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About this book

This textbook offers a critical introduction to the study of Africa, drawing on scholarship from a range of academic disciplines. A comprehensive discussion of the continent’s geography and history provides a backdrop to broad-ranging coverage of its social, economic, political and cultural composition as well as its future prospects. Moreover, moving beyond the all-too-common tendency to view Africa as a single, homogeneous entity, Graham provides a nuanced overview that challenges preconceptions and stereotypes.

Written in a sophisticated yet accessible style, and supported by a range of pedagogical features, this book introduces undergraduate students from a range of different disciplinary backgrounds to the contemporary study of Africa.

Table of Contents

1. What Is Africa?

Abstract
Africa is probably the most misunderstood region in the world. It is a continent that generates an enormous amount of interest and attention, yet is also subject to significant misrepresentation and generalisation that does little to account for its diversity or complexity. Africa is home to over 1 billion people (UN, 2017) and is the most linguistically varied place on earth with over two thousand languages spoken, but all too frequently, it is often viewed as a homogeneous, single entity. Nonetheless, in the west such a perception is commonly encountered and perpetuated. Owing to the sheer size of Africa, it can often be difficult to comprehend the vast differences, hence the resort to oversimplification. Furthermore, at first glance, certain developments that have occurred seem to have little consistency, or are simply regarded as uniquely ‘African’ such as authoritarianism, corruption, and the collapse of states. For those uninitiated in African affairs, trying to understand these trajectories can be overwhelming. In order to provide some coherence to this web of complexity, the stock response is to slip into reductive explanations that do little to explain why things have happened. The consequence is to simply look at the outcome, rather than to understand how and why they have occurred.
Matthew Graham

2. Land And People

Abstract
This chapter will set the physical, demographic, and social dimensions of the continent. While it is possible to identify many commonalities in terms of geographic and demographic trends, the size and diversity of Africa must be kept in mind. By exploring themes such as the natural environment of the continent, this chapter acts as an important starting point that will allow for other areas in the book to be properly contextualised. The chapter begins with an assessment of the main physical characteristics of Africa, followed by a brief discussion of their impact on animal, human, and economic development. The second section will investigate the political map of the continent, demonstrating the external imposition of nation-states, and the effect these have had on the fortunes of many countries. The chapter moves on to detail some of the natural resources available, and the effect these have had for those who have access to them. The penultimate section assesses the demography of the continent, and most importantly the high fertility rates and the growing youth bulge, highlighting the opportunities and challenges this may provide. Finally, the chapter concludes by looking at some of the core trends in social development, while comparing some of the main similarities and differences across Africa.
Matthew Graham

3. History

Abstract
In order to fully understand contemporary Africa we need to examine how it got where it is today, by examining the historic developments that have influenced and shaped the present. The history of Africa, from the pre-colonial era through to the age of independence in the 1960s, is one characterised by layers of change and evolution. There have been some major junctures in Africa’s past, which brought about enormous disruption and modification to its states and societies, such as the rise of kingdoms like the Asante in West Africa, or the imposition of white minority rule in southern Africa. While history is often written around such major turning points, it is crucial to note that Africa’s past is predominantly about evolution and flexibility, especially in terms of societal composition, political norms, and ethnic identity. For example, European colonialism, which lasted a relatively short time in the continent’s historical trajectory, did not totally rupture or transform African societies; many political and cultural practices of the pre-colonial era remained unaffected by imperial rule, with profound effects on post-colonial polities.
Matthew Graham

4. Political Systems

Abstract
At face value democracy is establishing a footing across Africa at a pace unlike any other period since independence. Since the early 1990s, following the end of the Cold War, the continent has increasingly abandoned poor governance practices and moved towards greater political plurality and freedom in what Samuel Huntington (1991) termed as the ‘third-wave of democratisation’. However, this transition from authoritarianism towards democracy remains far from complete. While Africa nations continue to make significant progress towards achieving greater democratisation, it is highly uneven. Elections are regularly held across the continent, albeit with varying outcomes. Crucially, in several notable cases incumbent presidents defeated at the polls chose to step aside rather than cling to power. The example of Nigeria is a case in point, where in a moment of genuine optimism following decades of military rule, and civilian maladministration, President Goodluck Jonathan handed power to Muhammadu Buhari after electoral defeat in 2015, prompting an unprecedented peaceful transfer of power. Electoral politics is now firmly entrenched across much of the continent.
Matthew Graham

5. The Economy

Abstract
The performance of contemporary African nations’ economies, which are closely related to issues of governance, poverty, growth, and development, has played a significant role in shaping perceptions of the continent. The narratives of Afro-pessimism and Afro-optimism are closely intertwined with economic indicators. From the 1980s through until the early 2000s, the picture was almost universally bleak, as African nations struggled with escalating debts, growing poverty, external interventions, and a hugely imbalanced trade deficit, resulting in enormous difficulties; the now infamous Economist (2000) headline
Matthew Graham

6. Political Violence

Abstract
One of the most powerful external images regarding Africa is of a continent beset by violence, political conflict, and instability. Such a pessimistic narrative of violent unrest was reinforced in the 1990s, a decade which witnessed a dramatic upsurge not only in the number of conflicts in the post-Cold War era, but also in the brutality of them. The most notable examples occurred in Rwanda and Sierra Leone where the violence was largely directed towards civilian populations. The continent has experienced a number of debilitating conflicts in the post-independence era, which have been enormously destructive, killing millions of people, displacing millions more, while disrupting economic activities, destroying infrastructure, straining societal bonds, and damaging political institutions. The prevalence of conflict, in its various forms, has been a major impediment to development and stability for many post-colonial African states. For example, since 1956, a third of the world’s civil wars have occurred in Africa. The consequences have been predictably catastrophic, and certainly perpetuated many of the negative external perspectives of Africa.
Matthew Graham

7. Social Movements And Civil Society

Abstract
In general assessments of contemporary Africa, social movements and civil society organisations continue to receive very little attention, despite the presence of an array of diverse popular movements that seek to achieve political, economic, and social change. These movements are often informal, and seek to empower people taking ‘action from below’ against the state to achieve change. They also operate within the public space which is often termed ‘civil society’, where non-state actors provide vehicles for collective action to achieve specific aims. Civil society organisations on the other hand also operate within this same public space, but with objectives that include providing services and lobbying governments. Therefore civil society organisations can include charities, NGOs, trade unions, and think tanks, which are usually independent of government interference, although some generate their funding through state grants.
Matthew Graham

8. Popular Culture

Abstract
Given the sheer diversity of the continent and its peoples, ‘culture’ can become an unwieldly and unhelpful term. Culture is extremely difficult to pin down, and the term hides a multitude of meanings, value judgements, political connotations, and social norms, which can be drastically different from community to community. Furthermore, there is a distinction between ‘high’ and ‘popular’ culture, in which the former often includes ‘sophisticated’ or elite-dominated frames of reference such as art and philosophy which set them apart from the rest of society, while the latter includes activities or attitudes enjoyed by the majority of the populace.
Matthew Graham

9. Africa Beyond the Nation-State

Abstract
The purpose of this chapter is to examine some of the main elements of contemporary Africa that can often be overlooked when examining the political and historical trajectories of the continent. The integrity of the nation-state is a fundamental concept in Africa’s political thought and organisation. In 1963, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) formally accepted the colonial boundaries, which allowed nationalist leaders to fashion ‘new’ nations and identities within these inherited geographic spaces. While this was extremely important to the political and social evolution of Africa, it is imperative to recognise that external influences such as Pan-Africanism and the actions of the continent’s diasporic communities have played a significant role in developing and shaping perceptions and conceptualisations of ‘Africa’. In turn, these philosophies have had an enormous impact on how political leaders view the continent, and the subsequent efforts to build networks and institutions of African unity. Indeed, this search for a form of African unity, based on Pan-African principles, has continued to exercise the continent, creating moments of collective harmony, yet also serious division.
Matthew Graham

10. The Future Of Africa

Abstract
What does the future hold for Africa? Is the much heralded ‘Africa rising’ thesis starting to gather apace, as democracy, good governance, and economic growth emerge? Is the Afro-pessimist narrative that depicted a ‘hopeless’ and despairing continent beginning to be rewritten? Or are the green shoots of optimism being undermined by stubborn autocratic rulers, intractable political violence, and economic stagnation? As this book has demonstrated, both narratives have grains of truth, with particular countries manifesting all the characteristics of such contradictory trends. Given that Africa is such a large and diverse continent, it is the site of multiple, coinciding, and conflicting realities: violence and peace; democracy and authoritarianism; growth and regression; domestic power and external weakness. Yet grand narratives reinforce and propagate a sweeping picture of Africa which is unfaithful to its realities, and do little to demonstrate its complexity. What this book has therefore attempted to highlight is that the one thing we can be sure of for the future is uncertainty. There have been rapid and dynamic changes in Africa’s contemporary political, economic, and social trajectories, in which ‘progress’ and ‘regression’ have appeared, which makes it unwise to offer bold statements about the future.
Matthew Graham
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