Richard Lawless and Allan Findlay, eds., North Africa: Contemporary Politics and Economic Development (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984).
More than fifteen years have passed since the appearance of Samir Amin’s excellent book on the Maghreb. None of the dozen or so books on the subject that have appeared since then have come close to Amin’s clarity and analytical power. So much has happened in the intervening years that a new book on the topic is now sorely needed. Lawless and Findlay’s North Africa is a welcome arrival, but unfortunately it fails to meet this need.
The editors have brought together ten scholars who have contributed eight separate chapters — one each on politics and economy in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. Though many of the chapters are useful and some excellent, the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Amin brought a comparative perspective to bear, looking at the Maghreb states as a whole, while here authors tend to stay within the boundaries of particular countries. Amin developed a broad perspective of political economy, while the authors here are constrained by the structure of the book to concentrate on “political” or “economic” aspects of their countries. The results are too uneven and disjointed to provide a satisfactory overview of the Maghreb.
Some of the articles, taken alone, have much to recommend them. Werner Ruf provides a compelling analysis of Tunisia, coming closest to Amin’s organic form of analysis. Unfortunately, Ruf s essay is the briefest in the book and as a result tends to be too schematic. Likewise, Peter and Marion Sluglett have produced an excellent general piece on Morocco, but it is marred by too great an emphasis on the pre-independence period, at the expense of contemporary developments. Pandeli Glavanis has some very useful insights on Libya, but this essay is too tediously theoretical. Other essays are individually weak. Hugh Roberts, after a promising beginning, gets bogged down in the endless movement of personalities in and out of the Algerian regime. And Anne Findlay ticks off the problems and prospects of the Moroccan economy in the manner of a World Bank report.
An editor’s unifying design would have greatly strengthened this book, and an editor’s strong involvement at the textual level would have made it more readable as well. We still await a worthy successor to Amin. Meanwhile, we will refer to Lawless and Findlay’s book as a useful source on recent developments in the Maghreb.