Africa Comparative Review Comparative Book essay

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It would depend on one's view of the legitimacy of psychoanalysis and its patchwork utility in describing a mental complex.

Basil Davidson recognizes the alienated consciousness of Africans, albeit from a politico-historical rather than a psychological perspective. He phrases it in terms of forced African rejection of its own history under hopes of prospering in the new modernization the colonial system pushed for: "The future was not to grow out of the past, organically and developmentally, but from an entirely alien dispensation."

Like Fanon's, his book the Black Man's Burden is critical of any notion that liberation could only come from outside Africa through a denial of African roots and acceptance of European models.

His sketch of African history is poignant. Unlike Fanon's book, Davidson's aim is not to liberate the mentality of black men from a colonial alienation. However, he does ultimately suggest a possible way forward that has more to do with social conditions than the psyche. His final proposal for a "route of escape" is through "mass participation" (i.e., a grassroots effort) that recalls the history of Africa and restores a moral political order based on self-respect in place of the wounded morality that colonial dispossession imposed.

In effect, he calls for executive power to be placed back in the hands of the people, which would promote self-government from the bottom up rather than the top down, thus creating opportunities for authentic change, peace, and stability. To this extent, Davidson's view parallels Fanon's call to reclaim authenticity, but in socio-economic terms.

Davidson's contribution to the knowledge of Africa is immense. His political analysis of competing forces within Africa is cogent as a result of a slew of supporting documentary evidence. By grasping the institutional framework within society, he is able to draw many of the same conclusions as Fanon, but from a different point-of-view. For example, he notes the same antagonism between urban and rural that Fanon grasped (229), as well as that important contradiction between blackness and whiteness that shows up as alienation. With more incision, he explains why African "elites" accepted alienation and co-opted the colonial position on African progress, which was that "advancement toward the nation-state was the only feasible route of escape from the colonial condition."

He suggests that the reasons why Africans adopted European values was that it was politically advantageous to do so given the prestige and power it bestowed.

In fact, he sees its benefits after colonialism, writing, "As African reassertion thrust away the psychological and practical hang-ups created by the invasion and dispossession over many decades, the progress of the 'outside world' came flooding in, and the results were impressive."

He plots convincingly the conflict between progress and tradition.

Davidson succeeds beyond Fanon in grounding the kind of psychological analysis in real social tensions and in pointing to the real past of African institutions. As such, it is a valuable complement to Fanon. His focus is much more on Africa itself and less on African ex-patriots.

Prashad's the Darker Nations seems a less helpful text that does not come near to the insight of Fanon or Davidson in terms of colonial consciousness and its causes, or social history. Its subject is dispersed and less effective as it tries to summarize the formation of the notion of the "Third World" and its adoption among colonized nations. Through commentary on the key gatherings and events that created and sustained the multi-national Third World project for a while, through the historical events such as the decline of communism, the resurgence of nationalistic chauvinism, economic compromise, and assassinations of key leaders, Prashad aims to show the decline of the Third World project and the reason why its agenda ought to be put back in motion. He succeeds in showing the decline, but not in showing that the Third World project was ever an effective institution in the first place.

One of Prashad's contributions is an emphasis on women in national liberation movements -- something the previous two books ignore. It also focuses more distinctly on the Cold War period, on the role of the United Nations, and on international communism. Most of his commentary is mere repetition of facts about anti-imperialist alliances that promoted freedom and autonomy. He writes, "Unity for the people of the Third World came from a political position against colonialism and imperialism, not from any intrinsic cultural or racial commonalities."

There is nothing new here. Prashad illustrates only the possibility of fruitful international political cooperation and the need for universal struggle driven by common interests despite cultural disparities. The book's utility is limited by its generality and lack of interpretation. It proposes no alternative viewpoint to a problem that others have discussed differently. Analytical shallowness results despites its pages packed with quotations. As a mere litany of sequential facts -- some of which involve Africa, such as his discussion of Algerian national liberation and Tanzanian agricultural failure -- it is fine, but the argument itself does not seem to be made. I would rank its contribution to Africa quite low. It ends bleakly with the crippling and disillusionment of the Third World movement without having shown just exactly how the Third World project had any positives effects or gains other than its rhetoric.

As for practical implications, Fanon's ideas hold promise for counseling racially oppressed people's into a more active space of controlling their lives and overcoming neuroses. Once mental liberation takes hold, the social structures can be actively changed more in line with authentic Africanness. Identity repair can occur with the casting off of an oppressive consciousness. As a result, the social institutions are bound to change for the better. Davidson's book holds promise in suggesting a way that African nations might reclaim their lost history and renew a sense of confidence in government through more mass participation of the people. It hints toward ideas useful for development. Both Davidson and Prashad could be used for their examples of past failures (communism, say) or the recouping of models to emulate where they worked. Prashad's suggestion that the Third World project be reinstated is perhaps positive, but given its failure, it is hard to see how that would nurture development.


Davidson, Basil. The Black Man's Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State. New York: Times Books, 1992.

Fanon, Franz. Black Skin, White Masks. Translated by Richard Philcox. New York: Grove Press, 2008. (Originally published in 1952)

Prashad, Vijay. The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World. New York: New Press, 2007.

Franz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Richard Philcox (New York: Grove Press, 2008), 14.

Fanon, 80.

Fanon, 161.

Fanon, 80.

Fanon, 122.

Fanon, 127-28.

Fanon, 133.

Fanon, 168.

Fanon, 157.

Fanon, 2.

Fanon, 7.

Basil Davidson, the Black Man's Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State (New York: Times), 199.

Davidson, 42.

Davidson, 295-98.

Davidson, 113.

Davidson, 114.…[continue]

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