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13. Development in Africa: Tempered Hope

Grosz-Ngaté, Maria ePub

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.

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3. Social Relations: Family, Kinship, and Community

Grosz-Ngaté, Maria ePub

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.

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9. African Music Flows

Grosz-Ngaté, Maria ePub

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.

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15. Print and Electronic Resources

Grosz-Ngaté, Maria ePub

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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2. Legacies of the Past: Themes in African History

Grosz-Ngaté, Maria ePub

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.

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