Towards a critical political geography of African development

Mercer, Claire; Mohan, Giles and Power, Marcus (2003). Towards a critical political geography of African development. Geoforum, 34(4) pp. 419–436.



In this paper we aim to rethink the political geography of African development at the beginning of the 21st century. Central to our thesis are two intertwining legacies, paralleling Edward Saids Orientalism. The first is the construction of Africa in the western imagination and the second is an enduring trusteeship towards the continent. The core movement we seek to critique and move
beyond is the complicity between racialised knowledges about Africa and a series of political interventions that seek to 'help' Africans to develop. The paper begins by examining the legacy of colonialism in the policies towards and representations of Africa. Although selective and schematic we argue that what unites these power–knowledge constructions is a sense of trusteeship towards
the continent. The next step is to look at ways of decolonising our knowledges as a means to effect more appropriate political engagement with Africa. For this we touch on a range of theoretical positions, but look most closely at the corpus of post-colonial theory for ways of doing this. While not uncritical of post-colonialism we find it potentially useful for destabilising western authority and in addressing questions of popular agency and cultural constructions of exclusion. From here we attempt a reformulation which addresses the role of the state, the politics of place and space, and the ways in which 'we' as professional geographers might go about our work.

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