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Africa, Fourth Edition

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Since the publication of the first edition in 1977, Africa has established itself as a leading resource for teaching, business, and scholarship. This fourth edition has been completely revised and focuses on the dynamism and diversity of contemporary Africa. The volume emphasizes contemporary culture–civil and social issues, art, religion, and the political scene–and provides an overview of significant themes that bear on Africa's place in the world. Historically grounded, Africa provides a comprehensive view of the ways that African women and men have constructed their lives and engaged in collective activities at the local, national, and global levels.

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1. Africa: A Geographic Frame

ePub

James Delehanty

Africa is a continent, the second-largest after Asia. It contains fifty-four countries, several of them vast. Each of Africa’s biggest countries—Algeria, Congo, and Sudan—is about three times the size of Texas, four times that of France. Africa could hold 14 Greenlands, 20 Alaskas, 71 Californias, or 125 Britains. Newcomers to the study of Africa often are surprised by the simple matter of the continent’s great size. No wonder so much else about Africa is vague to outsiders.

This chapter introduces Africa from the perspective of geography, an integrative discipline rooted in the ancient need to describe the qualities of places near or distant. The chapter begins by examining how the world’s understanding of Africa has developed over time. Throughout history, outsiders have held a greater number of erroneous geographic ideas about Africa than true ones. The misunderstandings generated by these false ideas have been unhelpful and occasionally disastrous. After this survey of geographic ideas, the chapter settles into a general preference for what is true, probing, in turn, Africa’s physical landscapes, its climates, its bioregions, and the way that Africans over time have used and shaped their environments. A final section outlines the difficulties Africa has confronted and the betterment Africans anticipate as they integrate ever more fully and fairly with emerging global systems.

 

2. Legacies of the Past: Themes in African History

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John Akare Aden and John H. Hanson

Africa and its peoples have a long and distinguished history. The earliest evidence for humankind is found on the continent, and some of the first successful efforts to domesticate plants and produce metals involved African pioneers and innovators. Africans constructed complex societies, some with elaborate political hierarchies and others with dynamic governance systems without titular authorities such as kings and queens. Extensive commercial networks connected local producers in diverse environmental niches with regional markets, and these networks in turn were connected to transcontinental trade networks funneling goods to Asia, Europe, and the Americas. The trans-Atlantic slave trade did not bring European colonization to Africa; only centuries later, when Europeans had more powerful weapons and mechanized transportation, could they invade the continent. Colonial rule ended quickly, however, leaving the current configuration of more than fifty independent states.

 

3. Social Relations: Family, Kinship, and Community

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Maria Grosz-Ngaté

News accounts of violent conflict in Africa frequently make reference to “tribe” and “tribalism” as potent ingredients of discord. The use of “tribe” in the African context is a legacy of colonialism and the research of early anthropologists. Anthropologists wanted to know how African societies without centralized leadership maintained order and stability while colonial officials demarcated African societies for the purpose of rule, ignoring complexities, interactions between groups, and the fluidity of boundaries. The persistent characterization of African populations as “tribes” gives the appearance of timelessness and glosses over the different forms of political organization that existed in the past. It implicitly suggests that tribe (or ethnic group) is the primary source of identity and mode of sociopolitical organization on the continent. It also obscures the existence of more important forms of identification, relatedness, and belonging that may play a role in, counteract, or facilitate the resolution of conflict. Like people in other parts of the world, Africans are enmeshed in a range of institutions and identify with multiple collectivities. An individual may be a mother, wife, sister, and daughter; a cultivator, cloth dyer, or teacher; a member of an age group, a participant in a local or national women’s association, and a member of an ethnic group as well as a citizen of a nation-state. These social positions and identities overlap and cross-cut each other; which of them takes precedence at any given time depends on the context.

 

4. Making a Living: African Livelihoods

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Gracia Clark and Katherine Wiley

Impressive tenacity and ingenuity enable Africans to survive and even prosper under extremely challenging circumstances. The widespread stereotype of the passive victim crumbles away in the face of Africans’ incessant efforts to protect their families’ interests and ensure security and progress for the next generation. It is a struggle that some people shirk and that many do not win. Even so, people’s agency must be taken seriously. Continuous experimentation and innovation are among the legacies of African societies in every part of the continent, as people make their living often under severe resource constraints and despite external shocks such as the recent spiraling prices of gasoline and corn.

Analyzing the strategies that people employ for preserving and adapting families and communities to these constraints has led researchers to adopt the term “livelihood” to indicate the paid and unpaid activities that together sustain communities and individuals over the long term. Conventional U.S. economic analysis makes a sharp distinction between work and family, confining the economy to the work side, measured primarily in monetary terms as gross domestic product (GDP), the value of goods and services produced in a country in a given year. Even calculations that try to include the production of goods and services that are not part of the official record, such as farming for direct consumption or using unpaid family labor, often disregard the domestic and cultural work that maintain a family’s well-being over the long run, from cooking and cleaning to the values and social institutions that keep people working together.

 

5. Religions in Africa

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John H. Hanson

Spirit possessions, harvest festivals, and other activities associated with African traditional religions (or religions with African roots) remain vital, but attendance at Christian churches and Muslim mosques in Africa has increased significantly during the last century. From 1900 to 2010 the number of Christians in Africa grew from less than 10 million to 470 million, more than 20 percent of the world Christian community. The number of Muslims in Africa also grew to more than 450 million, over 25 percent of the global Muslim community. This chapter discusses the endurance of religions with African roots and how Africans have accepted, proselytized, and elaborated upon Christianity and Islam during the past two hundred years.

Religion refers to ideas and practices concerning societal relations with unseen powers. It is associated with prophecies, moral directives, and explanations of the world, and religious followers forge bonds with others through rituals, experience ecstatic states in trances, and obtain healing and comfort through rituals, supplications, and other activities. The complete range of religious experiences is difficult to study, but scholars can analyze religious ideas and discuss the roles and actions of religious specialists and their followers in specific times and places.

 

6. Urban Africa: Lives and Projects

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Karen Tranberg Hansen

In Africa and everywhere else, cities are where the action is. Cities are gateways to the global world, the prime sites for globalization’s translation into local understandings and experiences. This urban global exposure demands that scholars of urban life in Africa pay attention to people’s engagements with a diverse sweep of processes that range from the economic to the cultural. As they manifest themselves in distinct urban locations, such global exposures resonate in complicated ways with local cultural norms and practices. Focusing on a selection of themes that arise from these processes, this chapter is concerned with spatial transformations (residential space and housing; commercial space and markets), economic shifts (informalization), demographic changes (youth), and cultural issues that play out through consumption. Important themes that fall beyond this chapter’s purview revolve around the general environmental and health effects of rapid population growth on urban livelihoods, varying from people’s prospects for longevity to the places where they are buried. The chapter also does not deal with cross-border, interregional, and transnational migration processes in which cities are major conduits. The general background is sub-Saharan Africa, with many (but not all) specific examples drawn from southern and eastern Africa.

 

7. Health, Illness, and Healing in African Societies

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Tracy J. Luedke

In African societies, as elsewhere in the world, health and illness are experienced both at the level of the individual body and at the level of the social body. Individual suffering often reveals social structures and tensions, for example when a child’s illness strains family relationships or when a treatable disease proves fatal among the poorer members of a society; healing practices may also create new kinds of community, as when a doctor and patient form a lasting bond or when the pursuit of health care spawns a social movement. The experiences associated with health, illness, and healing always reflect and affect social relationships, whether they forge, preclude, strengthen, or strain them. This chapter addresses health in sub-Saharan Africa as a product and a project of social contexts ranging in scale from the intimacy of the family to the broad power dynamics of the global political economy.

Before turning to questions of well-being and illness in specific cultural contexts, it is important to start by considering the comparative framework of biomedical assessments of the health of the world’s populations. In doing so, it becomes clear that the frequency and severity of debilitating illnesses are closely tied to political and economic power dynamics; in short, patterns of poverty are closely associated with patterns of disease. Africa’s economic position correlates with its disease profile, which includes a high prevalence of communicable diseases, high maternal mortality and infant and child mortality rates, and notable effects of pandemics. Overall health indicators reveal that health is generally poor on the continent—the average life expectancy in Africa in 2009 was fifty-four years, which makes it the world region with the lowest life expectancy rate (WHO 2011b: 54). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the leading causes of mortality in Africa (based on 2004 figures) are HIV/AIDS, lower respiratory infections, diarrheal diseases, and malaria, in that order. Communicable diseases are the primary threat to Africans’ health, accounting for 70 percent of the causes of death (WHO 2008a: 54).

 

8. Visual Arts in Africa

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Patrick McNaughton and Diane Pelrine

African art has been made for many thousands of years, undergoing numerous major and often dramatic changes through the centuries and right up until today. Its forms and materials, meanings and functions have always been tremendously varied, deeply imaginative, and dynamically part of people’s individual and social lives. Frequently stunning and formally sophisticated, it has been collected by Westerners for at least half a millennium and in fact profoundly influenced the modern history of European art.

The study of African art has changed drastically over time. For centuries Europeans viewed it as the exotic production of strange societies, which did not warrant much explanation. Not until the twentieth century was it seen to reflect aspects of African social, spiritual, and political organization, although contextual information was minimal. As the twentieth century progressed, and especially since the 1960s, art historians and anthropologists have developed increasingly sophisticated approaches to learning about and understanding African art’s subtleties, complexities, and dynamic involvement with society and culture.

 

9. African Music Flows

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Daniel B. Reed and Ruth M. Stone

A man walked down the street in the busy Adjame marketplace in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, in West Africa. Amid the sounds of the street—honking horns, ringing cell phones, goat cries, people’s’ voices—he heard the latest hit song by reggae singer Tiken Jah Fakoly drifting toward him from a CD seller’s stall in the market. The song began with a distinctive slide guitar line, which was a sample from a 1990 recording by Geoffrey Oryema of Uganda in eastern Africa. Anchored by the repeating guitar line, the song developed as a twenty-one-string harp lute, the kora, entered along with a drum set and a keyboard. The man hesitated before the CD stand, taking in the song’s compelling groove or rhythmic pattern and contemplating the lyrics, which criticize the treatment of young girls in village contexts. Finally, an amplified call to prayer coursed out of loudspeakers, reminding him to continue on toward the mosque for the Friday prayer.

 

10. Literature in Africa

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Eileen Julien

Truth depends not only on who listens but on who speaks.

—BIRAGO DIOP

When most Americans and Europeans use the expression “African literature,” they are referring to the poetry, plays, and novels written by Africans that reach Western and Northern shores. These have typically been written in English, French, and, increasingly, Portuguese. If one takes the long or broad view, however, these contemporary works of international standing are but one segment of a vast array of word arts in Africa, which have a long, complex, and varied history.

We have no record of the earliest oral traditions, but we know that verbal arts in Africa, oral and written, are ancient and long preceded the modern era, characterized by European colonialism and the introduction of European languages. African literature can be said to include Egyptian texts from the second and third millennia BCE; the sixth-century Latin-language texts of Augustine of Hippo; texts produced in Ge’ez, the ancient language of the region that has become Ethiopia, such as those of the Axumite period (fourth to seventh centuries); and Arabic-language texts, such as those of fourteenth-century North Africa, seventeenth-century Timbuktu in the western Sahel, and the nineteenth-century eastern coast of Africa. And alongside the widely known contemporary traditions in imported but now Africanized languages and forms, there is ongoing written and oral production in indigenous languages such as Amharic, Kiswahili, Pulaar, Yoruba, and Zulu. Moreover, many bards, storytellers, poets, and writers in these languages have embraced contemporary genres and new media. This vast contemporary production of African-language literature and “orature” (oral traditions) is largely unknown and ignored by those outside the continent. Inside Africa, these oral and more accessible popular texts may be the best-known and most-appreciated literary forms.

 

11. African Film

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Akin Adesokan

It is a truism of African cinema that one cannot productively discuss the films that make up the field without keeping in mind the social and economic conditions under which they are made. Fifty years after the first feature film to be written, produced, and directed by an African, and with this cinematic tradition becoming as globally important an art form as African literature and the Afropop component of world music, economic, political, and cultural factors continue to be central to its full understanding. It is therefore not surprising that, across three generations, issues of political and cultural identity are a main topical preoccupation of African filmmakers. For various reasons younger, often foreign-based filmmakers have sharply reacted in their work against the biases of their predecessors who came from a background of anticolonial activism, thus showing the limitations of earlier practices. However, sociopolitical situations in contemporary African countries, as well as the larger economic order in the world, are so crucial to most forms of cultural production that they cannot be totally ignored. As a result, filmmakers have developed a more complex treatment of sociopolitical issues. Emphasis has shifted in their works from a simple notion of rejection as a way of asserting identity to the understanding that identity usually results from a number of different factors. They have begun to experiment with forms and genres, drawing on music, dance, youth culture, fashion, and sundry expressive forms and reflecting greater awareness of cinematic traditions from different parts of the world.

 

12. African Politics and the Future of Democracy

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Amos Sawyer, Lauren M. MacLean, and Carolyn E. Holmes

African political systems have a long history that substantially predates the arrival of Europeans in the 1400s or the political boundaries of nation-states found on any current map. The peoples of Africa have organized many different types of political systems and witnessed tremendous political changes over time. And yet one of the most enduring puzzles has been whether African political systems will grow into stable democracies. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the majority of African countries achieved independence from colonial rule, many analysts were hopeful about the prospects for expanding citizenship in newly independent regimes. Debates in the 1960s and 1970s about the political systems most suited for African countries were driven mainly by a desire to fast-track development within the context of the Cold War. During the 1980s, many policy makers blamed Africa’s economic stagnation on corrupt governments and demanded limited (and not necessarily democratic) governance capable of implementing neoliberal economic reform. By the early 1990s, these earlier debates were tempered by the disintegration of the Soviet bloc as well as the unconvincing results of structural adjustment and the hardships they imposed on African populations. Furthermore, beginning with the National Conference in Benin, which drafted a new constitution based on citizen input, and the unbanning of resistance organizations in South Africa in 1990, which constituted the first step in reforming apartheid laws, many peoples around the continent began to rise up and demand the democratization of long-standing authoritarian systems. Much like the independence era decades earlier, the initial jubilation at democratic transition in many cases then gave way to more sober assessments of fragile or hybrid democracies, where former dictators refused in a variety of ways to relinquish their power.

 

13. Development in Africa: Tempered Hope

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Raymond Muhula and Stephen N. Ndegwa

Sub-Saharan Africa, home to more than eight hundred million people in more than fifty countries, is the least-developed continent in the world. It continues to have relatively low levels of industrialization and urbanization, and instead subsists on narrow economic bases, overly dependent on primary commodities and foreign aid. Livelihoods and life chances on the continent are often among the most challenged in the world, with low life expectancy (especially with the impact of HIV/AIDS), literacy rates, and access to health care and education. Moreover, governance institutions are weak, as evidenced by the fragility of democracies emerging after three decades of authoritarianism, heavily politicized bureaucracies and judiciaries, and weak policy environments that frequently respond more to patronage networks than to competitive ideas and interests. African economies have grown slowly since the early years of independence in the late 1950s and 1960s compared to those of other nations, especially in Asia, that came into independence at the same time. By 1980, real average incomes had regressed to below the levels of the 1960s. Predictably, Africa is the only continent expected not to meet any of the eight Millennium Development Goals adopted by the United Nations in 2000 to combat the most significant development challenges by 2015.

 

14. Human Rights in Africa

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Takyiwaa Manuh

Human rights norms are critical measures of human existence and development in the contemporary period. Within the community of nations, they have become the third institutional pillar of the United Nations since the setting up of the UN Human Rights Council in 2006. This is a fairly recent development in the long span of historical time, but there is little contention about the salience of human rights to the full enjoyment of life, dignity, and development. Although disagreements exist concerning different conceptions and expressions of human rights, no one seriously questions that they are necessary. It has been argued, for instance, that human rights should be regarded not as a regional concept but as universally applicable and relevant to all peoples of the world, irrespective of ethnicity, class, or gender. Furthermore, the notion that the origins of human rights norms are exclusively Western has been rejected in favor of a position that considers the modern concept of human rights as the present expression of a long history of struggles for social justice and resistance to oppression in all human societies (An-Na’im and Hammond 2002: 1). As noted by Radhika Coomaraswamy, former UN special rapporteur on violence against women, there is an element of rights discourse and practice that extends beyond geographical location or cultural specificity. This discourse resonates in the everyday experiences of individuals and has been used by different groups throughout the world. Moreover, over the past two decades, there has been increasing recognition of poverty or debt burden as a denial of basic human rights. This redefinition of poverty is particularly relevant for Africa, where poverty and underdevelopment are most widespread, and where the right to development (RTD) as a human rights concept has long been espoused as a means to ensure equitable and fair distribution of the benefits of development.

 

15. Print and Electronic Resources

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Marion Frank-Wilson

“Digital technologies, in reshaping the information landscape, also have altered the relationship between recorded knowledge and the activities of research and teaching.” This statement by Dan Hazen points to several developments that have shaped the way we conduct research and that are worth keeping in mind before embarking on research in African studies. Electronic information is widely available. Libraries subscribe to vast databases, which provide access to journal literature; Google continues to digitize books and to make many of them available on the web; initiatives such as HathiTrust make the full text of out-of-copyright books available; libraries digitize many of their special collections as well as other content; individual researchers digitize their materials and post them on websites. Students and researchers expect to find large amounts of information in electronic form and, in fact, prefer it to print.

On the web, the traditional barriers to publishing—for example the peer review process for scholarly publications—are removed. Everybody can participate in electronic conversations and create and disseminate content on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter as well as other sites, and authors can remain anonymous if they choose to do so. A democratization of knowledge creation has taken place.

 

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