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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2005, Vol. 5 No. 1 .

Burundi on the Brink 1993-95 A UN Special Envoy Reflects on Preventive Diplomacy
Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah

Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2000
169 pp PB $8.95 ISBN 1-929223-00-5

This book is a memoir by the author, who worked in Burundi from 1993 - 1995 and tells the story of his efforts as a special representative of the UN Secretary General to prevent a serious domestic crisis from exploding into a devastating, genocide conflict. According to the author (p. 3), the story is worth telling for at least two reasons. First, it enhances the understanding of the nature and dynamics of conflict in Burundi, a country whose postcolonial experience of political turmoil and ethnic strife is sadly all too typical for many African nations. Second, it stands as an example of the possibilities and limitations of preventive diplomacy, which, in the author?s opinion, looks for ways to respond to, and to contain, the tide of intrastate conflict.

The book starts off with an overview of Burundi, its geography, demography, its politics and culture and looks at the role of women. The author then continues with a discussion on his mandate for Burundi, from looking, listening and learning to restoring confidence and rebuilding political stability. Other chapters examine the return of the country from the brink, followed by a debate of the peace process and ending with suggested guidelines for preventive diplomacy.

This book reads like a thriller. It is a passionate and very insightful study of not only politically complex, but explosive situations amongst the different clans in Burundi and the factors, which gave rise to conflict.

The writer?s brilliant analytical and negotiation skills, together with his expertise of civil conflict, meld nicely into an excellent source of information with regard to preventive diplomacy in a conflict-stricken country.

The author critically, but cogently and open-mindedly, points out problem areas within preventive diplomacy, but, in turn, gives profound advice as to how it may be possible for the UN system and the international community to overcome those shortcomings. This, indeed, is very useful. About a quarter of the book is on those ?guidelines for preventive diplomacy?.

This edition is a valuable source of information not only for NGO - and UN workers, but scholars and practitioners working in this field, who are interested in getting to know how matters work ? or may not work ? in international relations and within the UN?s conflict resolution approach, here in particular through preventive diplomacy.

For those interested in these issues, this book is indispensable as the book is an invaluable contribution to ethnic conflict and peace studies literature.

It may be stated, however, that the book seems like a bitter criticism of the UN, in particular, the Secretary General of the time, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, but also the UN system itself, which gives this otherwise fascinating book a sour undertone.

Helga Pieper, INCORE Associate, PhD student with the School of International Affairs, Faculty of Arts, University of Ulster

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