In This Review

Africa in the World: Capitalism, Empire, Nation-State
Africa in the World: Capitalism, Empire, Nation-State
By Frederick Cooper
Harvard University Press, 2014, 144 pp.

This wide-ranging essay on the evolving relationship between Africa and the rest of the world since the Middle Ages is erudite and insightful. Cooper uses his considerable knowledge of the historical record to comment on contemporary debates about the role of institutions in economic development and the extent to which Africa’s progress has been impeded by its international relations. He also asks whether the current political map of the continent, which features more than 50 countries, was inevitable, or whether multistate federal structures could have developed. He has no easy answers to these questions but offers good ways of thinking about them. The book’s most novel passages concern the failure to create a broad Francophone federation in West Africa in the waning years of French colonial rule. Cooper shows how such a federation was thwarted by French concerns about granting full citizenship rights to Africans and by the ways that the quest for sovereignty quickly put African nationalist leaders at odds with one another.