Africa has been given persistently the negative image of the lost continent: political turmoil, economic failures, hunger, disease, irresponsible and irrational warlords and corrupt regimes.
Such a bias calls for a critique. The authors seek to analyse power divisions and struggles over sovereignty and legitimacy in African societies from a historical point of view. Possibilities for peaceful social relations are taken as much into account as internal frictions between state and "traditional authorities". In a striking difference to the legitimacy claims of single-rooted states, political legitimacy in many African states derives from two sources: the imposed European colonial states and the pre-colonial African polities. State and traditional authorities (systems of chieftaincy) depend on each other's contributions in striving towards the goals they both desire to achieve in the fields of development, stable democratic governance and human rights.
"Indigenous" institutions are not necessarily inferior to state institutions. The opposite might be true in view of the capacity of the traditional institutions not just to decide internal disputes, but actually to solve them and thus contribute to social cohesion. Such a perspective is highly relevant for a variety of concrete social relations of which gender relations are one important aspect.
E. Adriaan B. van Rouveroy van Nieuwaal is a senior researcher at the Africa Studies Centre in Leiden and part-time professor at the University of Leiden.
Werner Zips is lecturer at the Institut für Völkerkunde der Universität Wien.