Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Provisional book recommendation

I've read Lydia Polgreen's reports from Africa for the New York Times for years. She's a good journalist. She recently reviewed Dayo Olopade's book, The Bright Continent.

From this review I offer this conditional recommendation. For those of you who teach about Nigeria or another African country, put this book on your summer reading list. Reserve it at your local public library. Persuade the school librarian to order it for you now. Use the remainder of your materials budget to buy the book ($26). Collect the spare change from your dresser top if needed.

IF Polgreen's review represents the book, Olopade, a Nigerian-American journalist, has some valuable lessons for those of us trying to teach about Nigeria while isolated in American classrooms.

The Bright Continent by Dayo Olopade
Dayo Olopade’s Bright Continent, as its title suggests, is a corrective to Africa’s image as a dark, hopeless place. In fact, it is home to several of the world’s fastest-growing economies and more than a billion would-be consumers…

Dayo Olopade
Africa’s gains have come not because of Western largess or painful structural adjustment programs set out by the likes of the International Monetary Fund, Olopade argues, nor are they the work of governments. They are largely the fruit of Africans’ efforts to help themselves, through creative means that sometimes involve breaking the rules…

“One of the biggest problems with the world’s longtime orientation toward Africa is a preference for interactions between governments, or between formal institutions, when the most vibrant, authentic and economically significant interactions are between individuals and decentralized groups,” [Olopade writes]…

Central to Olopade’s thesis is the concept of kanju, a term that describes “the specific creativity born from African difficulty.” It is the rule-bending ethos that makes it possible to get things done in the face of headaches like crumbling infrastructure, corrupt bureaucracy and tightfisted banks unwilling to make loans to people without political connections…

These insights start out sounding clever, but by the time kanju is referred to as a “killer app” they have begun to grate. This is neither wholly a reporter’s book (its tone is too boosterish) nor a business book (it is too well reported).

Indeed, it is something in between. Things like close family ties, necessity-driven innovation and ingenuity are a source of strength, Olopade writes, and gives countless examples. But in each case, the opposite can also be true.

Family ties are a tremendous source of strength in many African societies, but family ties can also hold people back. In places where so few people have jobs, one earner must support many mouths, making it impossible to save anything…

More broadly… the most thoroughgoing change in any society is almost always political. Giving people a voice through their elected officials to transform their societies is the most empowering change of all, but in Olopade’s world, government is a millstone to progress, not its engine.

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed.

What You Need to Know is a thorough review of comparative government and politics as described in the AP curriculum.


Just The Facts! is a catalog of concepts, terminology, and examples that can help you review for May's exam.


What You Need to Know: Teaching Tools, the original version and  v2.0 are now available.


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At 5:49 AM, Blogger Ken Wedding said...

John Unruh-Friesen in Minnetonka, MN posted a link to an interview with the author. It's worth checking out.

The Bright Continent


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