Ellis on “Africa in the World”

[T]he true postcolonial age came to an end in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Since then, Africa has entered a phase in its history that as yet has no name. (We can’t call it ‘post-post-colonial’.)…Among the dynamic new factors shaping Africa’s environment in recent years are a rapid rise in foreign investment in Africa, particularly from Asia, although Western countries are still the leading investors in Africa, and large-scale immigration by Chinese entrepreneurs. It is already apparent that Asian businesspeople and diplomats do not come to Africa with the same expectations as their European and American counterparts, nor with the same ideological baggage, and that they make different demands…As African societies respond to new demands and as people develop new strategies, new forms of insertion in the world are emerging.

So writes Stephen Ellis in Season of Rain: Africa in the World (Hurst & Co., 2011), a panoramic account of how local interests across Africa interact with international business, development, and major power strategy. A dense read (counting 170 pages but feeling like 300), Ellis makes the case that African societies have had to contend with strong international currents despite state weakness. Thus, the most important types of exchange have been between international currents and familial and patronage networks operating in the “shadows” of the state. There are echoes of Reno and Bayart, but updated. The book is quite sweeping and sometimes fails to back assertions with clear references to data. But it would make an excellent read for undergraduates or others seeking an introduction to modern predicaments facing policy makers, business people, and ordinary folks across Africa as they contend with international actors pursuing their commercial, strategic, as well as development aid and humanitarian interests.