Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa
Conseil pour le développement de la recherche en sciences sociales en Afrique
Conselho para o Desenvolvimento da Pesquisa em Ciências Sociais em África
مجلس تنمية البحوث الإجتماعية في أفريقيا


BOOK REVIEW: Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni (2014), Coloniality of Power in Postcolonial Africa Myths of Decolonization. Dakar: Codesria, 290 p.

Number of visits: 606

This book is organized into three parts and divided into eight chapters. Part I which deals with what the author calls the Colonial Matrix of Power has three chapters including the introduction (chapt1). Chapter 2 is about the snare of colonial Matrix of Power while (Chapt 3) deals with the myths of decolonization and Illusions of Freedom. Part II, is about the discursive constructions of the African people (chapt.4) and Coloniality of being and the phenomenon of violence (chapt.5). Part III focuses essentially on case studies in countries like South Africa and Zimbabwe. It broadly interrogates the idea of South Africa and Pan-South African Nationalism (chapt.6); Zimbabwe and the Crisis of Chimurenga Nationalism (chapt. 7). The conclusion is about the murky present and the mysterious future constitutes the last chapter (chapt.8)

The first chapter [Introduction: A neocolonized Africa (pp.336)] introduces the book as a study that tackles the predicament of Africans in a ’postcolonial neocolonized world’ created by a negative process of modernity as it spread across the world. It deals, as stated by the author whom we are going to broadly refer to here, with the politics of the making of the African postcolonial world enunciated by concepts of coloniality of power, coloniality of knowledge and coloniality of being. It also provides an overview of key imaginations of the trajectory of Africa spawned by both the independence euphoria of the 1960s and the crisis of the 1970s. Finally it explains how the process of decolonization plunged into neocolonialism world producing a ‘postcolonial African neocolonial world’ rather than an African postcolonial world inhabited by liberated Africans capable of determining their own destiny.

The second chapter [In the Snare of Colonial Matrix of Power (pp.37-64)] deals with how the African continent and its people have still been entangled and trapped within the snares, the invisible but strong colonial matrices of power. The contours of the colonial matrix of power, control of economy; control of authority; control of gender and sexuality; and control of subjectivity and knowledge descended on the continent since the spread of Western modernity into other parts of the world carried on the backs of explorers, missionaries and colonialists. Despite the celebration of decolonization, what exist today as schools, colleges and universities continue to be ‘Western-oriented institutions’ located within the African continent producing Westernized graduates who are alienated from the African society and its African values. Thus, Africa has not managed to free itself from epistemological colonization inscribed on the continent and its people by mission and secular schools, religious denominations, and other institutions that carried western cultural imperialism.
The third chapter [Myths of Decolonization andillusions of Freedom (pp.65-95)] tackles the issue of the decolonization process in order to understand its grammar and eventually unpack it as a process that was never completed and, therefore, continues to obscure and hide the disempowering colonial matrix of power that prevented the rebirth of Africa as a confident and brave postcolonial world. Thus, it re-evaluates the often celebrated decolonization process and reveals the myths and illusions of freedom obscured by the idea of decolonization. It unmasks the limits of decolonization, analyses how decolonization bequeathed to the freedom of Africans is enjoyed by those who occupied the positions of the departing white political and economic elites; and not translated into freedom for the ordinary African people. The struggle for popular sovereignty is still ongoing in postcolonial Africa, this time ranged against African political elites who have embarked on primitive accumulation of wealth, just like the colonizers, while silencing the citizens.

The fourth chapter [Discursive construction of the African People (pp.99-124)] focuses on the construction of the ’African People’ as a political and social force as well as a product of the coloniality of power of racial classification. Thus, it engages the question of the discursive formation of African identities. Its key argument is that the Africa is not only a social and political construction but also a victim of imposed identities and this reality has made African political trajectories to continue to progress into a ceaseless direction of struggling to negotiate themselves above externally imposed singularities. It then interrogates the major identity-forming processes such as the slave trade, imperialism, colonialism, pan-Africanism, and nationalism which have combined to form the discursive terrain within which African identities were constructed across history and space.

Chapter five [Coloniality of Being and the Phenomenon of violence (pp.125-144)] discusses the all-pervading atmosphere of violence in Africa. It locates the roots of the logic of violence in Africa within colonial modernity and its reproduction of African subjectivities where race was used to deny their very humanity. The case studies of the Herero people of Namibia who became victims of German colonial genocide; the Congolese under King Leopold II where violence was the mode of governance; and South Africa where neo-apartheid situation recreated systemic violence that is manifest in the black townships and informal settlements are used to amplify and qualify arguments advanced in this chapter. The other major concern of the chapter is to explain how colonial violence reproduced itself on the psyche of African nationalists to become a major feature of postcolonial governance.

[The Idea of South Africa and Pan-South African Nationalism (pp.147-178)] is the title of the sixth chapter. It tackles the issue of the plurality of identities around a popular imagination to create a singular national one, and traces the historical development and genealogies of the idea of South Africa together with the complex questions of belonging and citizenship from the nineteenth century to the present. The chapter interrogates such identity-forming processes as Anglicization and Afrikaner republican nationalism that culminated in the institutionalization of apartheid. It proceeds to examine African nationalism as another layer in the genealogy of the idea of South Africa. The chapter ends by reflecting on the current nation-building challenges particularly the efforts at transcending race as an organizing as well as divisive forces in South African society that is striving to re-build itself on principles of non-racial and civic belonging.

Chapter seven, [Zimbabwe and the Crisis of Chimurenga Nationalism(pp.179-236)] It continues the subject of imagination of the nation with a specific focus on the idea of Zimbabwe. It provides a historical view of the development of the Zimbabwe question, and begins with the ideology of Chimurenga as the political thread that runs through from the 1960s to the present. The chapter analyses how the liberation struggle itself as a discursive terrain within which the idea of Zimbabwe was being translated from an imaginary phenomenon into reality was not only characterized by retribalization and regional ethnic divisions but also hijacked at the Lancaster House Conference by the British and Americans to produce a neocolonial state of Zimbabwe.

The conclusion and Chapter eight [The Murky Present and the Mysterious Future (pp.239-264)], as explained by the author, is about the complex theme of phenomenology of human uncertainty. The chapter introduces the concept of phenomenology of uncertainty and utopian registers deployed by Africans and other human beings elsewhere to imagine the future. It looks into the future of Africa through contextualizing the continent’s ideological, political and economic challenges, predicaments and dilemmas within the global context. It also revisits African nationalism with a view to revealing its weak social base that made it fail to create stable nations and to prosper as an emancipatory and liberatory force; and further discusses the limits of neo-liberal democracy as an emancipatory project provides glimpses of the future political direction of Africa.

"Coloniality of Power in Postcolonial Africa. Myths of Decolonization", broadly interrogates the idea of postcolonial and liberation predicament; the crisis of cultural and economic dependence in relation to ideological explanation. The book also discusses three main African problems, namely: the grammar of decolonization, including the question of what is and who is an African. The study also provides deep reflections on the realities of the postcolonial oppressive state; and African structural contradictions. It is clear from the book how African identity has remained hostage to a modernist grammar and how current autochthonous discourses have their deep roots in African colonial experience traceable to the time of the colonial encounters. Thus, throughout the book, an attempt is made to explain the recurrent logic of violence in Africa from a historical perspective.

Dr. Pape Chérif Bertrand Bassène




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