Terretta's basic thesis is that the UPC can best be understood through a study of discourse and practice at multiple levels (local, national and inter...moreTerretta's basic thesis is that the UPC can best be understood through a study of discourse and practice at multiple levels (local, national and international) and in multiple locations ("Baham, a strong chieftaincy situated in the densely populated, mostly rural Bamileke region; Nkongsamba, the capital of the Mungo region, French Cameroon’s fertile plantation zone; and Accra, Ghana, where the Kwame Nkrumah government that came into power at independence, in 1957, founded the Bureau of African Affairs to support and assist anti-colonial liberation movements in territories still under European rule."
As a result, even though this is not a short book, it seems that Terretta could have written at least three books from the narratives touched upon in the volume. First, Terretta connects the history of the UPC to the charged relationships between "traditional" rule and attempts by colonial and post-colonial figures to forcibly appropriate land, labor and capital. These resulting cultural-political conflicts are a core part of colonialism, and they are so often replaced in mainstream discourse with primordial notions of unsophisticated tradition meeting forward-looking modernity. Second, Terretta writes about how the UPC first comes together through a process of political mobilization, using whatever discourses are available to fight for independence from the French colonial/post-colonial system. Through persecution, international disregard (not only by the French but by anti-independence U.S. administrations), and subsequent colonial/post-colonial repression, the UPC fragmented and became an amalgam of persecuted traditional/secular leaders, semi-organized militias, and brutal marauders competing with equally brutal state security. Third, Terretta writes of the very important and oft-overlooked relationships between the UPC and the broader projects of pan-African liberation. UPC leaders were prominent among these figures early on, and one wonders what Africa might be today if international colonial regimes sought solidarity instead of discord with strong regionalist/nationalist figures like Nkrumah, the other members of the All-African Peoples' Conference, and other figures of black liberation (notably, given her recent passing, Maya Angelou).
Each of these three strands is important to the thesis, but the methods chosen for dealing with them makes the narrative somewhat fragmented, moving too rapidly from one sphere of analysis to another without providing adequate transitions.
More importantly, I would have liked to read more about the relations (such as they were) between Francophone and Anglophone liberation movements and figures within Cameroon. The trade-off would have been a longer book, and perhaps this requires a separate volume to do it justice. However, this would have increased understanding of the process through which Cameroon eventually became a "unified" state, ruled by the dictator Ahidjo (and subsequently the dictator Biya) under the tutelage of France but also containing remnants of suppressed but occasionally resurgent/insurgent opposition.
Overall, the book is quite a valuable contribution to literature about Africa, colonial/post-colonial history, liberation movements, and the Cameroon/UPC experience in particular. (less)
Argenti's book should shake to the core any person who has a legacy of slavery in their family history, as I do. Argenti offers a masterful ethnograph...moreArgenti's book should shake to the core any person who has a legacy of slavery in their family history, as I do. Argenti offers a masterful ethnography of people who still, as Mbembe notes in "La naissance du maquis dans le Sud-Cameroun (1920-1960)" (p. 388), dream of being chained and led to the sea. This hit me still harder because I spent two years among these wonderful, strong, creative people who even now are full of satirical humor and awareness of life's ironies. That they could be so generous with a representative of people that have exploited their young people for centuries is itself beyond comprehension. It also justifies tendencies among some to view me at first as primarily a reservoir of financial capital.
Though the descriptions of masking performances are as yet unmatched, Argenti's theoretical and epistemological approach are deeply problematic. In this context, useful critiques have been written by Scott MacEachern (http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev....) and Filip De Boeck (http://www.academia.edu/3014546/Revie...). In particular, I think important questions can be raised about whether people in the Grassfields are really silent about the histories of slavery and forced labor, and therefore to what extent historical insights must be based on unarticulated collective interactions of "peoples." Perhaps the author put too much faith in ethnographic observation, at the expense of interviews. Broadening these questions would allow not only Argenti's discourse- and image-intensive perspective (involving Mbembe, Roitman, Bakhtin and Foucault) but also James Scotts' and Steven Feierman's work on consciousness and on-stage/off-stage work; Foucault's equivocal micro-politics of self-discipline (governmentality); and Marc Edelman's work on social movements and strategic invocation of "peasants" among others. Ethnographies and interviews could be structured with the idea that both elite and marginalized (like their Western interlocutors) are able to at least partially articulate the structures/processes/representations underlying long generations of exploitation. Thus, research could concentrate not only on cultural sense-making but also on strategic positioning through representation, location and action.
Argenti begins his book with the proposition that, "[d]espite young people's ongoing struggles against marginalization and of resistance to oppression in the Grassfields, not a word was spoken to me about slavery or forced labor during the duration of my stays in the region." (p. 3) He puts this down to the immense traumas faced by the community as the result of these acts, traumas that persist to this day in the autocratic Cameroon state. He makes this clear in detailing an attack in 1996-1997: "The violence of the paramilitary forces was so acute on this occasion that the population of Oku was forced to flee into the surrounding forest, retracing the steps of their ancestors, who had escaped into the mountains to seek refuge from raiding Chamba slave catchers, or later, as members of the floating population, to evade the impositions of oppressive chiefs and colonial labor recruiters ..." (p. 31)
Argenti argues that this climate of trauma-induced silence, combined with fragmentary explicit or "objective" historical records of slavery and forced labor, requires that long experiences with slavery, oppression and rebellion be studied through the "embodied or belated" histories of masking performances. "The ambiguous mythical histories and the agonistic dances of the Grassfields bear witness to the underlying social and political continuities in the relations between youth and elites that belie hegemonic modernist discourses and imaginaries of revolutionary historical transformation and progress (p. 6) ... Although it may be tempting from an empirical point of view to dismiss that which is not made explicit (and thus effectively to erase it from the historical record), we are called upon to recognize that peoples find ways of bearing witness to the silences of their histories -- ways that are found where language and discursive memory break down" (p. 22). The operative word here, I suggest, is "peoples." Peoples encompass, and are encompassed by, cultural structures which perpetuate hierarchies of exploitation, serve as non-discursive outlets for historical/current traumas, and provide some space for ironic resistance. Masking performances therefore offer, according to Argenti, ways to understand the "inescapable features of violent pasts [that] exist in the perpetual present of the struggles and cleavages that they have spawned ... (p. 23)"
Argenti then lays out through graphical accounts and inference a compelling narrative of the continuities between pre-colonial slave raids, colonial forced labor regimes, and post-colonial state/palatine joint exploitation. Palace figures attempt to legitimate their hierarchical control, including past enslavement and human sacrifice, through justificatory myths that are then subject to "revisions, doublings and veiled critiques" (p. 34) by "youth." This idea of "youth" is problematic because it has as much to do with marginalization as with age. "Relative seniority is not calculated simply on the basis of age but by means of a complex, multilayered assessment of an individual's economic power, social connections, kinship and affinal ties, gender, esoteric knowledge, membership in secret societies and military organizations, position in the hierarchy, and so on." (p. 7). "Youth," by virtue of marginalization, have for generations been subject to bachelorhood, penury, placelessness and enslavement. They have also therefore been at the forefront of socio-political and socio-economic transformation, from establishment of new fondoms, to charged interactions with missionaries and colonial figures (the tapenta boys). (less)
Overall, Mbembe's book is invaluable for effectively connecting colonial/post-colonial representations of Africa with brutal exercise of multi-modal p...moreOverall, Mbembe's book is invaluable for effectively connecting colonial/post-colonial representations of Africa with brutal exercise of multi-modal power (see Allen, Lost Geographies of Power) in order to gain and maintain control over actual spaces of colonialism (especially Mbembe's primary case study Cameroon). In particular, Mbembe's combination of metaphor and case study offers correctives to cultural studies work (e.g. Derridia and Lyotard) that concentrates unduly on textual deconstruction at the expense of material practice.
The phallic metaphors of control and submission aid in this enterprise, but at the same time are repetitious to the point that by the end they distract from the primary purpose of the book. Nevertheless, one should persist to the end, and then skim back through the book at least once in order to put the pieces together.
I suggest that the book can usefully be broken into three sections. They fall roughly in order within the book, with important exceptions. The first section lays out the mechanics of colonial power, whereby violence joins bureaucracy, spectacle of culture, and other modalities to accomplish and maintain control. The second section applies colonial practices and metaphors to Cameroon, the primary case through which Mbembe articulates his notion of the postcolony. The third section is almost completely metaphorical, dealing with darkly phallic domination of colonial and post-colonial rule. (less)
This book provides an excellent view into Sankara's rationalization of the Burkinabe revolution. I agree with much of Joseph Edwards review, particula...moreThis book provides an excellent view into Sankara's rationalization of the Burkinabe revolution. I agree with much of Joseph Edwards review, particularly the description of Sankara's words going beyond (though only marginally beyond) mere rhetoric into the nuts and bolts of a revolutionary society in the midst of the 1980s. I also wholeheartedly agree that one of the biggest tragedies of Sankara's life is that he is almost completely unknown outside of the world of specialists and in particular those who concentrate on Africa.
I offer two points in this review. First, Sankara's words regarding women are some of the most important in the book. His was not meant to be a patriarchal revolution, and he took the suffering of women head on. "[With the appearance of modern economic forms] The protective tenderness of the woman toward the family and the clan became a trap that delivered her up to domination by the male ... All genuine human feelings were transformed into objects of barter" (p. 260). Sankara's description of women's plight can quite usefully be extended to imperialism in general, and he would have done well to make such a connection. Imperialism throughout history has preyed upon basic orientations of both women and men to reproduce and look after their families. Thus, threats of coercion or quotidian oppression have often been sufficient to keep colonized peoples in manageable quiescence.
Secondly, one should not stop with Sankara's words. Rather one needs to look at the broader context and ask critical questions. For example, how has Compaoré been able to manage Burkinabé civil society in such a sophisticated manner, allowing for some measure of free press and even contestation by students, military and workers? Why was there not more sustained and effective grassroots resistance to the coup? Some (e.g. Otayek's polemic, "The democratic 'rectification'") have suggested that Sankara was simply incompetent in practice, or that his revolutionary rhetoric did not match more reformist policies that adhered rather closely to neoliberal dictates. Thus, the World Bank actually praised somewhat the Sankara period particularly for keeping the debt sustainable. Was Sankara like Rawlings, a strategist who eventually abandoned revolution for neoliberal adjustment, or was Sankara's devotion to social transformation the reason that he was killed? (less)
Though there is somewhat too much of the breathless and death-defying journalistic adventure, this is a worthwhile critical narrative covering recent...moreThough there is somewhat too much of the breathless and death-defying journalistic adventure, this is a worthwhile critical narrative covering recent conditions surrounding petroleum production in Africa. Ghazvinian traveled widely throughout Africa, and his account is particularly valuable for revealing the character of private mercenaries, authoritarian surveillance, and corporate suppression of petroleum production activities. MPRI and Executive Outcomes among others appear often in this book, for example, as private security contractors earning profits by protecting corporations and sustaining authoritarian rule.
Coverage of AFRICOM and U.S. national security is a glaring weakness of this book, given the clear value of petroleum to powerful actors from West and East. Ghazvinian (p. 238) dismisses U.S. military involvement in EUCOM, a precursor and founder of AFRICOM, in the following manner: "Those inclined to view U.S. military activity as inherently suspicious have drawn from EUCOM's activities an overarching narrative of American imperialism and big sticks, but this is giving in to a cynical and conspiratorial view of the world." Strong opposing views of AFRICOM exist, including those seen on http://africomwatch.blogspot.com/(less)
Piet Konings is a prolific, critical and innovative student of labor and broader comparative political economy in Central and West Africa in particula...morePiet Konings is a prolific, critical and innovative student of labor and broader comparative political economy in Central and West Africa in particular. I look forward to reading this book.(less)
This rather long and often repetitive book offers a broad, mainstream political economy view of China's increasing engagement with Africa. The conclus...moreThis rather long and often repetitive book offers a broad, mainstream political economy view of China's increasing engagement with Africa. The conclusion, subtitled "Implications for the United States," clearly reveals the book's bias and objectives. The authors' interest-based descriptions of China's involvement in Africa are useful for getting general information about current events but not useful for understanding Chinese involvement beyond those areas that fit into U.S. government policy frameworks.
This book fits well into the description accompanying African Perspectives on China in Africa published by Fahamu, which I plan to read subsequently and will almost certainly recommend more highly:
Much of the commentary on China in Africa focuses either on assessing how Western capital's interest might be affected, or on denouncing China for practices that have for centuries been the norm for US and European powers – support for dictators, callous destruction of the environment, exploitation of minerals, and complete disregard for human rights ...
...Lost in that noisy debate has been the voice of independent African analysts and activists.
This book is an invaluable resource for learning about SMS in Africa, but it has broader value for understanding the challenges and opportunities of s...moreThis book is an invaluable resource for learning about SMS in Africa, but it has broader value for understanding the challenges and opportunities of social networking on all Internet platforms. The authors, pre-eminent in the field of Internet activism in Africa, both cover general issues and provide detailed case studies of digital information gathering and activism in Kenya, DR Congo, KwaZulu Natal, Uganda and Zimbabwe among others. The digital divide is addressed but so also is the exponential growth of mobile technologies and the innovative adaptation of old and new technologies to local circumstances. An often overlooked feature of technological adaptation in Africa is the relentless creativity of people in Africa as they attempt to keep automobiles, phones, computers and other items operational far beyond the warranty dates. SMS Uprising applies this well to communications technologies. Authors also note both the positive and negative uses of such technologies, including distribution of both non-violent and violent speech as well as the ability to track movements for good and bad purposes.
I was surprised at the positive presentation in the book of market liberalization in the context of telecommunications. It seems that there was a clear support for privatized networks rather than government intervention. This position deserves broader integration into debates about neoliberal marketplaces, efficiency, innovation and human welfare.(less)