Africa: The Politics of Unity

By Immanuel Wallerstein: (Randon House, New York) 1968 – $4.95

It is difficult to know at what level to evaluate this book. The publisher, the general nature of the topic, and to some extent the price, may lead us to suppose that it is intended for the “educated layman,” rather than the specialist. He has undertaken to write an account of a complex phenomenon – the movement which seeks African unity and its various manifestations – and has managed to pull together the threads in a way which makes it intelligible. Particularly useful, for instance, is his Chapter IX, on the activities of the African Liberation Committee, which gathers together much scattered material. Moreover, as far as the present reviewer is able to judge, he makes few factual mistakes, and there are only a small number of interpretations in matters of detail with which one might quarrel.

Nevertheless, there is no reason why an evaluation of a book intended for the layman should be any less rigorous than one of a more specialized work. Viewed from this standpoint, the book falls down badly on a number of counts. First, it has no references for quotations, no citations to related works, and no bibliography. This makes it impossible to use it as a basis for further reading, whether one is a layman or a specialist. And it does a grave injustice to others who have worked in the same field. Second, and much more serious, in a number of ways Professor Wallerstcin fails to live up to the rather grandiose claim in his sub-title that this is “An Analysis of a Contemporary Social Movement.”

As a professional sociologist, the author ought to know all about social movements, as well as analysis. Yet he does very little, except by implication, to explain to us why he divides the leaders of the movement for African unity into a “core” and a “periphery.” Thus, he distinguishes these groups in terms of their attitudes to unity, which is a reasonable division based on readily observable phenomena, but does not explain in any systematic way why some African political elites should adopt one attitude and some another, which is surely the responsibility of the sociologist. At the end of the book we have no clear idea (indeed, precious few clues) why Nkrumah’s Ghana, Tanzania or Congo (Brazzaville) should be in the “core” and Ivory Coast, Kenya or Congo (Kinshasa) on the “periphery.”