Introduction: Muslims Imagining the State in Africa

  • Donal B. Cruise O’Brien


The state in Africa enters the imagination along a religious path. This unfamiliar and formidable worldly power is approached, from below, in terms of great powers which had already been locally imagined, powers of the other world. Religions of African origin have their place here, as Comi Toulabor demonstrates for the Voudou imaginings in support of President Eyadema’s personal ascendancy in Togo.1 Such religions hold their place within what Ali Mazrui sees as Africa’s triple religious heritage, together with Islam and Christianity.2 But the religions of African origin have their problem of scale, in explaining or pretending to control the forces of world market or of the state.3 William Simmons illustrates this problem of scale in the case of the Badyaranke of southern Senegal, where arrival of the road after the Second World War has been followed by mass conversion to Islam.4 The local religious forces, the spirits, were seen to be powerless in the face of the road’s intrusion from the outside world, the people felt themselves to be at the mercy of forces beyond their previous imagining. For the disruptions of the world market, only a world religion would do.


National Election Political Theatre African State Opposition Parti Sacred Grove 


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© Donal B. Cruise O’Brien 2003

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  • Donal B. Cruise O’Brien

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