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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2006, Vol, 6 No. 1 .


Conflict Prevention from Rhetoric to Reality: Volume 1; Organizations and Institutions, and Volume 2; Opportunities and Innovations
Albert Schnabel and David Carment (eds.)

Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2004. Lexington Books, 2004
437 pp 18.99 HB ISBN 0-7391-0549-3, PB ISBN 07391-0738-0 v.1
444 pp 19.00 HB ISBN 0-7391-0550-7.PB ISBN 0-7391-0739-9 v.1


These two seventeen essay volumes that have been edited by Albrecht Schnabel and David Carment are concerned with the practice and theory of international conflict prevention.

In volume one, the contributors scrutinize the regional organizations and the United Nation?s (UN) preventive attempts in reaction to latest intra and interstate violent conflicts. There is also an elucidation on how these efforts have been favorably mainstreamed into the activities of both. The volume is divided into three parts, and begins with regional views on the sources, causatum and preventive reactions to anticipated conflict. This is followed by an examination of regional activities? mainstreaming of preventive thinking. The third section looks at how the UN is incorporating a preventive perspective into its daily activities. To conclude, a comparative study encompassing the UN and regional organizations is offered.

Drawing on analysts? and conflict prevention practitioners? perspectives, volume two critically examines opportunities within and innovations to conflict prevention in practice. The aim is to clarify three conventional subjects on the contemporary practice of conflict prevention. Firstly, they show that the response options of various actors, including governments, non-governmental organizations, corporations and multilateral institutions are informed by the actors? ?diverse mandates, leadership, funding, operational activities and the entry points to prevention that are part of the organizations? core? (4). Secondly, while appreciating that the various actors approach conflict prevention from different angles, it is noted that they evince common objectives hence the need for interaction and conjunction. Conflict prevention can be applied by different actors and at various stages of the conflict. Lastly, the book underscores that preventive efforts are malleable.

Read together or separately these two volumes will be a useful and stimulating read for all those who are interested in different aspects of current conflict whether it is ethnic conflict, state failure, genocide or even large scale violations of human rights. Their attempt to bridge the analytical gap between practitioners and scholars makes them recommendable reading for both, especially those who approach ethnic conflict and peace studies from a political science and international relations background. The two tomes can be used in the teaching, training and implementation of conflict prevention. Whilst the rest of the contents might appeal to decision-makers and practitioners, academics might find the second volume particularly pertinent, as it challenges them to develop risk assessment tools that are of relevance for policy application.

I regard the fourth chapter of the second volume (63-77) as read with other references to the gender dimension (217, vol.1) as one of the book?s greatest strengths as it places the compendiums in line with contemporary discourse. This thinking takes its lead from UN Security Council Resolution 1325 of 2000 and the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, which asserted that:

{I}n addressing armed or other conflicts, an active and visible policy of mainstreaming a gender perspective into all policies and programs should be promoted so that before decisions are taken, an analysis is made of the effects on women and men, respectively.[1]

While the scholarship is of unquestionable merit, it is however arguable that too much attention has been paid to the role of external actors at the expense of the needs and contribution of local functionaries. For example, whilst Africa is seen as being one of the places that defy all conflict prevention efforts (vol.1, 149; vol. 2, 135), out of volume one?s seventeen chapters, only two are dedicated to the region. More so, the chapter that discusses mainstreaming conflict prevention at this regional level is restricted to East African efforts. One might recommend that future scholarship that seeks to demonstrate that conflict prevention has moved ?from rhetoric to reality? pay more attention to preventive efforts by local actors in conflict prone regions. It could be asserted that viewing causes of African conflicts through Western lenses could be one of the reasons why analysis of different regional actors may point to intrinsically different causes of conflict.

Nevertheless these two volumes do add value to existing literature on conflict prevention. Their overall contribution to conflict and peace studies is threefold. Firstly, there is a demonstration that regional and international organizations are currently incorporating conflict prevention thinking in their activities. Secondly, there is clarification on the need to move conflict prevention ?from rhetoric to reality? (title). Finally, there is an illumination of the under researched idea that capacity-building, political and financial feasibility, are core to conflict prevention.


Khanyisela Moyo PhD Research Fellow, Transitional Justice Institute, University of Ulster



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