times Books, 1994, 373 pp.
Challenging the intellectually constructed stereotypes of cultural others has grown into a mainstream academic endeavor in the decade and a half since the publication of Edward Said's Orientalism. But Basil Davidson, the most prolific popular historian of Africa, was at it long before it became trendy. The earlier of the eighteen essays collected in this volume were written in 1953-54, the most recent in the early 1990s. Their unifying theme is the burden imposed by racism on perceptions of Africa's past and the consequent need for Africans to throw off imperialist values, culture, and institutions and return to the flow of their earlier history of indigenous development, which was broken by colonial dispossession.
This is sophisticated advocacy journalism, not scholarship -- although Davidson draws widely on the historical scholarship of others when it suits him -- but many will find his results stimulating nevertheless. Could Africa in the 21st century reinvent itself by discarding the inappropriate Western model of the nation state and forming redrawn regional and federal political units? Could overcentralized governments be replaced with systems organized around participatory democracy? Whatever the practitioners of realpolitik may make of Davidson's vision, they will not be able to fault him on the consistency with which he has pursued and developed it over 40 years of commitment to African emancipation.
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