Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism

In This Review

Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism

By Mahmood Mamdani
Princeton University Press, 1996
353 pp. $55.00
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All serious efforts to reconceptualize African politics are to be welcomed, particularly when new formulations point toward constructive avenues of potential action for political reformers. This theoretically adventurous work by a prominent Ugandan academic attempts to shift away from current paradigms constructed around themes of ethnic identity and the role of civil society. Taking the colonial state as his point of departure, the author maintains that contemporary failures of democratization stem from the inability of most governments to reform the colonial mode of indirect rule via "customary" tribal authorities that prevails in rural Africa. Civil-society analysis ignores the political reality of peasant populations, yet democracy cannot take root in Africa without their participation, he asserts. Facts are sometimes trimmed too neatly to fit the author's Procrustean theoretical bed; why greater democracy at the local level will necessarily temper ethnic rivalry in urban and national politics is not completely clear. And practical prescriptions tend toward the vague: for example, governments are urged to look for better ways to "link" urban and rural areas and thereby overcome the legacy of colonialism's bifurcated, urban-rural pattern of rule. Nevertheless, this is an original book that offers a new angle of vision and is likely to stir up lively debate.

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