African Arguments Book Series


The African Arguments book series are short books about Africa today, aimed at the growing number of students and general readers who want to know more about the continent.  

These books intend to highlight many of the longer-term strategic as well as immediate political issues confronting the African continent. They get to the heart of why Africa is the way it is and how it is changing.

 The books are scholarly but engaged, substantive as well as topical.This series is published by the International African Institute and Zed Books, supported by the Royal African Society and the World Peace Foundation, Tufts University

Visit the ZED Bookstore to see the full collection of titles. 

Africa: why economists get it wrong
Written by Morten Jerven

Morten Jerven seeks to fundamentally reframe the debate around African economics, challenging mainstream accounts. Whilst for the past two decades experts have focused on explaining why there has been a ‘chronic failure of growth’ in Africa, Jerven shows that African economies grew rapidly in the 50s, the 1960s, and even into the 1970s. And most African economies have been growing at a rapid pace since the mid-90s. Therefore African states were dismissed as incapable of development based largely on observations made during the 1980s and early 1990s. The result has been misguided analysis and policy.

Congo's Environmental Paradox: potential and predation in a land of plenty
Written by Theodore Trefon

 Congo has the natural resources the world needs. Its forests count in the fight against global climate change and its mining sector helps satisfy our addiction to the latest high tech gadgets. Congo’s farmers could feed all of Africa’s population of over a billion people. The Inga hydroelectric site has the potential to light up the entire continent. These realities are redefining the country’s strategic place in a globalized world. Telling a different story about power and nature, Congo’s Environmental Paradox examines the dynamics of this huge country’s forest, mining, land, water and oil sectors in an integrated way. It connects the dots by emphasizing resource diversity, interlinkages and the complex nature of these sectors. Congo’s incredible natural wealth has the potential to contribute to development in this troubled central African country – but structural problems, cultural factors, poor governance and predation remain serious challenges. Clearly written, full of environmental facts and analyses, this volume is a must-read for anyone interested in development and the political economy of natural resource management in Africa.

An invaluable contribution – a truly remarkable synthesis of the pathways to Congolese economic improvement and the many roadblocks along the way. The succinct and sparkling summation of the key elements of the political economy is most useful. The author's capacity to convey a rich treasure chest of information and acute analytical skills make this a landmark work. – Crawford Young, University of Wisconsin


Ebola: how a people's science helped end an African epidemic
Written by Paul Richards

From December 2013, the largest Ebola outbreak in history swept across West Africa, claiming thousands of lives in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. By the middle of 2014, the international community was gripped by hysteria. Experts grimly predicted that millions would be infected within months, and a huge international control effort was mounted to contain the virus. Yet paradoxically, by this point the disease was already going into decline in Africa itself. So why did outside observers get it so wrong? Paul Richards draws on his extensive fieldwork in Sierra Leone to argue that the international community’s panicky response failed to take account of local expertise and common sense. Crucially, Richards shows that the humanitarian response to the disease was most effective in those areas where it supported these initiatives – such as giving local people agency in terms of disposing of bodies – and actually hampered recovery when it ignored or disregarded local knowledge. An essential account of what actually occurred during the Ebola outbreak, and its implications for harnessing the power of local communities for future humanitarian health crises.

Paul Richards is an anthropologist with over forty-five years’ experience of living and working in West Africa, having conducted fieldwork in Nigeria, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. He is emeritus professor of technology and agrarian development at Wageningen University. His previous books include No Peace, No War and Fighting for the Rainforest.