AFRICA: DILEMMAS OF DEVELOPMENT AND CHANGE. Peter Lewis, ed. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1998. pp. 456. Cloth: $79.00; Paper: $30.00. ©Peter Lewis' edited volume surveys what he calls some 'enduring themes' and current challenges of development in sub-Sahara Africa. His compilation includes some long standing standards in the study of Africa's political systems and processes. Although, I suspect that it presents no new material to scholars of the subject, it would be a good read for students. A very helpful aspect of this compilation, in addition to the selection of the articles, is Lewis' brief historical overview and an introduction to each section. These fast read sections by Lewis will be appreciated by students and non-political scientists like myself.
In an edited book, one key factor is the selection of the articles and the story that the collection tells. A few clarifications about the book are needed. Here, the catch-all term "development" is confined mainly to political systems and strategies except for Part V which deals with development economics and is a welcome inclusion. The collection of articles presents a very heavy US perspective with a small sprinkle of non-US views. The collection would have benefitted from a greater presence of an internal perspective. All the contributors were on the outside looking in. Given that the likely audience of this book will be students and non-political scientists, it might have been helpful to clarify old notions that reappear. One such notion is that African governments got onto the central planning band wagon by copying the Soviet Union. This idea leaves out the fact that Westerners contributed more than their fair share to this model.
Nonetheless, for a non-political scientist, the book was an interesting volume to read. Its different articles and their respective introductions give the reader an appreciation of the challenges to Africa's development and a time-line of landmarks in the evolution of the different theories and stages from decolonization to democratization. The complexity of the problems outlined here gives the reader a good feel for why the analysis of the subject matter is so difficult. At first I came away thinking the book focuses too much on the past, as have several recent books on the topic. But perhaps it is always timely to reflect on where we are on the subject of development as long as we also reflect forward now and then. Change is all around us and traditional categories, and even the lexicon of development, have to change. The anomalies are many and the evolving dynamics demand more comprehensiveness. Development studies, as one writer long ago pointed out, evolve in a series of revisionist surges. The collection in this volume is a good illustration of this. Someone in the profession gets an idea, it is developed, then followed by many others, until another is developed to modify the former. Unfortunately, the herd-effect, a result of the combination of our scientific, human, institutional systems, appears to be unavoidable. We can only hope that it will lead us to some synthesis of the different and mostly partial analysis given to us by the theories of modernization, dependency, state-centric, disengagement, etcetera. Dilemmas of Development and Change eludes to this, with a section on state-society relations, but handles it only marginally.
An important point captured by the book, a point that the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have still to learn, is that such theories have to be geographically bounded. It is difficult to conceive of "a theory" on African development. To even attempt such , as some in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, do is pure arrogance or extreme naivete. The history and resources (in the broadest sense of that term) are just too different in spite of seeming similarities. Another observation that I made from reading this book is that its authors, and perhaps even the profession as a whole, seem to expect some unstated natural law of sequential and even rapid progression. But, as we all know, development is a very relative concept and cyclical. In the ways in which we (westerners) generally define it, the positive side of development occurs over the very long haul and can show not only very prominent ups and downs, but rapid reversals.
Peter A. Hartmann