African Politics in Comparative Perspective
By Goran Hyden
Cambridge University Press, 2006, 314 pp.
Hyden, a prominent academic who has been following African politics since the heady days right after independence, has written a very readable set of semi-independent essays on the region. Despite the claims made on the book's cover, this is less a review of the academic literature than it is a collection of Hyden's own passionately held, and always interesting, views, informed by an impressive but somewhat selective reading of the literature. The essays advance theoretical and empirical claims about such topics as personal rule, development failures, the inability of governments to bring about the modernization of agriculture, the lack of success of policymaking and politics, and gender issues. Hyden's own research has focused on East Africa, and his claims regarding Kenya and Tanzania are the most authoritative; throughout, the analysis is strongly sociological, emphasizing how social relationships determine political outcomes. Perhaps inevitably for such a book, Hyden downplays variation within the region and tends to underappreciate the importance of change, particularly recent developments. Nonetheless, for its sweeping breadth and erudition, this book deserves to be read by anyone interested in Africa.