The Green State in Africa is a finely wrought study of the social, political, economic, and environmental effects of the green-state discourse and practice on the constitution of African states and societies. In Death’s words: “The green state in Africa is the effect of an assemblage of environmental rationalities, discourses, and technologies of government through which territories, populations, economies, and international relations have been brought within the scope of sedimented power relations” (pp. 15–16). This is a marvelous book, a must-read for anyone interested in global environmental governance, African political economy, state theory, and the intersections of the three. It is densely theoretical yet elegant in delivery and eminently readable. It is broad in scope but fine in detail. Its text is complemented by a series of photographs, each of which perfectly captures the mood of the particular chapters in which it appears. Trenchant epigrams set the tone for ensuing chapter-specific arguments. It has an extensive bibliography and, importantly, a detailed index, which seems to be something of a lost art these days.

The study is anchored by the interweaving of six key themes. First, the state is not a thing, but rather, following Foucault, a social form that “should be studied as an assemblage of practices, technologies and discourses” (p. 56). Second, the “green state” is not a particular “stage” of development, but rather a “changing assemblage of practices, technologies and discourses” (p. 63). Third, environmental politics constitutes the state in Africa in quite a different way than in the rest of the world. Fourth, there is a great deal of agency amid persistent structure, and this agency plays out unevenly across African states and societies. Fifth, there are winners and losers in African environmental politics, so change on behalf of those (people and the natural environment) that are most vulnerable is part of a (social/political/economic/ecological) struggle, not a deliberate outcome of techniques of management. Sixth, there is a great deal to be learned about the state in general, and the “green state” in particular, from African places and cases.

At the heart of the study is a normative agenda: in exploding a number of myths—among them, the unproblematic homogeneity of global environmental governance, green states, the African state, African unity, and the causes of African underdevelopment—Death aims to reveal the winners and losers in African environmental politics, highlighting the limited but very real ways in which the most vulnerable are able to exercise agency (by challenging, joining, and/or reframing dominant green discourses) to survivalist—never mind “sustainable”—ends. In Death’s words, “If nothing else, this book aims to convince that there are sites of resistance everywhere and that resistance is fertile” (p. 18).

In support of his argument, the book proceeds in two distinct parts—one theoretical, one empirical—with the earlier informing and shaping our understanding of the latter. In terms of theory, Death engages theories of the state, green states, African states, and the green state in Africa. His preference is for a critical approach arranged around a governmentality framework, where “governmentality” is defined as “diverse micropractices of power which exist broadly throughout society, not just in state institutions” (p. 57). This theoretical perspective allows Death to explore the balance between agency and structure in the context of the African state. This is key to his analysis, since his goal is not to dismiss the state but to show its relevance as well as its capacity for meaningful change, dependent upon the interplay of the constellation of social forces within the state, across the continent, and in the wider world. Reframing Tilly’s famous phrase, Death states: “Transnational environmental governance and monitoring makes African states” (p. 68). But, one must add, not necessarily as these actors, forces, and factors intend.

Death’s empirical chapters examine the effects of green-state discourses on the constitution of Africa’s states and societies, through four lenses: territories, populations, economies, and international relations. Each of these chapters is richly detailed, and so beyond the scope of this short review. An important common theme is that the “green state” in Africa is not of recent origin. Rather, it is “the effect of long-standing deep rooted endeavours to govern environmental resources” (p. 59). For Death, the place and history of Africa in the global political economy, as well as the specific historical constitution of African states and societies, reflects the overwhelming centrality of resource governance in state formation. Put differently, the “green state” is a new variation on an old theme. Indeed, he suggests that the “the future transnational green state [in Africa] might, in some respects, have some family resemblances to the colonial or authoritarian state” (p. 68).

Each chapter is informed by a similar primary question for investigation: How do African states govern land and territory (chapter 3), people and population (chapter 4), and economies and markets (chapter 5), and what are the international relations of African states (chapter 6), as seen through the lens of green discourses and practices? Death walks us across space and time to explicate his answers. From Ethiopia to Senegal and Nigeria, from South Africa to Kenya and Botswana, and in many places between, Death illustrates how differently empowered actors have employed evolving discourses concerning the governance of land, water, and related resources, sometimes to their advantage. Unsurprisingly, as he himself points out, what this analysis reveals is that those best placed to take advantage of changing narratives regarding “green-state” perspectives and practices—including transfrontier conservation areas, green consumers, educated farmers, carbon sequestration proponents, and biofuel markets—are those already empowered. In relation to transcontinental action in support of “green economies,” Death recognizes that the “solidarity of African heads of state…is deeply problematic” (p. 278). Nevertheless, he argues that there remains space for positive change at a variety of scales.

This is a deeply reflexive project, encouraging the reader to question received ideas at every turn, ultimately in the service of what Death calls critical solidarities. In his words, caught between “homogenizing dynamics” and “exemplary logics,” the most vulnerable must compete for visibility (p. 231). Death helps us see these groups and individuals by setting them in their local contexts and showing us how they are impacted by green-state discourses and practices. Importantly, he shows us that they are not simply disempowered victims, but agents and subjects of their own future. For those interested in environmental justice, the task is to take this knowledge forward in theory and practice.