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Season of Rains

Africa in the World

With a Foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu

 Africa is playing a more important role in world affairs than ever before. Yet the most common images of Africa in the American mind are ones of poverty, starvation, and violent conflict. But while these problems are real, that does not mean that Africa is a lost cause. Instead, as Stephen Ellis explains in Season of Rains, we need to rethink Africa’s place in time if we are to understand it in all its complexity—it is a region where growth and prosperity coexist with failed states. This engaging, accessible book by one of the world’s foremost researchers on Africa captures the broad spectrum of political, economic, and social foundations that make Africa what it is today.
Ellis is careful not to position himself in the futile debate between Afro-optimists and Afro-pessimists. The forty-nine diverse nations that make up sub-Saharan Africa are neither doomed to fail nor destined to succeed. As he assesses the challenges of African sovereignties, Ellis is not under the illusion that governments will suddenly become more benevolent and less corrupt. Yet, he sees great dynamism in recent technological and economic developments. The proliferation of mobile phones alone has helped to overcome previous gaps in infrastructure, African retail markets are becoming integrated, and banking is expanding. Businesses from China and emerging powers from the West are investing more than ever before in the still land-rich region, and globalization is offering possibilities of enormous economic change for the growing population of one billion Africans, actively engaged in charting the future of their continent.
This highly readable survey of the continent today offers an indispensable guide to how money, power, and development are shaping Africa’s future.

224 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2012

African Studies

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Political Science: Comparative Politics


 "[Ellis] succeeds brilliantly in showing that the need to find a new way of understanding African politics is neither a merely academic question, nor a reason for the rest of the world to disengage with Africa. For while African states since the ending of empire may not be exemplars of sovereign virtue and while some may remain seemingly bottomless pits for the rich world’s largesse, they are, nonetheless, integral parts of the planet’s social, political, economic, and natural environment. What happens in Africa matters for everyone, not just Africans. . . .The author engages the subject from a decidedly African perspective, based on a deep knowledge and commitment to the continent and its people.”

Adam Ashforth, University of Michigan

“One of the most insightful and thought-provoking analyses of Africa of the last decade. Stephen Ellis mercilessly exposes the outdated preconceptions that mold outsiders’ interactions with the continent and the yawning gap between what statesmen, diplomats, and aid officials would like the continent to be and what it really is. His conclusion is refreshingly upbeat.”

Michela Wrong, author of It’s Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistleblower

“This book is a lucid and brief analysis of Africa in the world. It is a subversive masterpiece, undermining stereotypes of and about Africans. Everyone interested in Africa should read it to give their assumptions an invigorating cold shower and to modify their own policies.”

Sir Edward Clay, former British High Commissioner to Kenya, for the Royal African Society

“An outstanding, original and provocative work. . . . The breadth of Season of Rains is extremely impressive. . . . its greatest strength is the way it manages to convey a sense of both continuity and change. . . .  a considerable achievement.”

Daniel Branch, University of Warwick

“The notion, still popular in the west, that Africa is a lost continent, somehow cut adrift from global moorings, is given short shrift in this provocative assessment, which manages to combine a deep understanding of the way in which history informs the present with an appreciation of the enormous change that globalization is bringing.”

Economist, on the UK Edition

“Ellis is attentive to the changes that have marked Africa in recent years, and he concedes that meaningful economic growth has resulted in higher standards of living. . . . His in-depth knowledge makes [this book] essential reading for anyone seeking to understand Africa’s evolution.”

Foreign Affairs

“Stephen Ellis has produced a masterpiece. Season of Rains is the product of Ellis’s innovative and imaginative analysis of the mainsprings of Africa’s contemporary political and economic trajectories.  This book takes the reader over the horizon to peek at Africa’s place in a new world that is just coming into being and a clear-headed view of where it really has been. Ellis stands out as a pioneer analyst and scholar of a post-post-colonial Africa; an Africa that acts for itself in a world that cannot take this continent for granted.  Ellis writes in a manner that is equally accessible to professional scholars, policy experts, and the broad learned public. In this masterful book, he provides readers with the analytical framework for understanding the game-changing developments such as the aftermath of devastating wars, collapsing bureaucracies, the emergence of dynamic economies, and the arrival of China and other countries on the African stage that are affecting Africans and the rest of the world today.  It will be this book that will set the terms of debate for years to come.”

William Reno, author of Warfare in Independent Africa

“Season of Rains brilliantly succeeds in its goal of providing a succinct introduction to a continent which is still all too often conceived by external observers in stereotypes inherited from the post-colonial period, or indeed much further back in the history of ‘the dark continent.’ Especially since the end of the Cold War, or perhaps still more important since the appearance of the mobile phone, most of Africa is now far removed from the pictures both of wild animals and of starving children that continue to provide the overwhelming weight of coverage on western television screens. The central message of the book is that it is long past time for a decolonization of the western mind—and especially the minds of diplomats and aid officials, for whom this should be a compulsory text—from preconceptions of the continent as a backward zone in constant need of firm but sympathetic moral guidance by richer and more ‘developed’ powers.”

International Affairs

“In this thought-provoking book of modest length, Stephen Ellis dispenses with Afro-pessimism, neocolonialism and leadership failure and takes an extended historical view. Africa, he argues, is functioning much as it always has. Times change, but the relationship between the continent’s elites, the rest of the world and the mass of its people has not.”

Natal Witness (South Africa)

“Although this tome is succinct, running in at only 170 pages, Ellis convincingly deconstructs postcolonial pessimism that the region is a lost cause.”

National (UAE)

“Stephen Ellis’s short book—just six chapters—is calmly analytical rather than alarming or predictive. He has an eye for inverting widely held beliefs. He attacks, for example, the militant pan-Africanists who blame the continent’s predicament on colonialism and neocolonialism. On the contrary, he says, it is the African rulers who were always in control, deftly manipulating former colonial masters into giving aid or else. He recalls Claude Ake, a Nigerian academic, who showed in the 1990s that it was often in the interests of African rulers to keep their countries from developing. The aid relationship offered them funding ‘beyond the limits of any tax contract with their own citizens,’ and they used the threat of chaos to warn donors that the aid must keep flowing.”

Wall Street Journal

"Stephen Ellis has written an intriguing, beautifully written book. . . . It makes a compelling and challenging main argument: that the Western-dominated vision of Africa-as-incompetent has to be replaced or at least challenged by new thinking to more accurately reflect the continent’s place in a fast-changing world. . . . Recommended."--Choice


“Ellis has written a timely and nuanced book on Africa in all its ambiguities and contradictions. His remarkable historical knowledge informs his acute insights into contemporary Africa, reflecting over three decades of searingly honest and perspicacious engagement with the continent. His analysis is required reading for anyone who cares about Africa and its role in the world.”

Andrew Feinstein, author of After the Party

Table of Contents

Foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu

1. Africa in Time
2. A World of Light and Shade
3.  Money and Land
4.  How to be a Hegemon
5.  Matters of State
6.  Twenty-first Century Development


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