Tuesday, January 10, 2006

African Anarchism: The History of a Movement

African Anarchism: The History of a Movement
by Sam Mbah & I. E. Igariwey


This first-of-its-kind book should be of use to everyone with an interest in either Africa or anarchism. Authors Sam Mbah and I. E. Igariwey begin by lucidly explaining the basic principles and practices of anarchism. After outlining what anarchism is and is not, they go on to compare anarchism's principles and practices to those of other social-change ideologies, specifically to marxist socialism. The authors then move on to Africa, exploring at length the "anarchistic elements" in many traditional (pre-colonial) African societies. Next they examine the devastating effects of colonialism on Africa's traditional societies and on Africa's economic and political structures, as well as the horrendous problems left in the wake of colonialism: underdeveloped, debt-ridden dependent economies with huge disparities between rich and poor; violent ethnic antagonisms caused by the deliberate setting of ethnic group against ethnic group, and by the creation of artificial national boundaries; and European-style governments, legal and educational systems, and military forces, all quite unsuited to African conditions.

Following this, the authors go on to examine the failed attempts at social change by "African socialist" governments in the post-colonial period, with special attention to Julius Nyerere's Tanzania, Sekou Toure's Guinea, and Kwame Nkrumah's Ghana. The unfortunate conclusion they arrive at is that a humane, fundamental reconstruction of society is impossible in Africa, as elsewhere, via government.

This is not a hopeless conclusion, however, as the authors state that there is a way out for Africa - an anarchist reconstruction of its economic and social structures. They also point out that because of the many similarities between anarchist beliefs and practices and those of traditional African societies (which still survive to some extent), Africa seems the most likely of all the continents to witness a true social revolution - a revolution in an industrial age based on the "anarchist elements" in traditional African societies.

On a more personal note, I should apologise to any readers who find a few minor loose ends in this book. There is a reason for this: the authors live in Enugu, Nigeria, and communication with them has been difficult to say the least. (Whether this has been due to inefficiencies in the Nigerian postal and telephone services, or due to deliberate interference by the Nigerian government, I can't say.) As a result of this problem, it has been impossible to check on a number of minor details, such as first names of a few persons mentioned in the text. Ultimately, I decided it was better to publish the book with a few minor loose ends rather than wait months if not years to contact the authors about these matters.

As a final note, I should also apologise to any readers who might find the title of this book inappropriate. When I accepted this book for publication, I accepted it on the basis of a good topic, good cover letter, and good proposal. The deadline to announce the coming season's titles was fast approaching, so I assigned the book an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), announced it, and commissioned Cliff Harper to do the cover. At that point, for all practical purposes, the book's title was set in stone. When the manuscript arrived, I discovered that it was not in fact a history, but something more valuable - a forward-looking book concerned with achieving positive social change. A more fitting title for this valuable book would be African Anarchism: Prospects for the Future.

-Chaz Bufe
See Sharp Press


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