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Book Reviews

Author: Karim F Hirji

Publ: Daraja Press

Reviewer: Wangui Kimari

In his remarkable book ‘about a book’ that traces the legacies and impact of Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (HEUA), Karim Hirji states that,

as with scores of progressive intellectuals and activists of the past, the prevailing ideology functions to relegate Rodney into the deepest, almost unreachable, ravines of memory. A person who once was widely known is now a nonentity, a stranger to the youth in Africa and the Caribbean. And when they encounter him in the classroom, it is through secondary sources that distort both what he actually wrote and his framework of historical analysis.

In dwelling on this powerful statement, I was taken back to the time when as a young undergraduate at the University of Dar es Salaam,  I found out about Rodney’s seminal book, HEUA, quite by accident, despite the impact it had made in that very university. In a related incident, many years later in a graduate history class in Canada, I remember insisting on the power of HEUA and being told by a supposedly progressive professor of African history that Rodney was not a ‘good historian’.

Certainly, the ambiguities, unknowing and aspersions that continue to surround this book and the author make necessary, as Hirji does so eloquently, the need to retrace its arguments and show ‘its contemporary import’ for Africa today. Emphasizing this, Hirji argues that ‘in the ideologically stultifying and trivialising climate of today, the detractors of HEUA are owed a comprehensive response’. The efficacy and strength of Hirji’s response in this monograph is indisputable. He begins by reviewing all of the key ideas within each of the chapters of HEUA, and within subsequent sections maps the global context in which we are living and the significance of HEUA to the material struggles of past and present.

Author: Neil Carrier

Publ: Hurst & Company, London 2016

Reviewer: Diana Lee-Smith

This is a scholarly and academic book, written by an anthropologist studying the commerce of Eastleigh. It is for that reason very thoroughly referenced and footnoted, but that does not mean it is not also a good read. For any Nairobian it is an absorbing and informative read, and because it is so thoroughly researched you can trust what it says. It goes back to the origin in colonial times of the place called Eastleigh, before it was called that. Somalis were there from the beginning, together with their livestock, which they lived off and traded.

Eastleigh has been called many things, Little Mogadishu, the title of the book, being just one. It is a misnomer coming from non-Somali Kenyans according to the writer, one that fails to capture its multi-ethnic and global nature as a centre of trading networks. Another is ‘Islii’ as it is called and spelt by many Somalis in Kenya, Somalia, Minneapolis, Toronto or London, who treat it as a place to be – temporarily or permanently – to escape to or to escape from. Their many stories form the substance of the book, always in relation to their commerce. Commerce is a way of surviving and sometimes becoming wealthy through avidly-seized, usually risky, business opportunities, some of which lead to enterprises with global reach and others that enable a hand-to-mouth existence.

A DEATH RETOLD IN TRUTH AND RUMOUR

Volume 15, Issue 1 | Published 11/07/2018  

Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder

Author: Grace A Musila

Publ: Boydell & Brewer Ltd. Pps 235

ISBN: 978-1-84701-137-4

Reviewer: John Sibi-Okumu

The ancient Greeks had it that, in experiencing certain forms of artistic expression, plays in particular, there was a moment of catharsis, when all the negative and pitiful emotions which may have been engendered hitherto were replaced by relief and exaltation. It serves to state that Grace A Musila’s academic treatise, A DEATH RETOLD IN TRUTH AND RUMOUR; Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, offers no such catharsis after one has read the final sentence of the Afterword. And even the truth referred to in the title, apart from drawing attention to the admirable human qualities of several people depicted in the narrative, not least Julie Ward herself, is cause for despondency of ‘the more things change, the more things remain the same’ variety.

The Skull of Alum Bheg

Volume 15, Issue 1 | Published 11/07/2018  

Author: Kim A Wagner

Publ: Hurst and Company

Reviewer: Shaun Doherty

This is a remarkable work of historical detection. A skull found in a pub in Kent in 1963. A handwritten note inserted in an eye socket: ‘Skull of Haviladar Alum Bheg 46th Bengal N Infantry who was blown away from a gun. He was a principal leader of the mutiny of 1857 and of a most ruffianly disposition.’

Kim Wagner, who had been writing and researching colonial executions, is alerted to its existence and ‘found myself standing at a small train station on a wet November day with a human skull in my bag’.

He traces the origins of this grisly trophy brought back by a Captain Costello, an officer on duty at Bheg’s execution, to Sialkot in northern India.

He creates a meticulously researched and well-documented account of the events leading up to Bheg’s execution in a gripping narrative that brings to life the human aspects of imperial domination. He is careful to portray the personalities on all sides of the conflict and this makes his account all the more convincing. Although we know the final brutal outcome we are drawn into the relationships and circumstances as if we were reading a fictional political crime thriller.

Modern Poetry in Translation (MTP)

Volume 15, Issue 1 | Published 11/07/2018  

One Thousand Suns: Focus on the Languages of Africa (Issue No 2. 2016)

Publ: Modern Poetry in Translation Limited

Reviewer: Njuki Githethwa

The Magazine Modern Poetry in Translation (MTP) was founded in 1965 in London by Ted Hughes and Daniel Weissbort. They both shared a belief in the power of translation and of poetry to improve the world and bring its peoples to a closer understanding of each other. MPT sprang into being during the Cold War. Its main imperative was to publish the poetry of the Eastern European poets, poets who were in some cases suffering exile and prison for their writing. The Magazine has been in print ever since, more than 50 years, bringing new ways of writing and  thinking into the English language, and changing how we see the world.

From 2013, the magazine has been issued three times a year. Besides continuing to publish the very best of world poetry in translation, each issue has a short focus or a ‘thread’ around the poetry from similar cultures. The issue under review is the first in the history of this magazine to have a focus on the poetry from the languages of Africa.

The lead title of this issue – One Thousand Suns – is from the poem Maro by Mama Seck Mbacke, a poet from Senegal:

One Thousand suns, sleeping with the smile of the Beloved!

Ten Thousand sighs upon the mouth of the Beloved!

My melodious flute your voice, take my hand

Maro! Guide me beyond the pathways of horns.

Anti-Imperialist Resistance by Progressive South Asian Kenyans 1884-1965

by Nazmi Durrani with additional material by Naila Durrani and Benegal Pereira.

 

Publ: Vita Books, Kenya

ISBN: 9789966097415

Reviewer: Shehina Fazal

Nazmi Durrani’s book Liberating Minds, remind us about the resistance to the colonial masters by the progressive South Asian Kenyans, whose roles were significant in the liberation of Kenya These roles of South Asians in Kenya and its neighbouring countries in the struggles towards independence are recently gaining attention from scholars.

The author of Liberating Minds, Nazmi Durrani, died tragically in a road accident in 1990. The collection in Liberating Minds chronicles, in each chapter, the contributions made by South Asians in Kenya written in English, as well as Gujarati, in the 1980s and published in the Gujarati English magazine, Alak Malak.

Manilal Desai was a lawyer who drew upon his experience of independence in India to the struggles against colonial government in Kenya. He established links with the Indian National Congress where experiences were shared, while closer to home, taking a major interest in the African anti-colonial struggles. Desai established the Gujarati-English weekly paper - the East African Chronicle, where he covered the injustices by the colonial administration towards the Africans and the South Asians.

Abortion Wars

Volume 15, Issue 1 | Published 11/07/2018  

Author: Judith Orr

Publ: Policy Press

Reviewer: Emma Davis

Abortion Wars is a fantastic analysis of past and present-day debates and fights for abortion rights — but it is also a tool for organisation and resistance.

Judith Orr describes the period we are living in as ‘a choice moment’, shaped by the clash between huge threats from Donald Trump and the anti-choice movement on the one hand and the growth of movements for women’s rights, like the women’s marches in January 2017 and abortion rights movements in Ireland and Poland.

Orr explains that abortion is as old as humanity. Women have always sought to control their fertility. She explores how and why the state, often with the backing of the church, has tried to take this control away from women — locating their ideal role as child bearing and in the family.

Where there have been attempts to control women’s fertility, there has also been resistance — and Orr sees the struggle for abortion rights as part of the struggle for women’s liberation more broadly.

In the Name of Women's Rights

Volume 15, Issue 1 | Published 11/07/2018  

Author: Sara R Farris

Publ: Duke University Press

Reviewer: Sheila McGregor

Readers of Socialist Review will be familiar with arguments from extreme right wing and fascist organisations across Europe — often backed up by leading ‘feminists’ — that demonise Islam as incompatible with ‘Western’ cultural values, alleging Islam is misogynist and homophobic.

Sara R Farris aims to show that ‘femonationalism’ — ‘the weaving together of right wing nationalism, certain strains of feminism, and neoliberalism’ — is underpinned by ‘concrete materiality’ in the key role migrant women workers play in domestic and care-work. She focuses on the Netherlands, France and Italy.

Farris covers a great deal of ground: the rise of the extreme right in the countries in her study; the way in which well-known feminists have backed an Islamophobic agenda; the history of immigration policy and the way in which citizenship is now used as a tool to project the supposed superiority of ‘Western values’.

There is a great deal of interesting material, including a discussion about the use of Marx’s concept of a reserve army of labour. Much of what she says about the convergence of a certain kind of ‘feminist’ agenda with the state on policies on immigration is uncontroversial.

Ferris makes three interconnected arguments. First, the framing of Islam as anti-women has allowed Muslim women (and by extension all migrant women) to be portrayed as victims in need of rescue counterposed to ‘violent’ Muslim men.