The African revolution book project

A new summary and table of contents for a book of 60,000 words that I hope to complete for Polity Press by next spring: The African Revolution: Africa in the 21st century world. The two lectures posted on May 16 contain an outline of the argument.

What are Africa’s prospects for the coming half-century, viewed in the light of the century that has just passed and of its relationship to world society in the long run? Africa’s relative poverty has increased in the last half-century, but, from being the most sparsely populated and least urbanized major region around 1900, its share of the world’s population now equals its share of the total land mass; and urbanization there is fast approaching the global average. Our task is to understand the unprecedented speed and scale of this ‘urban revolution’; and specifically how the social conditions it has generated lay the groundwork for whatever lies ahead.

‘Africa’ refers to both a continent and a race. The continent is divided into three disparate regions — North, South and Middle (West, Central and East Africa); but these are now converging to some degree, raising the prospect of economic and political union. The drive to bring Africa closer together is fuelled by the aspiration of black people everywhere for their long-delayed emancipation; and this is a matter of universal concern since the blight of racism – seeing ‘through a glass darkly’ (St. Paul) — affects us all.

What prospects does neo-liberal globalization hold for Africa as a whole? Its experience in the twentieth century is often represented as a failure to ‘develop’. Here I explore the conditions for an African liberal revolution soon, a turnaround rapid enough to merit comparison with Europe and America earlier or with Asia today. Its growth pole should be cultural production, harnessing the energies of Africa’s cities linked to a new diaspora by the communications revolution.

The world is now turning to regional trading blocs; and Africa must follow this trend. The coming revolution could leapfrog many of the obstacles in its path, but not by remaining tied to the national straitjacket worn by African societies since they won independence from colonial rule.


Part I Africa in world historical perspective


1.      Africa today: ‘through a glass, darkly’

2.      Africa on my mind: a memoir

3.      Waiting for emancipation: slavery, colonialism, apartheid

4.      The intellectuals of the anti-colonial revolution


Part II African development in the twentieth century


6. Africa’s traditional societies and agrarian civilization

7. Africa’s urban revolution in the twentieth century

8. ‘Development’: the post-colonial counter-revolution

9. Urban commerce and the informal economy


Part III African development in the twenty-first century


10. An African liberal revolution?

11. The cultural sources for a liberal revolution

a. The energy of youth and women

b. The religious revival

c. The explosion of the modern arts

d. The communications revolution

e. The new African diaspora and sub-national identities

12. Classes for and against the liberal revolution

13. Africa must unite






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