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Book Review: African Legacy; Solutions for a Community in Crisis by Benard Lugan (Steven D. Laib)

Book Review: African Legacy; Solutions for a Community in Crisis

Bernard Lugan Tells it Like it Is
by Steven D. Laib, J.D., M.S.

29 February 2004

Democracy hasn’t worked in Africa because individualism hasn’t replaced preexisting loyalties to clans, groups, and tribes. Will African-Americans try to help their ancestral roots resolve its real problems, or are they too wrapped up in claiming everything is a result of racism?

Anyone who has an eye on international affairs knows that Africa has major problems. There are the incessant wars, recurring famines, epidemics ranging from AIDS to the episodic outbreaks of Ebola, and the constant problem of Malaria. Throw in an occasional natural disaster and it is easily more than anyone would ordinarily expect a “third world” region to handle. Contemporary popular sentiment credits modern Africa’s problems to the history of European and American slave trading in past centuries, combined with a span of European colonial occupation of much of the continent. Entering upon this scene is France’s foremost scholar on African matters, Bernard Lugan, who essentially says that this popular wisdom is not only wrong, but that it is contributing to Africa’s unfortunate situation.

Lugan should know what he is talking about. He has lived for an extended time in Africa, has conducted significant research there, and has taught African History for at the National University of Rwanda. He is no outsider theorizing about something his has had only passing contact with. Using modern and historic information he draws a totally different picture from what much of the world, has been led to see. He debunks the modern myth that Europeans instituted slavery and took the cream of the African population to fuel the Industrial Revolution in Europe and America while without them Africa languished. Likewise, he disposes of the belief that the colonial powers stripped Africa of its resources leaving it destitute when the colonies were granted independence in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Instead, Lugan shows how the colonies benefited to the detriment of the European powers, and how reliance on slave labor may have actually have slowed the development of industrial economies in, for example, the American Old South. Going farther, he provides string evidence for African roots of the slave trade. While he blames the Europeans for exacerbating the problem, he also praises them for working to eliminate it; one of the many reasons for colonization and part of the extensive humanitarian efforts by the colonizers. To complete his examination of these topics he addresses the Arabic role in the East African slave trade and how it took Christian-inspired European intervention to quell what was an established practice long before the European and American slave trade began in the west.

While covering the above two key issues Lugan also deals with the “politically correct” and Afro-Centric attitudes that have invaded the universities during the last century. How shows where the flaws are, and how the theorists ignore the truth in order to make their points appear valid. He does this in precise fashion, often giving evidence from past political leaders to show the true attitudes spurring the behavior of the colonial powers at specific times or evidence from Africa showing how PC beliefs simply don’t fit the facts.

Next, using a relatively unique perspective, Lugan asserts that modern Africa’s problems are distinctly African in origin. Because Africa has a distinct social and cultural philosophy, different from that found in other parts of the world, the answers to the problems must be African answers working within the African social system. Importing European or American systems will not work because they are not suited to the African social reality. He takes great pains to show how the democratic system of one person, one vote has not worked because African society is insufficiently based on individualism and has not replaced preexisting loyalties to clan, group and tribe with nationalism. Unless and until such social concepts become dominant, he asserts, democratic institutions or other western political systems will not function properly. The case he makes is extremely strong, drawing from the bloody ethnic violence in Rwanda, the attempt by the Ibos to secede from Nigeria, leading to the Biafran war, the Tutsi and Hutu violence in East Africa, and other similar events. The ethnic compositions of several African countries are analyzed to provide graphic demonstrations of how and why the political problems evolved within the democratic systems left behind when the colonial powers pulled out.

To close, Lugan gives us some suggestions for how Africa can move toward correcting its problems, but unlike many people he does not take a prescriptive approach. Even though he might be qualified to do so, he does not presume to tell the African people what to do. He suggests, but he refuses to prescribe. His suggestions make sense, in light of the information he presents, but they leave us with the question of whether Africans and their descendents living abroad can see beyond the rhetoric, the blame games and pop wisdom to truly deal with the issues they confront. The not so subtle suggestion is also present that, for example, African-Americans who consider themselves continuing objects of racism are deluding themselves because it is easier to blame others for one’s problems than to take them by the horns, shove them aside, and get on with life.

If there is any criticism that can be made of Lugan’s work, it is that he does not write primarily for the popular audience. His approach is more scholarly, almost as one would use to prepare a research paper. This makes his work less entertaining to read, but he makes up for it with large amounts information, excellent factual analysis, and well-organized conclusions. You may not completely enjoy his writing style but you will put his work down superbly informed. Anyone who wants to know more about why Africa is the way it is must make this a central part of their studies. It will be released by Carnot Books in late February 2004.


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