Africa: The Politics of Suffering and Smiling
Chabal, Patrick. Africa: the politics of suffering and smiling.
London: zed, 2009. 212 pp. ISBN: 1842779095
One of the fundamental challenges in the study of "Africans" and "African politics" has been the construction and applicability of theories and theoretical frameworks that best suits African localities and political realities, a "political theory of Africa," the likes of negritude. There is no doubt that those who have taken up the challenge and continue to take up the challenge, have done so through predominantly "borrowed" Eurocentric and Western theories and theoretical constructs, essentially, what Patrick Chabal in Africa: the Politics of Suffering and Smiling describes as the "orthodox approach to studying Africans and African politics." In this thought provoking and daring piece, Chabal poses a riveting challenge to this orthodox approach by proposing that Africanists and other scholars of Africa step outside the orthodox terrain of studying the continent as part of the discourse on "agency." (1)
In light of this debate invitation, Chabal uses a nuanced "anthropological" approach to subjectively and objectively discuss contemporary issues of African localities and political realities that in his own words, best marks human existence in contemporary Africa. Thus, the book is organized in the following manner, the first three-Being, Belonging and Believing-map out the core dimensions of "African" life, the pillars of identity and sociability.
The next two chapters on Partaking and Striving address the question of how individual Africans manage the political and economic opportunities and constraints with which they are confronted. The last two chapters, Surviving and Suffering, tackle the difficulties Africans face in their daily lives and the resources they deploy to overcome them.
In his discussion on the Politics of Being, Chabal grapples with the question of what he calls being, by which he means the place and role of individual Africans within the environment in which they are born and live. He engages this issue by looking at three aspects of being: origin, identity, and locality that make up the Politics of Being. With origin, he makes the point that in Africa, the places of birth and burial (the two being linked) matter greatly for a number of pertinent religious, cultural, and sociological reasons. Regarding, identity, he suggests that questions of identity in Africa are...