Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni. Empire, Global Coloniality and African Subjectivity. New York: Berghahn Books, 2013. viii + 272 pp. $95.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-85745-951-0; $95.00 (e-book), ISBN 978-0-85745-952-7.
Reviewed by Jeremy Pool (Monmouth College)
Published on H-Diplo (April, 2014)
Commissioned by Seth Offenbach
Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni, currently head of the Archie Mafeje Research Institute and formerly a professor in the Department of Development Studies at the University of South Africa, offers in Empire, Global Coloniality and African Subjectivity an erudite and wide-ranging, if not entirely cohesive, set of reflections on the place of African nations and people in the contemporary world order, and more specifically on the problems of collective subjectivity in both continental and national terms. Who is an African, a South African, or a Zimbabwean, and what does it mean to be those names? He describes this book as a companion piece to his proximately published Coloniality of Power in Postcolonial Africa: Myths of Decolonization (2013), but I will be examining the work here as a stand-alone text. It is a work that is best seen as a critical synthesis, bringing together the findings and arguments of other authors and theorists about Africa and its position in what is commonly known as the “postcolonial world,” a phrase that Ndlovu-Gatsheni contests. Many of these authors, particularly the proponents of decoloniality, but also a number of poststructuralist and psychoanalytic thinkers, such as Slavoj Žižek and Judith Butler, are not commonly discussed in African studies. They are brought into conversation here with African and Africanist academics, artists, and political theorists, such as Achilles Mbembe, Mahmood Mamdani, Jean-François Bayart, Valentine Mudimbe, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Chinua Achebe, Frantz Fanon, Kwame Nkrumah, and Julius Nyerere, among others. In some cases, this conversation is productive and offers new insights into persistent questions. In others, Ndlovu-Gatsheni uses his theoretical framework to argue through declaration or to substitute for substantive analysis.
While Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s disciplinary training is in history, this book is not primarily a historical study or based on original primary source research. Instead it uses historical cases and historical consciousness, as documented by other historians and to a lesser extent the author’s previous historical work, to reflect on different questions of African political identity as shaped by both the experience of colonial rule and its legacy in the half century that has followed its formal dissolution. The tone of the book varies widely, from critical analysis to philosophical reflection to engaged polemic, as it tackles questions of development; pan-African unity and governance; African self-conception; nationhood and citizenship in South Africa and Zimbabwe; higher education and the coloniality of knowledge; reformation of the nationalist project; and the possibility of transforming the current political, economic, and epistemic order.
Ndlovu-Gatsheni begins by describing his project using a set of specialized critical terms. He invokes Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s widely discussed 2001 book, Empire, to emphasize a concept of empire that survives beyond imperialism, is omnipresent, and is structured by Western modernity. “Modernity” here is used not to mean a set of conditions or discourses about such conditions, but rather a Eurocentric universalizing conception of reason, along the lines of Michel Foucault’s power-knowledge. He criticizes Hardt and Negri, however, for having too benign a view of empire and for seeing it as a “phantasmagoric empire,” rather than, in Atilio Borón’s variation on the old Soviet phrase, a “real existing empire” (pp. 8, 9). He attributes this failing in part to their location in the global North, from which remove they are able to conceive of empire as metaphor for the abstracted operations of power, rather than a harsh and material reality. Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s use of Walter Mignolo’s term “locus of enunciation” could seem to indicate an essentialist and absolutist standpoint epistemology, especially as he invokes the importance of shifting decolonial discourse from “a Western perspective” to “an African perspective” (p. 38). Prior anticolonial writings by Africans, he judges to have generally been imprisoned in the logic of modernity and thus functioning only as “a critique of modernity within modernity,” rather than offering an alternative to modernity or, by extension, adequately expressing Afro-centrism and Africanity (p. 38). It becomes clear from the range of writers and thinkers that Ndlovu-Gatsheni draws on, however, as well as his nuanced reflections on the difficulties of defining “who is an African,” that he, like Mignolo, intends something less over determined than this. He emphasizes the need for a “pluri-versal” approach to epistemology, in which “many worlds would fit together without being imitations of another world” (p. 43). He is pointing out both the current global imbalance in knowledge production and the importance of what Donna Haraway termed “situated knowledge.” If there is something here of an attempt to have one’s essentialist cake and eat it too, this is a specter that haunts any discussion that attempts to take seriously both fundamental humanity and cultural alterity.
In addition to Mignolo and Borón, Ndlovu-Gatsheni draws on the work of a variety of Latin America authors--Arturo Escobar, Ramón Grosfoguel, Nelson Maldonado-Torres, Anibal Quijano, and Boaventura de Sousa Santos--who collectively articulate a “decolonial” perspective, which he then applies to the position of Africa and of the global South more generally in the contemporary world system. Ndlovu-Gatsheni systematically defines the terms and concepts that he adopts from this body of literature over the course of the first two chapters, which requires some patience from the reader, as the terms are often defined in terms of one another and their operations assumed to be self-evident. Broadly speaking, the decolonial thesis, as presented by Ndlovu-Gatsheni, is that postcoloniality is a myth and an illusion, because there can be neither freedom nor decolonization so long as “global imperial designs that have been in place since the time of conquest still shape and inform the character of the modern world” (p. 51). While formal colonial rule has, in most cases, been brought to an end, the system that has survived it constitutes “global coloniality,” where coloniality denotes the power relations that were produced during the colonial period and endure in contemporary “culture, labour, intersubjective relations, and knowledge production” (p. 30). “Global imperial designs” operating through “colonial matrices of power and technologies of subjection” both produce an “African subjectivity … constituted by a catalog of deficits and a series of ‘lacks’” and reproduce a world order in existence “since the dawn of modernity and the unfolding of colonial encounters in the fifteenth century” (p. 4).
From an African studies perspective, this theoretical approach would seem to be a return of dependency or underdevelopment theory, curiously shorn of political economy and put through cultural and psychoanalytic turns. As with dependency theory, the weakness of this approach, it seems to me, is not that the relationships of power and inequality it describes are fundamentally incorrect. They are not. African nations remain among the poorest in the world, with economies based primarily on resource extraction and governments that are in significant measure hostage to the demands of donor agencies and “trade partners.” Rather, it applies too flat and too absolute an instrument to these unequal relationships, mystifying rather than clarifying their operations. Do these global imperial designs float above the actions of individual states or multinational organizations, or are they deliberately produced and coordinated? Whose interests do they serve and what institutions make up coloniality’s matrices of power? While one can imagine a set of investigations that would give flesh to these concepts, they function in this book as a set of reified animating principles.
Similarly, when the entire world is said to be defined by coloniality, it can be difficult to sort out what elements are actually related to colonialism. Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s approach reduces African history in the early modern and modern eras to a set of phases in Western exploitation. He defines the modern world order as beginning with the Portuguese conquests of the fifteenth century and the birth of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but the period that followed was hardly one of undifferentiated African subjugation. Most African peoples were able to resist conquest for the four and a half centuries between the Portuguese voyages of exploration in the fifteenth century and the colonial division of the continent in the 1880s. While the trans-Atlantic slave trade was devastating for those individuals and communities caught up in it or the violence that supplied it, and by most reckonings constituted a net negative for Africa’s development, it was not the product of imperial designs, but of negotiation and competition between European and African powers. Ndlovu-Gatsheni acknowledges that not all of Africa’s contemporary problems can be attributed to neocolonial forces and that the authoritarianism, corruption, and incompetence of some African leaders has played its own role. Moreover, he recognizes the creative efforts of various African states and societies to engage with “modernity in creative ways including attempts at disrupting Euro-American hegemony” (p. 41). Nevertheless, he concludes, quoting Bill Ashcroft, that “global coloniality makes it impossible to ‘disrupt the idea of Africa inherited from the history of European imperialism’ … because ‘Power is as much a part of our cultural life as the air we breathe’” (p. 43). This perspective would seem to leave no room for progress, for shades of grey, for meaningful appropriation and redeployment, either within Euro-American “abyssal thinking” or within that of those African leaders and thinkers held to be the victims of the colonization of consciousness.
The limitations of this all or nothing approach are on display in the book’s second chapter, on pan-Africanism. This subject is potentially of great interest to H-Diplo readers, but this essay unfortunately offers little if any new insight into the history of pan-Africanism or efforts to form an African unity government. Ndlovu-Gatsheni describes debates over pan-African unity as afflicted by the “curse” of the divisions and debates within the original Organization of African Unity, particularly those between Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah, who advocated immediate moves toward continental political unification, and Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere who agreed on the desirability of unification, but thought that a gradualist approach was necessary to resolve differences between states and their visions for a united Africa. Ndlovu-Gatsheni makes clear that his sympathies lie with Nkrumah and chides Nyerere for not seeing the wisdom in Nkrumah’s approach. The curse that Ndlovu-Gatsheni perceives in this debate, whose contours he sees haunting current efforts to produce a Union Government for Africa, would seem to be political disagreement itself. In the chapter’s conclusion, he acknowledges that this continued disagreement may be a sign that “the graduation of nationalism into pan-Africanism is taking time to materialize, dictating the necessity for caution and gradualism,” which seems a rather odd hedging of bets, given his insistence on the immediate necessity of a Union Government to allow the continent some measure of negotiating power with the West (p. 74).
Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s perspective on development is similarly limited by an emphasis on absolute categories and lack of material analysis or specific case studies. There is much to criticize in development discourse or in sometimes disastrous programs embarked upon at the behest of the Bretton Woods institutions, and Ndlovu-Gatsheni is very effective at taking down the pathologizing discourse that animates many explanations of why African nations have been generally unable to develop economically. He does not, however, examine what development efforts might mean to people on the ground or their ability to turn projects and government rhetoric to their own advantage, as, for example, Jamie Monson shows in Africa's Freedom Railway: How a Chinese Development Project Changed Lives and Livelihoods in Tanzania (2009), a study of the TAZARA railway project in Tanzania. Ndlovu-Gatsheni holds that development cannot “ahistorically be reduced to mere real-life problems,” such as hunger and poverty without reference to colonialism and neocolonialism, but must instead be addressed with regard to both “invisible global designs and the African national problem,” where “the former has negatively impinged on the latter since beginning of colonial encounters in the fifteenth century” (p. 78). This leaves him in a defeatist position, where successful development could only be carried out by a fully reconstructed state, brought into harmony with (unspecified) African values and traditions, which will only become possible after a “full decolonization of the state and a thorough decolonization of African minds to enable them to imagine alternatives” (p. 97).
The book is strongest in its middle section, where Ndlovu-Gatsheni takes a more philosophical approach to the question of African and national identity and subjectivity. He maintains an emphasis on “the over-determining role of global imperial designs in disciplining people and spaces on behalf of capital,” and on the negative construction of a racialized African subjectivity, defined through a set of “lacks,” in the Lacanian sense (p. 112). He also, however, considers the efforts of various organizations and cultural and intellectual movements to respond to that construction and to empower Africans to locate their own self-referential position in the world. He notes that “even the tragedies that have befallen the continent … have indirectly provoked a consciousness of being African,” which has formed the basis for movements of African Renaissance and pan-African identity (p. 119). He brings a critical eye to such efforts as Léopold Sédar Senghor’s philosophy of negritude, in its valorization of Africans as a people of innate emotional and expressive reason against perceived European gifts in intellectual reasoning, but also positions it as an understandable response to racial discourses of negation with which Senghor and others were faced.
The theme that runs through both this chapter and the two that follow it is that of the production of subjectivity through histories of resistance. A collective African identity, or at least a common identity as Africans, is the product of the struggles against colonial rule and Africa’s continued marginalization in the contemporary era and of the rejection of racist negations of Africa and Africans. A sense of “Africanity,” of a shared Africanness, is possible despite the many cultural differences that exist within the continent, because of this shared history and a common sense of alterity from the universalist presumptions of Western modernist culture. Ndlovu-Gatsheni concludes with a sensitive account of the debates around the “self-definition” of Africans that recognizes the incompleteness of any single definition and the difficulties of including both those not of African descent who have made the continent their home and those of African descent outside the continent, either in the historical diaspora produced by the Atlantic and Asian slave trades or the contemporary diaspora produced by voluntary African migration and refugee populations. All of these groups are implicated in different ways in questions of African subjectivity, though they may have different stakes in their outcome. Ndlovu-Gatsheni concludes that “both the idea of Africa and African identities were and are best understood as states of being and becoming that should be better studied as open-ended and as work-in-progress” (p. 129).
The following two chapters on South Africa and Zimbabwe take on different questions of creating and policing identity and of producing collective subjectivities through histories of struggle. The chapter on South Africa explores the different political and ethnic identities that South Africans have crafted for themselves over the past four hundred years. Ndlovu-Gatsheni begins with a detour to the controversy surrounding the 2012 exhibition of white South African artist Brett Murray’s painting “The Spear,” which depicted current South African President Jacob Zuma, in a Leninesque pose with his genitals exposed. For Ndlovu-Gatsheni, the painting represents an attack on Zuma’s personal and political dignity that also reveals the colonial unconscious of white South Africans, which is normally repressed in the contemporary public sphere. He sees a similar act of repression in the argument by some that the painting simply represents a perhaps offensive form of political satire, which must be tolerated in a liberal democracy. Such a view, he argues, represents the desire of some, particularly white South Africans but also international commentators, to pretend that the long histories of colonialism and apartheid have disappeared in the wake of their formal cessation and that they have themselves been baptized by the end of white minority rule and absolved of any privileges that accrued to them under it. One might quibble that Ndlovu-Gatsheni is himself leaving off the political context for the specific characterization of Zuma, who was acquitted of the charge of raping the adult daughter of a political ally, but who has also admitted to affairs outside of his own polygynous household and made statements at his trial indicating that he believed a post-coital shower would reduce his risk of contracting HIV. In other words, it is not merely colonial and racist tropes that link Zuma as a black man so closely in the public imagination to the phallus, but Zuma’s own particular actions as well.
Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s larger point stands, however, and he goes on to counter the narrative of South Africa as freed from its past and existing in a timeless nonracial liberal democratic milieu. Instead, he shows how particular conceptions of self and community were produced historically, in both the precolonial period and after, through struggle and competition for land and political control. He looks at the phases of ethnic formation that he terms “Bantucization,” “Anglicization,” “Afrikanerization,” and “Africanization,” and draws on the work of a number of historians, particularly Norman Etherington, Paul Landau, Saul Dubow, and Ivor Chipkin, on the long processes of formation and reformation through which the ethno-racial categories that South Africans use to view themselves and one another were created. Just as the processes of ethnic formation and state building by which various African groups developed new trans-local identities paralleled that of Dutch settlers creating creolized political and social formations, so too the recreation of a postwar Afrikaner identity around the National Party and the apartheid system paralleled the creation of African, black, and South African as the subjects of the struggle to end white minority rule. The question remains, however, of whether South Africa’s aspirations toward rainbow nation status can ever be more than wishful thinking. Ndlovu-Gatsheni takes inspiration from a 1996 speech by former President Thabo Mbeki, in which Mbeki described himself as a South African as “being” all of the nation’s various groups whose presence in the country was the result of histories of voluntary and involuntary migration, violence, and displacement. This model of a common identity based on a history of neither grievance nor triumphalism would seem to offer a way forward for building a collective identity without indulging in the convenient pretense of Renanian collective amnesia. However, as Ndlovu-Gatsheni notes, “the copresence of ‘whiteness’ and ‘Africanness’ continues to raise sensitive aspects rooted in the intractable settler-native problem common to the majority of multi-racial societies born out of imperialism and colonialism” (p. 141). He finally concludes, raising an issue that deserves much more comprehensive treatment, that the capacity of South Africa to transcend the colonial binary likely depends on the resolution of economic inequalities, though he does not clarify what form that resolution can or should take.
Ndlovu-Gatsheni further pursues these questions of subjectivity, struggle, and political culture by turning to the experience of another former settler colony, Zimbabwe. Here he examines the concepts of “chimurenga” and “gukurahundi” as they developed during the armed struggle to end white minority rule in the 1970s and during the periods of political consolidation and defense of the political dominance of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party that followed. Chimurenga was a name associated with the Shona-Ndebele uprisings of 1895-96 against the operations of the British South Africa Company. Rather than locating the origins of the term in local history, Ndlovu-Gatsheni emphasizes its appropriation from the work of historian Terence Ranger on the uprising by nationalist activists looking for an indigenous concept around which to organize their struggle, who termed the struggle to end white minority rule the “Second Chimurenga.” In more recent years, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his supporters have invoked the idea of a Third Chimurenga to describe both the efforts to seize and redistribute land held by the descendants of white settlers, and to maintain the political supremacy of ZANU-PF over its political rivals. Ndlovu-Gatsheni, argues, however, that “chimurenga” is not just a general term for collective struggle or a title used to elevate certain struggles, but an ideology of struggle, under which the Zimbabwean nation was produced through violent resistance and ongoing wars of liberation. How then did this ideology of national liberation become a justification for repressive violence in support of an increasingly unpopular regime? The answer, Ndlovu-Gatsheni argues, is not just the normal boring ones that power corrupts and ideas of loyalty and patronage persuade people to defend their own faction and attack its opponents. He sees the seeds of political intolerance as having been sown early in the development of the chimurenga ideology through its embrace of the tactic of gukurahundi. Gukurahundi is most commonly associated with Operation Gukurahundi, the Fifth Brigade of the Zimbabwe National Army’s invasion of Matabele land in the early 1980s and the massacre of Zimbabwe African People’s Union supporters that followed, but Ndlovu-Gatsheni argues that it was a larger strategy of “anhilating all those opposed to the ideology of those who opposed Chimurenga and ZANU-PF hegemony” (p. 158). This tactic developed in the context of the liberation war and was first used to suppress dissent within ZANU and indiscipline in Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army regiments, which then carried over into disciplining former Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army regiments after the two forces attempted to join together. This tactic of violent suppression of opponents continues into the present, as ZANU-PF supporters use violence and intimidation to challenge their political rivals in the Movement for Democratic Change.
This chapter’s argument is interesting and novel, and while it makes a number of theoretical points, they are more grounded in the literature of comparative nationalism than in the decolonial literature emphasized elsewhere in the book. That larger context, however, invites the question, what is it that distinguishes the ideology of chimurenga, which Ndlovu-Gatsheni defines at one point as “the ideas of total war against colonialism and capitalism … [and] total transformation of the future Zimbabwe’s society and people,” from the aims of the decolonial perspective that he advocates? He is quite critical of Mugabe’s use of political violence and repression of dissent, but what is it that leads an anticolonial movement astray or would keep a decolonial approach from giving in to the temptations of political consolidation and suppression of dissent? Ndlovu-Gatsheni believes that part of the problem lies in what other scholars have called “the curse of the nation-state” and more particularly the belief that the state needs to produce a culturally unified nation. He notes that nationalism in Zimbabwe “was predicated on this assumption that diversity of ethnic and racial identities had to be homogenized into a singular national identity and that successful nation-building and state-making would culminate in the eradication of diverse identities and projection of the identity of the group that dominated state power” (p. 161). In Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s terms, official nationalism in Zimbabwe has failed to embrace a pluriversal view of culture, in which differences must be embraced and accommodated, but how to reconcile this imperative with the decolonial need to resist and remove the structures of coloniality. Mugabe and ZANU-PF have often invoked the ongoing anticolonial struggle to justify their authoritarian methods of political control. Where Ndlovu-Gatsheni would classify these methods as unresolved holdovers from Western modernity, regime supporters would declare the opposite, that they are necessary components of the struggle against global imperial designs and against the local agents of neoliberal Western modernity. This is not an indictment of Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s values, but of the sufficiency of his political and philosophical framework to promote them.
The final two chapters return to some of the problems in earlier sections. They consider the project of Africanizing higher education and what Ndlovu-Gatsheni calls “the national project” and others have called questions of national development in the current era. He argues that higher education in Africa, despite half a century of scholarly effort, remains trapped in Western epistemologies and disciplines, without having developed an indigenous alternative that organically expresses African systems of thought and knowledge. “What is wanted” he argues, “is higher education that does not lead to alienation of African people from their societies and communities.” This Africanized approach would “privilege epistemologies, pedagogies, and curriculum that are consonant with specific African historical, cultural and practical realities” (p. 180). What is less clear, even to Ndlovu-Gatsheni, is what such an approach might look like or how it would be possible for Africans to “destroy these [foreign educational] institutions and build their own” (p. 186). Nor does he really grapple with his own heritage as a product of South African and Zimbabwean universities, or the form of this book itself as an engagement with existing academic discourses. He acknowledges the approach suggested by Dipesh Chakrabarty and others of claiming modernist thought as a universal inheritance, rather than just a Western creation, and indigenizing it in order to develop and express culturally informed contributions to the store of human knowledge(s). He objects, however, that this approach has been tried for quite some time and has failed so far “because it seeks epistemological redemption within the belly of Euro-American epistemology” (p. 186). He turns to a case study, seemingly based entirely on the work of Robert July’s An African Voice (1987), of higher education in Nkrumah’s Ghana and of the failures of either the state or programs within the university to create truly decolonial institutions. It is difficult to see, however, how things could have been otherwise; how the University of Ghana at Legon or the Institute of African Studies within it could have created an independent set of disciplines, sciences, and epistemologies that were somehow innocent of Western modernity before reengaging with it. When practical sciences, and not just humanistic inquiry, depend on systems of higher education, it becomes difficult to imagine how a modern nation could afford to do this. Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s central objection to continued use of modernist epistemologies is that they exclude and denigrate African epistemologies, but he never pins down what African epistemologies are or the areas in which they are in conflict with Western epistemologies. Because he never names that which is excluded, it is difficult to understand what, beyond a sense of authenticity and pride of ownership, is at stake here.
His last chapter’s consideration of the challenges and failures of the various nationalist political projects in the postcolonial era contains some interesting reflections on the intersection of African history and various theoretical literatures. Thematically much of this chapter has been addressed in earlier ones, particularly the ones on development and pan-Africanism. He examines the careers of Nkrumah and Nyerere once again with regard to how their regimes started with lofty ambitions of producing a culturally authentic African socialism, but fell into repressive and authoritarian tendencies. He concludes, as before, that the failure of national projects stemmed from the failures of Africa’s initial generation of leaders, and the strength of the neocolonial powers that rushed into the breach. He lays out some qualities that a new generation of national leaders should emphasize in seeking to avoid the mistakes of the past, particularly the need for democratic governance and gender equality, but remains somewhat pessimistic about the ability of African governments to overcome the conditions of global coloniality. In the end, the only formula he can offer is that those seeking to promote both national and pan-African projects of political and cultural renewal should do it right this time.
It must be said that this is an unevenly edited book. Some sentences are quite clear, while others lose their way in extraneous verbiage. Paragraphs with very similar phrasing repeat from chapter to chapter. While the book is structured as a critical engagement with a variety of literatures, at times, Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s own voice or position becomes obscured by the voices of the many other thinkers whose formulations and arguments he draws on.
At its best, this book offers interesting intellectual fodder for reflection, particularly on the question of, as Ivan Karp once put it, does theory travel?  To what extent is modernist or postmodernist thought a tool kit that can be applied to and reformulated in response to a variety of historical and cultural formations and to what extent must it be seen as a colonizing force in its own right? How readily can theories developed in response to one colonial experience be translated into a significantly different one, and can they offer a truly global frame for understanding knowledge, culture, and power? The book also provides valuable insight into the historical processes by which Africans formed continental and national subjectivities, and particularly into the role of the struggles against colonial rule, as well as racism and other pathologizing discourses, as part of those processes. Too often we see anticolonial nationalism as a simple desire for self-rule and an expression of ethnic or racial grievance, but historians are only beginning to look at those struggles as crucibles in which consciousness is formed. It would have been particularly interesting to see Ndlovu-Gatsheni engage with the rich literature on the Mau Mau in Kenya, for example, and the role of that struggle in shaping both ethnic and national consciousness.
While Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s reflections on a wide range of literature can be quite interesting, its usefulness depends a great deal on the utility of the particular literature. I will leave it to other reviewers, more familiar with the decolonial literature, to judge whether they are fairly represented here. In Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s presentation of them, however, they seem to offer neither particular insight nor guidance as to how to alter the current world system. Other approaches, such as Frederick Cooper’s Africa since 1940: The Past and the Future (2002), which argues that contemporary African states act as gatekeepers between international capital and African resources, lend themselves more readily to systemic analysis, largely because they identify particular actors and relationships to study. In decolonial thought, global coloniality is everywhere, comprising, in a repeated metaphor, the very air we breathe. As such it neither requires nor allows further investigation. This leads Ndlovu-Gatsheni either to a kind of utopian thinking, in which a thoroughly decolonized system will produce as yet unknown mechanisms for prosperity and social harmony, or a variety of Afro-pessimism, in which imperial matrices are too powerful to allow any real progress to occur. Fortunately the world is a more complicated place than this. While the challenges faced by African nations remain substantial and daunting, it is still possible to make a start. Africans and non-Africans who care about the future of the continent can simultaneously advocate for systemic changes in the current world system and work to improve conditions within it.
. Coloniality of Power in Postcolonial Africa can be accessed electronically at http://www.codesria.org/spip.php?article1791. The two works contain considerable areas of overlap.
. Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective,” Feminist Studies 14, no. 3 (1988): 581.
. Two relevant texts within African studies and philosophy would be Johannes Fabian, Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983); and Kwesi Wiredu, Cultural Universals and Particulars: An African Perspective (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996).
. Bill Ashcroft, “Globalism, Post-Colonialism and African Studies,” in Post-Colonialism: Culture and Identity in Africa, ed. Pal Ahluwalia and Paul Nursey-Bray (Commack: Nova Science Publishers, Inc., 1997), 12-26, quotations on 17, 20.
. Ndlovu-Gatsheni uses “Euro-American” here, not to mean the U.S. ethno-racial category, but to indicate the United States and Europe, broadly defined, as the primary formation of Western power in the contemporary world order.
. Terence Ranger, Revolt in Southern Rhodesia, 1896-7 (London: Heinemann, 1967); and Terence Ranger, “Connections between ‘Primary Resistance’ Movements and Modern Mass Nationalism in East and Central Africa,” Journal of African History 9, no. 3 (1968): 437-54.
. This conflict and the longer history of western Zimbabwe is discussed in Jocelyn Alexander, JoAnn McGregor, and Terence Ranger, Violence and Memory: One Hundred Years in the ‘Dark Forests’ of Matabeleland (Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2000).
. The phrase is Basil Davidson’s, though he had in mind the arbitrariness of colonial and postcolonial borders and the disconnection between contemporary states and precolonial polities. Basil Davidson, The Black Man's Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation State (New York: Times Books, 1992).
. For a consideration of this question that embraces universalizing modernity alongside cultural particularity, see Kwame Gyekye, Tradition and Modernity: Philosophical Reflections on the African Experience (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).
. Ivan Karp, “Does Theory Travel? Area Studies and Cultural Studies,” Africa Today 44, no. 3 (1997): 281-295.
. The literature is vast, but I am thinking in particular of Bruce Berman and John Lonsdale, Unhappy Valley: Conflict in Kenya and Africa, vol. 2 (London: James Currey, 1992); E. S. Atieno-Odhiambo and John Lonsdale, eds., Mau Mau and Nationhood: Arms, Authority and Narration (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2003); and Derek R. Peterson, Creative Writing: Translation, Bookkeeping, and the Work of Imagination in Colonial Kenya (Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2004).
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the list discussion logs at: http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl.
Jeremy Pool. Review of Ndlovu-Gatsheni, Sabelo J., Empire, Global Coloniality and African Subjectivity.
H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews.
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