Reprinted from Canadian Review of Studies in Nationalism, XXVI (l999)

Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism. Mahmood Mamdani. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996. Pp. 353. $55.00 (U.S.) Cloth; $19.95 (U.S.) (Paper). Reviewed by Charles Jarmon, Ph.D.

     Citizen and Subject presents Mahmood Mamdani's provocative attempt to advance beyond the current impasse in the theoretical discourse on the workings and consequences of European indirect colonial rule over African countries. It provides a creative synthesis of colonial-based power and its post-colonial legacy--and the customary authority system. Through these systems much of the African population was subjugated and denied political participation. The resistance of Africans to this condition forced these authority systems constantly to make adjustments during and after the colonial era. Contemporary conflict, as in the pre-postcolonial era, is inherent in the bifurcated, unstable hierarchical association between the two systems. The conflict in political relations is most sharply defined in the resistance struggles against state despotism. Mamdani holds this development to be essentially nonracial in character, and proffers the conclusion that the development of African countries can be better understood to be a function of their peculiar political rule than to be the outcome of economic accumulation, as prescribed by political economy or dependency theories. Thus, he argues, that a truly Africanist or Eurocentric perspective would be insufficient to explain questions emanating from a deracialized African society.

     For example, Mamdani asserts that peasant revolts were everywhere inspired by "what they claimed was an untainted, uncompromised, and genuine custom, against a state-enforced and corrupted version of the customary"; i.e., he argues, that at the end of the day, "the anti-colonial struggle was first and foremost a struggle against the hierarchy of the local state, the tribal organized Native Authority, which enforced the colonial order as customary." On the other hand, he argues that in post colonial Africa, after authority was transferred to indigenous leaders, the imperative of civil society, deriving from the need to incorporate multiethnic populations, should be understood as a struggle against both centralized and decentralized despotism, and connected with the historical, political, and social context of the particular African country, as well as with the particular adjustment made in the indirect system of rule by colonizing countries.

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