In This Review

African Democracies and African Politics
African Democracies and African Politics
By Mohamed Salih
Pluto Press, 2001, 234 pp

This well-informed study starts from the premise that Western-style democracy has never been appropriate in Africa and is unlikely to catch on anytime soon, despite concerted efforts by international donors and lenders to force it on reluctant African leaders through strings attached to aid. The author, an African scholar who teaches in the Netherlands, makes a case instead for positively reconsidering ethnicity as a political organizing principle, pointing to the current Ethiopian experiment with ethnic federation as a promising model. Systems explicitly based on ethnicity could become an indigenous variant of Robert Dahl's well-known concept of polyarchy, Salih contends, bringing government closer to the people through local institutions that embody traditional elements of democracy and give minorities a greater voice. Some of the case material (Sudan, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, southern Africa) is only loosely linked to the central argument, and much in the book will go over the heads of undergraduate students. Nonetheless, it is a notable attempt to bring a fresh African perspective to the continent's politics.