No. 1: Peacebuilding, Power, and Politics in Africa / Meike de Goede / International Affairs / July 2013

Reviewed in: International Affairs, Vol. 89, Issue 4, pp. 1073-1074, July 2013

Peacebuilding, Power, and Politics in Africa, Edited by Devon Curtis and Gwinyayi A. Dzinesa. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press. 2012. 353pp. Index. Pb.: £29.50. ISBN 987 0 82142 013 3. Available as e-book.

This collection of papers offers an in-depth discussion of approaches to, and the politics of, peacebuilding in Africa. The chapters in the first section of the book look at main themes and debates in peacebuilding, while the second section focuses on underlying ideologies and peacebuilding institutions. The book ends with a selection of case-studies. That many of the authors of the 15 chapters arc African adds significance to the book as a welcome contribution to the field of African peace studies.

What makes the book particularly interesting is the emphasis on peacebuilding as a process in which local and global ideas interact: ideas that are mediated by local, national, regional and international actors. A central theme throughout the book is thus the clashes between local and global ideas about peace, and the contest over legitimacy and ownership over both the process and the objectives of peacebuilding. The chapters in the book engage with issues such as the paradoxical situation whereby emancipatory local ownership in practice requires a role for the international community that contradicts the very principles of local ownership, but also with the differences between local and international expectations of what this local ownership should entail.

This is topical and relevant, as it is becoming more and more clear that local actors may not necessarily share the objectives, strategies and priorities of externally driven peace­building programmes. Scholarship on local resistance to externally driven peace processes has developed quickly in recent years. The papers brought together by Curtis and Dzinesa arc all based on rich case material and written by experts in their field. As such, the collection is a welcome contribution to this debate in peace studies.

One of the most interesting chapters is that on the International Criminal Court (ICC), by Sarah Nouwen. Perceptions in Africa of the ICC are ambiguous: whereas sometimes, and in some contexts, it is perceived as an instrument to end brutal civil wars, it is on other occasions considered to be an instrument of western policing over Africa, or as a political instrument to sideline unwanted political actors, such as Congo's Jean-Pierre Bemba, while leaving others with similar human rights records untouched. Based on the ICC's experiences in Uganda and Sudan, Nouwen's chapter is a provocative reflection on the ICC's 'no peace without justice ideology' and engages with the ambiguity towards the court as felt on the African continent. She argues that the core of the problem lies in the fact that the ICC is dependent on others (states) for cooperation, which means that 'these others can use the Court as an instrument to pursue their strategic aims' (p. 187). Although in a different way than in the other chapters in the book, this problematic is essentially about issues of ownership and foreign interference in peace processes in Africa.

Whereas the book promises a critical discussion of contests over local ownership and legitimacy in peacebuilding, it does not always deliver upon this promise. Chris Landsberg's chapter on the Pan-African Ministers Conference for Public and Civil Service is in itself informative, as the Conference is perhaps little known. The very interesting issue of how 'peacebuilding and reconstruction initiatives are shaped by global ideas and approaches, but also ... are interrogated and adapted to African conditions' (p. 123) is mentioned but not well developed in the chapter. Also, the tension between the 'natural threat of dependency on donors' and African insistence on ownership (p. 127) is highly relevant, especially when the author later argues that the Conference fails on the level of implementation. Because this is at the very core of the problematic of the ownership debate development practitioners and policy-makers are faced with, it begs for a critical reflection, which is not delivered. In the view of this reviewer, the absence of a reflective chapter in which the tensions and issue that are highlighted in the individual chapters are brought together and critically discussed is the main weakness of the book. Nevertheless, the book offers a good overview of peacebuilding and particular issues related to the African context. Based on rich case material from all over the continent, both in the case chapters as well as in the thematic chapters, the book offers insightful discussion on relevant themes.

Meike de Goede
University of Edinburgh, UK

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