No. 3: Peacebuilding, Power, and Politics in Africa / David J. Hornsby / South African Journal of International Affairs, October 2013

Reviewed in: South African Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 20, No. 3, October 2013, pp. 459-466

Peacebuilding, Power, and Politics in Africa edited by Devon Curtis and Gwinyayi A. Dzinesa, Johannesburg, Wits University Press, 2013, 353 pp., US$26.36, ISBN 978-1-86814-574-4

The aspiration of sustainable peace on the African continent continues to be elusive. Recent events in such African states as Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, the Central African Republic, Sudan, Somalia and Libya reinforce this. Indeed, many of the world's most intractable and horrendous conflicts have either taken place or are presently located on the continent, leaving many perplexed as to what can be done in order to solve them. While it is common belief that the scourge of colonialism often is at the root of many African conflicts, the present volume broadens this consideration by looking across cases to consider pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial conflict in Africa. In doing so, the opportunity to draw from a wider set of experiences and lessons is offered and enriches the conceptual understandings of peacebuilding that currently exist. By bringing together an impressive list of contributors that come from a broad range of intellectual perspectives but maintain real experience and understanding of Africa, Curtis and Dzinesa have deepened our understanding of peacebuilding and thus have made a significant contribution to the literature. Indeed, this volume deserves to become a standard text for anyone seeking to understand peacebuilding and conflict in Africa.

Like any edited volume, the introductory chapter sets the tone for what the reader should expect and what the book offers. Curtis has done an exceptional job in contextualising the contribution of the volume and discusses how it advances thinking around the idea of peacebuilding on the continent. Of particular service is the definition and discussion of the evolution of the peacebuilding concept. Peace, and thereby peacebuilding, can be defined as a lack of physical violence (negative peace) or as the absence of structural violence (positive peace), the latter definition being largely influenced by contemporary human security considerations such as the presence of gender violence, environmental degradation, poverty and inequality. As such, peacebuilding can be viewed, Curtis is accurate to note, as a process that sees the interaction of international and local ideas. Further, peacebuilding can be considered from different perspectives and in different ways; by looking to the role of peace negotiations, security sector governance, statebuilding and efforts for disarmament, nuance is introduced. With real conceptual clarity and care, Curtis walks the reader through the different perspectives from which peacebuilding can be considered, including those prioritising liberal ideals, and those focused on stabilisation vs those focused on social justice issues. Indeed, this introductory chapter is a great source for those wanting to understand contemporary debates on the subject and captures the complexity surrounding the dilemmas faced by policymakers appropriately.

Structurally, the book is well organised into three component parts and addresses key themes and debates in the field, discusses the role of continental and international institutions and provides a rich set of case studies. The first part considers a broad range of themes such as peace as an incentive for war, statebuilding and governance, security sector governance in peacebuilding, and the limits of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration. This section gets the reader to step back and consider the consequences of peacebuilding efforts on the continent, intended or not. The second section looks to the role of institutions in peacebuilding in Africa. Due analysis is given to frameworks espoused by the African Union, the New Economic Partnership for Africa's Development, the African Development Bank, the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Criminal Court and Pan African Ministerial Conferences. Often these institutions are integral to peacebuilding efforts but they are not always on the same page and certainly have had differing degrees of success and failure. The third section considers particular case studies from all the major regions in Sub-Saharan Africa and gives the book a great deal of empirical weight. Peacebuilding in Sudan, the Great Lakes Region, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the Niger Delta, Namibia, Angola, Mozambique and Somalia are all analysed and provide interesting insights into how the different themes and institutions discussed in parts I and II have played out. Indeed, this section highlights effectively the successes and failures in peacebuilding that exist on the African continent.

The book clearly maintains many strengths — the diversity of views, the consideration of thematic debates, the role of institutions, the use of case studies — and its regional concentration ensures that there is real depth and breadth within its pages. If any constructive criticism can be levelled it focuses on the fact that the role of regional groupings like the South African Development Community (SADC) or the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are not explicitly considered. These entities have tried in the past to exert influence in security and peacebuilding instances (SADC in Madagascar and ECOWAS in Côte D'Ivoire and Mali) and some discussion of this would have been interesting. Additionally, the volume lacks a concluding chapter, which could have been a good moment to reflect on the contributions and where peacebuilding in Africa is going. However, these are minor issues that certainly should not detract from the important contribution this book makes to understanding peacebuilding.

In all, this volume is a must for anyone interested in developing further understanding of security, peacebuilding and the politics of Africa. It would make an excellent contribution to any senior-level politics/international relations course on the topic and promises to be relevant well into the foreseeable future.

David J. Hornsby
University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa

Synopsis of the book »

Rate this item
(0 votes)

© 2018 Centre for Conflict Resolution 

Centre for Conflict Resolution, Coornhoop, 2 Dixton Road, Observatory 7925, Cape Town, South Africa

 Tel: +27 (0)21 689 1005 | Fax: +27 (0)21 689 1003