Volume 8, Issue 2
A History of
Postcolonial Lusophone Africa.
Patrick Chabal (with David Birmingham, Joshua Forrest, Malyn
Newitt, Gerhard Seibert, and Elisa Silva Andrade).
Patrick Chabal’s new edited volume, A History of Postcolonial Lusophone Africa, seeks to provide an extensive review of postcolonial Portuguese-speaking Africa. In many respects, this new book compliments Chabal’s earlier edited work entitled The Postcolonial Literature of Lusophone Africa. However, I would argue that Chabal’s latest book is far more ambitious than the latter, in that it seeks to outline and synthesize the political and socio-economic history of postcolonial Lusophone Africa into one single text.
in part one seeks to furnish a comprehensive history of Lusophone Africa by
pulling together common themes from the shared experience of Portuguese
colonialism, apart from language. He does in fact pull together various commonalities:
the protracted wars of liberation, the perverse colonial legacy of the
Portuguese, and the Marxist orientation of the five postcolonial governments.
Despite identifying similarities, Chabal throughout his section consistently
draws distinctions between the shared experiences. For example, the degree to
which the PAIGC, MPLA, FRELIMO, and the MLSTP adhered to Marxism was noticeably
different (52). Chabal even drives home the idea that “[a] single-minded focus
on Lusophone Africa could easily detract attention from the fact that the five
countries’ postcolonial trajectory has been intimately bound up with regional
and international factors.” (73) He uses as examples Guinea-Bissau’s close
relation to West African French-speaking territories and
Chabal is interested in the comparative African perspective. For him,
postcolonial Lusophone Africa is not significantly distinct from that of the
rest of the continent. Hence, the themes selected for each chapter are all
relevant to the postcolonial African state: the end of empire, the construction
of the nation-state, and the limits of nationhood. In other words, Chabal is
trying to create an interpretative interchange between students of Lusophone, Anglophone,
and Francophone Africa.
Chabal successfully poses challenging questions. For example, how did the wars
of liberation contribute to the developing nationalism of the day? And how is
Chabal’s section could have stood on its own, it is followed by five country
reports, which are uneven and rarely pick up on issues raised in the first part
of the book. The second section should have supported Chabal’s analysis;
instead, each of the co-authors write about topics that they are familiar with,
seldom drawing connections with earlier chapters, a problem typical of
chapters on Mozambique and
not as analytical as the three afore-mentioned essays, Andrade’s chapter on
this book is not for specialists, it would be useful for undergraduate survey
courses on Africa in general, postcolonialism, and the
history of the Lusophone world. It is readable, comprehensive, and at times
candid. The incorporation of a glossary is helpful to the reader. The
bibliography, compiled by Caroline Shaw, references texts applicable for the
study of Lusophone Africa, but is by no means extensive and is difficult to
navigate. Nonetheless, Chabal must be given credit for assembling such a text,
for he is one of only a handful of scholars who continue to give voice to
short, it is never a scholars purpose to exhaust the subject, only to suggest
that it is there. Chabal and his co-authors have done just that.
Khalil Saucier Northeastern