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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 2 .

Ethnicity Kills? The Politics of War Peace and Ethnicity in Sub-Saharan Africa
Einar Braathen, Morten Bøås, and Gjermund Sæther, eds.

New York: Macmillan Press, Ltd., 2000
223pp. Index. Biblio. Hb.: ISBN 0-333-77381-0.

The key to the book's argument is the question mark in the title: the editors and contributors intend to make the point that the cause of conflict and violence in Africa "is not some kind of automatic 'ethnicity kills' process facilitated by ethnic identity, but the expansion and then retreat of the [post-colonial] neo-patrimonial state, followed by widespread social exclusion." (p.193) They argue that there are two turning points in this development, one when the post-colonial state halts its expansion (when it becomes too powerful and/or loses its integrative/institutionalizing/legitimizing aspects and mechanisms), and two, when the struggles resulting from the first turning point are militarized. The six case studies (on Somalia, by Ahmed Samatar; Rwanda, by Antoine Lema; Congo-Brazzaville, by Anne Sundberg; Liberia, by Gjermund Saether; Nigeria, by Morten Boas; and Mozambique, by Michael Cahen) are careful, well-documented analyses on these themes, all supplemented by a superb "Meditation" on the politics of war by V.Y. Mudimbe, and an excellent introduction and conclusion by the editors. Of particular value was Ahmed Samatar's essay on Somalia: rather than simply retell that story and recast it in his own terms, he explores the various explanations and narratives offered for the Somali disaster and suggest a framework which, for once, makes sense of Somali "ethnicity." At all events, these essays tie well together and provide an excellent contribution to the continuing debates about the ethnic factor in African politics. If there is a criticism to be made about this collection it is that it has a blind spot: the link between ethnic and religious identity, and how those elements can conjoin to make a politically incendiary, and sometimes explosive, mixture. After all, identity almost never depends on just one element; in all of us the elements of identity are layered, with those of greatest salience (like ethnicity) on top. Where religious identity has such salience and is associated with ethnicity, as has long been the case in Northern Nigeria, highly politicized events such the introduction of sharia law in some Muslim states, can help ignite inter-religious/inter-ethnic violence - as they did recently in Kaduna. Those elements are also very much present in the Sudanese civil war, and need to be taken into consideration in any broad discussion of ethnic conflict on the continent.

(Prof.) Victor T. Le Vine, Department of Political

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