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Bound to Violence?: Achille Mbembe's On the Postcolony

Adeleke Adeeko


Achille Mbembe, in this lucid and tightly argued book, first struck me as indeed the “afro-pessimist” he has been accused by some to be. Mbembe carpets both the theory and practice of politics in Africa, condemning as banal most critical reflections on the excesses of the African state. Literary protests and editorial cartoons that caricature the excesses, eruptions, and excretions of Cameroun’s Paul Biya are dismissed as gestures that actually confirm the potentate’s projected self image. Because I am always very wary of social theories that blame hapless citizens for their own social plight, I developed some initial misgiving about Mbembe’s project. But I had a reason to reread Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah soon after reading On the Postcolony. Then I reconsidered my reflex rejection of Mbembe’s thesis that modern existence in Africa is one strange carnival in which a pervasive atmosphere of macabre conviviality binds the potentate and the dominated in a drawn out orgy of violence and death. The more I thought of the conditions of the African society depicted in Achebe’s novel–and Achebe has never been pessimistic about African cultures–in light of Mbembe’s claims, and vice-versa, the firmer my conviction grew that Mbembe’s philosophy may after all be realist, despite its pervasive symbolism and imagism.

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West Africa Review. ISSN: 1525-4488 (online).
Editors: Adeleke Adeeko, Nkiru Nzegwu, and Olufemi Taiwo.

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