Introduction:
Global Shadows
AFRICA AND THE WORLD
What kind of place is Africa? The question,on the face of it, is an
improbableone.‘‘Africa’’isahugecontinent,coveringonefifthof
theworld’slandsurface,whereover800millionpeopleliveanex-
traordinaryvarietyof lives.Isthereanymeaningfulsenseinwhich
we can speak of this as a ‘‘place’’? Looking at the range of empiri-
caldifferencesinternaltothecontinent—differentnaturalenviron-
ments,historicalexperiences,religioustraditions,formsofgovern-
ment,languages,livelihoods,andsoon—theunityofathingcalled
‘‘Africa,’’ its status as a single ‘‘place,’’ however the continental de-
scriptormaybequalifiedgeographicallyorracially(‘‘Sub-Saharan,’’
‘‘black,’’ ‘‘tropical,’’ or what have you) seems dubious. Certainly,
onemayreasonablydoubtwhethernationalsituationsasdifferent
as, say, those of Botswana and Liberia are greatly illuminated by
treatingthemastwoexamplesofagenericAfricanness,justasone
is entitled to question the extent to which, say, Somalia and Na-
mibiapartakeinacivilizationalsameness.Indeed,ithasoftenbeen
suggestedthattheverycategoryof ‘‘Sub-SaharanAfrica,’’withits
conventionalseparationfroma‘‘MiddleEast’’thatwouldinclude
NorthAfrica,isasmuchaproductofmodernracethinkingasitis
an obvious cultural or historical unity.
Yet the world is (perhaps now more than ever) full of talk, not
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