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Mahmood Mamdani's Citizen and Subject - Book Report/Review Example

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Mahmood Mamdani's Citizen and Subject

The intended positioning of Mamdani's argument is described in his title; during colonial Africa, the majority of rural populations were governed by indigenous chiefs and "customary law" under an administration of "decentralized despotism". Thus, as a result, they were not prepared to participate as citizens in the modern states that have succeeded colonialism.
A conformed version of this described colonialism is the British system of indirect rule, formally employed only in Northern parts of Africa, which also echoed both in the policies of rural South Africa and in the less overt practices of other European powers in additional parts of Africa. Just as Mamdani states that such colonialism was both tyrannical and decentralized, he argues that it produced only one possibility for postcolonial African regimes; a conventional maintenance of transference through the same chain of command of leaders.
Mamdani's model essentially comes from Central Africa, where tortuous rule was the central theme of political conversation in the colonial era, and where it is also possible to question post-colonial establishments. On the other hand, an equal segment of the book is dedicated to South Africa, and occasionally to its satellite nations such as Swaziland, whose position in the argument is somewhat indistinctive. Much of the discussion here, such as the examination of labor union politics, has inadequate parallels in Central Africa, and even these are not explored.

Mamdani also depicts the evident analogies between the Bantustan policies of South Africa and indirect rule. The most determined relative effort relates to the black-on-black political aggression that distinguished the decade or so previous to South Africa's democratic elections of 1994, which is usually responsible for a combination of white administrative exploitation and the political ambitions of the Zulu Inkatha faction. Mamdani notices these events more as a result of refugee labor communities being expelled from the urban politics of the ANC and its allied labor unions and civic associations. The optimistic model here for all African politics is some combination of the energies displayed in rural movements of protest against local oppression and the urban vision of a fully integrated national civilization.


Although it is hard to disagree with Mamdani's objectives, and he even provides sporadic approaches of some value, the book as a whole appears unpersuasive when it is most coherent and illogical when it attempts to be compelling. Mamdani's explanation of South Africa is occasionally based on faulty verification, and as in the urban violence argument cited previously, occasionally comes to contentious conclusions; but generally it follows the standard historiography format.

Mamdani pays modest methodical attention to economic issues and insists that his "locus of analysis has been less the mode of accumulation than the mode of domination" (p.294). Nevertheless, underlying his entire assessment and particularly his treatment of Central Africa is an assumption of comparable motives for control. In South Africa these motives originate from a very large and permanent white population seeking control over a globally ...Show more


Since its release, Mahmood Mamdani's Citizen and Subject has been at the center of attention and controversy among African academics. In 1997, the African Studies Association selected it as a recipient of the Herskovitz prize, as one of the finest works on African politics during that particular year…
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