In This Review

Political Legitimacy in Middle Africa: Father, Family, Food
Political Legitimacy in Middle Africa: Father, Family, Food
By Michael G. Schatzberg
Indiana University Press, 2001, 292 pp.

This is the most interesting and original foray by a political scientist into African political culture since Frederic Shaffer's Democracy in Translation, published in 1998. Drawing on copious research in media sources, the author posits a set of assumptions or cultural predispositions that he says help constitute the "moral matrix" of political legitimacy in eight countries lying in a swath across middle Africa. For example, the assumption that states and families are similar underpins the common image of the head of state as a father who feeds, protects, disciplines, and pardons the nation's citizens as if they were children. Other cultural predispositions affect popular perceptions of political causality, determine what kinds of political behavior are legitimate, and decide what is political in the first place -- often defining these parameters very differently than Western observers would. Schatzberg's intention is not to discredit Western frameworks of analysis but to urge foreign researchers to go beyond their own intellectual biases to see the African political world as Africans see it.