Outstanding Academic Titles 2020: Studies of Africa

This week's sneak peek from our 2020 Outstanding Academic Titles list: award-winning titles about Africa

1. From hope to horror: diplomacy and the making of the Rwanda genocide
Leader, Joyce E. Potomac Books, 2020

Leader, a retired US Foreign Service officer, writes a compelling account of the Rwandan genocide through the lens of failed diplomacy. Rooted in her service as deputy to the US Ambassador to Rwanda during the early 1990s, the book critically examines how failed diplomatic efforts contributed to the Rwandan genocide. The book is organized into two parts and covers the period between 1991 and 1994 with short thematic chapters that explore the political conditions in Rwanda. Each chapter concludes with short commentaries from the author that add helpful context; her point of view as a diplomat in the years leading up to the genocide provides readers with insight into the diplomatic failures in Rwanda. The book concludes with six lessons for the future to shift “the current diplomatic culture of crisis response to conflict to a diplomatic culture of conflict prevention.”.
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2. White supremacy confronted: US imperialism and anti-communism vs the liberation of Southern Africa, from Rhodes to Mandela
Horne, Gerald. International Publishers, 2019

This book expertly traces the historical development of South African apartheid, the US role in sustaining it, and the eventual victory of the South African liberation movement. Horne (Houston Univ.) contends that the liberation movements backed by the socialist bloc were necessary forces that ended direct European colonialism in Africa by 1994. In the US, anti-communism efforts led many liberals to exchange contradictory support for US foreign policy, including its backing of apartheid, for incremental reforms on domestic civil rights, stalling American alliances with ultimately victorious liberation struggles abroad. Horne details the political and military intrigues in the US and South Africa to achieve a three-part agenda: white supremacy, capitalist domination, and the elimination of socialist-led liberation movements. He explores the apartheid regime’s Nazi sympathies, its ironically close connections to Israel, its ties to shadowy right-wing US groups, its dependence on US corporations, and its manipulation of terroristic organizations that fought liberation, revealing the intense anxiety, panic, and fear that gripped white US and South African leaders when confronted with black liberation. View on Amazon

3. A Companion to medieval Ethiopia and Eritrea
ed. by Samantha Kelly Brill, 2020

This companion, edited by Kelly (Rutgers Univ.), expands on Taddesse Tamrat’s 1972 work Church and State in Ethiopia, 1270–1527 by providing an overview of the present understanding of medieval Ethiopia and Eritrea. Designed for both scholars and those new to the field, this volume provides a narrative of this important region and period and also insight into the field’s new directions. While the introduction of Islam and Christianity still dominates the story of the region during this time, because of the sources that they left behind, scholars are working to develop a broader understanding of medieval Ethiopia and Eritrea beyond religion and politics. While the majority of this collection’s 15 essays still focus on religion, others examine the economic and gender history of the region, greatly enhancing the existing scholarship.
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4. Land of tears: the exploration and exploitation of Equatorial Africa
Harms, Robert. Basic Books, 2019

In this fascinating but grim book, Harms (Yale Univ.) traces and analyzes the origins and final implementation of colonial rule in the Congo River Basin and the partition of equatorial Africa through explorers, guns, company rule, backdoor diplomacy, and open conferences. In 11 chapters, he examines the nuances of the “fractured and contested” actions and interactions of key European individuals, organizations, and governments in their pursuit of capital to the detriment of African inhabitants. The first eight chapters examine the activities of explorers through empire building, ivory exploitation, nationalistic rivalries, concession companies, international conferences, and ending the slave trade. The final three highlight European commissions of inquiry that exposed the violence, forced labor, malnutrition, whippings, killings, imprisonments, depopulation, abortions, and diseases that ravaged the Congolese, who were forced to supply stipulated quotas of ivory and later rubber to Belgium’s King Leopold and France. Harms stresses that discussions of colonial reform never suggested abandoning the Congo but rather considered what new forms European partition should take.
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5Acculturative stress and change in Nigerian society
Ette, Ezekiel Umo. Lexington Books, 2020

This book highlights the reality of ethnicity in Africa, noting the contradictions between building European states on the basis of ethnicities while denying the same project in Africa as a result of colonialism. Ette (Delaware State Univ.) argues that it is necessary to understand the factors influencing ethnic conflicts as different minority groups are agitating for their rights within Africa today, evidenced by the never-ending tensions in Nigeria. Focusing on the Annang of southeastern Nigeria, the book examines how they defined their ethnicity, struggled to insert themselves in the politics of postcolonial Nigeria, and later reworked their identity. Their experience, Ette contends, is notable for having been reproduced all over the continent. He uses their case to argue that the role of ethnicity should not be ignored in African affairs, that ethnicity is not transitory, and that it is a crucial part of identity.
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