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African Affairs Advance Access published September 7, 2013

African Affairs, 00/00, 12 The Author 2013. Published by Oxford University

Press on behalf of Royal African Society. All rights reserved

Sure Road? Nationalisms in Angola, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique,
edited by Eric Morier-Genoud. Leiden: Brill, 2012. xxv + 270 pp. 75/$104
( paperback). ISBN 978 9 00422 261 8.

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In this books Introduction, the rhetorical question posed in the title gets a
prompt answer: no, there was no sure road to fullling nationalist ambitions for
these countries, now independent of Portugal for nearly forty years. Yet that answer
may not satisfy everyone, least of all those African ofcials who in recent years have
commissioned the writing of national liberation histories. Those are projects largely
of patriotic historiography a resurgent intellectual current that this book opposes.
The editors misgivings about that kind of history concern its teleology; that is, the
interpretation and even re-invention of the past in terms of present-day outcomes.
Validating todays status quo, patriotic histories atter the winners and, if they dont
airbrush them out entirely, condescend to the losers.
This books aim, however, is not to rehearse the critique of ofcial narratives. That
would be an anti-climax for readers already aware of the many pre- and post-mortems
of nationalist projects in these countries. Rather, the editor has sought to assemble
new facts and theoretical approaches. To these ends, the book pays attention to such
things as conicting sub-nationalisms, cultural politics, and the eclipse of Marxist
development ambitions by high modernist models that serve the happy few.
Draft chapters were presented in December 2007 at a workshop under the auspices
of The Oxford Research Network on Government in Africa (OReNGA). Following
that event, co-organizer Gavin Williams composed a concluding chapter drawing on
other contributors texts and adding insights from political studies of Africa more
broadly. In any political system, Williams writes, the most revealing question is
always where does the money come from and where does it go? (p. 247), thereby
bringing to the surface issues that elsewhere in the book remain largely submerged.
Apart from the historiographical schisms discussed in the Introduction, essential
points of the entire volume are made clearly and succinctly in this nal chapter.
In an illuminating opening chapter, Michel Cahen sets out, sometimes with
mordant humour, distinctions among the successive phases of Portuguese imperialism and over-rule (political projects incited by European nationalisms) and among
the socio-cultural layers they left behind: independence versus decolonization;
state and nation; and Marxism as a disposable script. Europe-mimicking, forcedpace projects of nation building failed to respect African rst nations in their diverse
cultural specicities. Leaderships paid mere lip service to the idea that horizontal
social movements were needed to build national identities and ultimately nation
states. For Cahen, the term nationalism fails to capture the essence of Lusophone
Africas imposed political projects; he suggests a better term for them would be
nationism. Cape Verde is a possible exception, as it had undergone authoritarian
modernization much earlier, through slavery.


Transnational Institute, Amsterdam

doi: 10.1093/afraf/adt059

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Most of the book consists of country-specic essays. These expose the taproots of
political rivalry both before and after independence in 1975. However, most texts
pay only nominal attention to how the global political economy and the Cold War
inuenced those rivalries. The main focus is at territorial levels, where political
leaders contesting state power teased out and inamed sub-national identities and
allegiances. Those who triumphed subsequently set about suppressing, through coercion and co-option, the sub-territorial loyalties of those who were defeated.
On Guinea-Bissau, Philip Havik (Chapter 2) chronicles episodes in the states collapse, showing how the transcendent, inclusive nationalism envisioned by Amilcar
Cabral withered and died amidst backstage elite politics and deadly personal vendettas. Substantially detailed on domestic politics, the chapter says little about the consequences of shared sovereignty with donors, who have routinely paid most of the bills
and, at crucial moments, sprung policy trapdoors such as structural adjustment.
On pre-independence Mozambique, Georgi Derluguian (Chapter 3) recounts
the marginalization of Makonde sub-nationalism by Frelimo, which was far better
organized. Frelimo pursued war communism turned upside down ( p. 100) by mobilizing substantial material aid abroad and channelling it into rural zones to leverage political support. In a post-independence sequel, Jason Sumich (Chapter 5)
draws on interviews to show how Frelimo (which continues to convert foreign largesse into the currency of political patronage) shifted its talk from national unity
toward national modernization. Under the international communitys indulgent
eye, that new ambition reinforces elite privilege and celebrates social difference.
Angolas tangled and generally shallow nationalist roots are expertly probed in
several chapters. Didier Pclards sociological analysis (Chapter 6) shows convincingly why, up to the virtual collapse of Unita in 1976, Ovimbundo sub-nationalism
had been weak, yet paradoxically vulnerable to a ery and ultimately self-destructive
political tribalism. In Chapter 8 Justin Pearce, having identied the main drivers of
conict in the rivalries among Big Men within the country and Cold War antagonisms abroad, charts political twists and turns after 1975. He perceptively analyses
Unitas claims to black nationalist authenticity and its clash with the MPLAs ultimately triumphant claim to pan-Angolan leadership. David Birmingham (Chapter 9)
explains in light and supple prose how the pursuit of power and wealth by Angolan
and foreign elites has always prevailed over their assertions that they had only the
integrity, authenticity, and well-being of the nation at heart.
This well-edited and copiously referenced collection expertly illuminates roads
travelled sometimes to dead ends in the brutal inceptive politics and contested
histories of these troubled lands.