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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 2 .

Frontiersmen: Warfare in Africa since 1950
Anthony Clayton

(London: University College London Press, 1999).
235pp. Index. Bibl. Hb.: ISBN 1-85728-524-7. Pb.: 1-85728-525-5.

The author examines armed conflicts in Africa since 1950, ranging from those in industrialized states like South Africa, to battles in essentially stateless regions. The main theme of the book is that these varied conflicts fit a 'frontiersmen' framework, in which enterprising individuals and groups battle for resources and opportunity.

This thesis suffers from vagueness; all conflicts have element of battling over resources. Taken together, however, Clayton's case studies show warfare in Africa 'superceding the Western style nation, though not doing so deliberately'(p. 207). Battles in Sierra Leone and Congo are a far cry from anti-colonial struggles of Algeria or Angola in the 1960s and 1970s. The former are much concerned with access to loot. In the latter, insurgents fought to make states in a European image. Guinea-Bissau highlights this change. During the 1960s and 1970s, Amilcar Cabral used warfare to build institutions of rule. Since 1998, the country has been gripped by divisive factional fighting. Viewed through the lens of the organization and goals of warfare, colonialism and the immediate Cold War aftermath appears as a parenthesis, rather than an end for significant parts of Africa.

These changes raise several questions. First, why are so few 'new' insurgencies secessionist? Of the cases that Clayton describes, only Biafra's and Katanga's leaders advertised that they would create new states. More recently, insurgents in Eritrea and Somaliland justified separation in terms of restoring colonial era boundaries. Most insurgents, notes Clayton, aim to capture State House. Has the idea of European style states deserted African insurgents?

Second, what is the nature of African warfare at the close of the century? Clayton writes that 'few approximate to accepted Western concepts of war, that is, warfare between armies of nation states or European civil wars.'(p. 205). Yet Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front shows South African anti-insurgency methods in their use of exemplary violence to control non-combatants. Mozambique's RENAMO was, as Clayton points out, a Rhodesian, then South African proxy. Liberian warlord (then President) Charles Taylor picked up this strategy when he threatened to 'do a RENAMO' on neighboring Sierra Leone (p. 196). The use of home guards in the Sierra Leone Government's battle against insurgents derives directly from South Africa, through the training of a South African company, Executive Outcomes.

None of these comments, however, detract from my conclusion that this is a fine piece of scholarship that is required reading for students of African warfare.

William Reno
Florida International University

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