Pomona College Professor of African Politics Pierre Englebert has recently released a new undergraduate textbook, Inside African Politics (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2013), co-authored with Kevin C. Dunn, of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Englebert hopes the book imparts to students a sense of the wealth, diversity, rationality and universality of African politics.
"If Africa often does not make sense to us it is more because of the gaps in our largely Western-centric knowledge than because of anything inherent to Africa," he says. "The African state interests me greatly, both in its fragility and its capacity for adaptation and reinvention. In the end, I feel a strong sense of empathy with Africans, many of whom face overwhelming odds, largely derived from politics, in their daily lives."
Englebert first became interested in Africa 30 years ago, as a political science and international relations students at the Free University of Brussels, after a class in African politics sparked what became an abiding fascination with the continent. Originally from Belgium, he spent a summer in West Africa between his junior and senior years, an experience that only deepened his interest. His trip inspired him to write his senior thesis on the ongoing revolution in Burkina Faso, then Upper Volta. Since then he has been to Africa about 30 times, staying anywhere from one week to three months, all in an ongoing effort to understand and address the challenges of postcolonial state formation and development.
"Specific conditions largely inherited from history, geography, natural endowments and the superimposition of institutional layers condition and constrain the action of politicians and citizens alike," Englebert says. Inside African Politics is a study of the odds and challenges, which is crucial for knowledge of Africa and beyond.
"Studying African politics helps us broaden the theoretical and analytical toolbox available to us and enriches the social sciences in general," says Englebert.
- Book: Inside African Politics