Social and political exclusion in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Reading List

2013 was dubbed the “Year of Pan-Africanism and African renaissance” by the African Union, in a celebration of 50 years of organized African unity. However, the search for a sense of the universal African or a pan-African identity and the pursuit of effective economic development have been largely unsuccessful. One of the reasons that this is true is that the African Union and African governments have failed to incorporate marginalized peoples.

1389 50 Year anniversary of African Unity

           The continent has a long history of social and political exclusion, most notably in the form of colonial rule, which marginalized entire African populations. Unfortunately, however, this exclusion is not merely a thing of the past and continues to undermine the efforts of the African Union. The failure to incorporate elements of society (such as women) into the workforce has stunted the growth of the economy, making production inefficient and the market limited. Race, ethnicity and religion continue to cause conflict across the continent, and the diaspora is often excluded from “belonging”. Identity remains categorically segmented, certain groups remain consistently segregated, and the prospects of African unity and development seem to be creeping further from view.

            The following list of novels aims as providing a diverse view of different elements of categorization and marginalization, both illuminating and challenging traditional images of identity and belonging. Themes like gender, ethnicity, nationality, disability and persecution are dealt with by acclaimed authors across the continent. 

1. Ngugi Wa thiong’o. Weep Not, Child. First published 1964 (edition suggested: Penguin Group, 2009)

This book deals with the colonial struggles over land and political reprsentation, focussed on the Mau-Mau clash in Kenya. Ngugi is an important Kenyan author, and coined the phrase "decolonizing the African mind". He has had controversial viewpoints on the writing of fiction in native languages 

2. Coeztee, J.M. The Life and Times of Michael K. 1983 (Viking Press, 1983)

Coetzee is a winner of the Nobel Prize for literature and writes about disability, class and urbanization in apartheid South Africa by following the fictional figure of Michael K. 

3. Dangarembga, Tsitsi. Nervous Conditions. 1988 (Women’s Press, 1988) 

Dangarembga continues to be an important voice for women (and female artists in particular) in Zimbabwe, where she is the director of Women Film-makers of Zimbabwe. Her book deals with education, gender and the returning diaspora. 

4. Achebe, Chinua. Arrow of God. 1964 (Anchor Press, 1989)

Often hailed the father of African literature, Achebe wrote this book as part of his "Things Fall Apart" series. It focusses on religion and colonialism. 

1388 Chinua Achebe reads from "Things Fall Apart",

5. Isegawa, Moses. Abyssinian Chronicles. 1998 (Vintage, 2001)

This novel is not, in fact, about Ethiopia (of Abyssinia) but invests in a play on words with regard to a land full of abysses. Set in Uganda, the book addresses the rule of Idi Amin and conflict in the country. 

6. Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Half of a Yellow Sun. 2006 (Anchor, 2007)

Adichie writes about the Nigerian civil war, an ethnic clash caused by the attempt to form a igbo republic of Biafra. Dynamics of race, gender and class are ever present in this captivating novel. 

7. Mudimbe, V.Y. Le Bel immonde/ Before the Birth of the Moon. 1976 (French: Le presence africaine, 1976. English: Fireside, 1989.)

Sexual scandal, political intrigue and manipulation form the basis for Mudimbe's book. Complicated images of gender, loyalty and organization make this a fascinating read to consider in relation to marginalization and exlusion. 

8. Ba, Mariama. Une si longue letter / So Long a Letter. 1981 (French: French and European PBNS, 2001. English: Heinemann, 2008)

One of the most important books about gender in Africa, Ba's novel traces the life of a woman who married below her social status and her experiences of betrayal and cruelty at the hands of her husband and in-laws. 

9. Salih, Tayeb. Seasons of Migration to the North. 1966 (NYRB Classics, 2009)

Set in the Sudan, this novel follows a narrator in his discovery of the scandalous past of his late neighbour. The clas between traditional and western values is striking, as is the complications of all the characters in their loyalties, identities and obsessiosn. 

1387 NoViolet Bulawayo's novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 

10. Bulawayo, NoViolet. We Need New Names. 2013 (Reagan Arthur Books, 2013)

This novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and follows a young girl called Darling. We come to understand the oppression and poverty Darling's family and friends face, as well as her struggles in immigrating to the United States and the contradictions in her own ideas of belonging and nationality. 


Recommended further reading:

- Oyono, Fedinand. Une vie de boy/ Houseboy. 1956 (French: Presse pocket, 2006. English: Heinemann, 1990)

- Okorafor, Nnedi. Who Fears Death. 2010 (DAW Trade, 2011)