In the context of the Mamdani framework, the principal elements of the title, "Citizen and Subject," reflect Mamdani's own theoretical orientation, one which treats Africa's colonial history primarily from the perspective of the colonizer. It is from this perspective that he attributes meaning to the difference in status between citizen and subject, based on political and social meaning accorded to Africans, as distinct from non-native settlers, who were predominantly Europeans. He views each group as a creation of the institutional segregation imposed by the colonial system's pattern of indirect rule; each maintained by separate systems within it: the centralized authonty and the associated decentralized native authority. In essence, the two different status categories were designed to make the colonial system functional for the colonizer, whose alien rule demanded solutions to the "native question" which involved the establishment, maintenance, and stabilizing of control over the social and political order of African societies.
From the relationship between the two types of authority-state authority and native authority, with the apex of the former being the Colonial Office and the latter being Native Authorities--- Mamdani clearly identifies the rights of the non-native citizen as being determined by civil society and that of the indigenous African by customary patterns of rural traditional society. But he is less clear as to whether African villagers were considered to be subjects only under the circumscribed context of the native authority. Are villagers, as migrants, living in hostels in townships, subjects in both the village and town, especially after influx control laws were abolished upon the rescinding of the Urban Areas Act in South Africa in 1986? With respect to the latter, it is implied that the changes in the traditional authority of chiefs imbued them with powers which they did not possess before the imposition of indirect rule. These included power to use forced labour, exact taxes, and profit from indigenous land tenure systems. Thus, the villager, as it were, would seem to be a subject twice over, and never a citizen.
The book deals more than with citizens and subjects. Despite what the title might suggest, much of the text is an exegesis on the origin, political dynamics, and social and economic context of the apartheid system in South Africa and the antidemocratic political system in Uganda. In fact, the book concentrates more on explaining the interfacing of dichotomous polarities as they have unfolded in these, as well as in other African countries--e.g., Ghana and Nigeria under British indirect rule; Senegal, Gabon, and Francophone Cameroon, under French indirect administration (association): and Mozambique, Angola, and Guinea, under Portuguese indirect rule. This is further evident in Mamdani's utilization of a plethora of dichotomous categories to explain major political, social, and economic changes in African countries, all of which reflect the scope of his interest.
The strongest discussion of these interacting polarities may be found in Chapters 3 and 7, where Mamdani provides extended treatises on customary law, and its juxtaposition with civil law, and the rural-urban context of change in African societies, respectively. As the discussion of these dialectical categories proceeds, it becomes increasingly evident that Mamdani's position on the multidimensionality of African social and political development is correct. However, readers must be careful to retain their independent judgment in drawing conclusions about the major questions of political and economic development in contemporary African society.
Whatever disagreement the book may evoke,it contains a wealth of knowledge on the operation of indirect rule, and offers insights into contemporary African society that might be overlooked in too close commitments to narrowly based perspectives, whether modernization, Marxist, or political economy models.