restricted access Peacebuilding in the African Union: Law, Philosophy and Practice by Abou Jeng (review)
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Abou Jeng. Peacebuilding in the African Union: Law, Philosophy and Practice. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. xvi + 334 pp. Table of Cases. Table of Declarations and Resolutions. List of Abbreviations. Glossary. Bibliography. Index. Cloth. $99.00.

The task of finding solutions to the conflicts in Africa remains urgent and topical. Although there have been fewer large-scale wars in the continent since the end of the Cold War, other forms of warfare persist. These include small-scale conflicts involving factionalized insurgents, electoral violence, and violence over access to resources within and between states. The social, economic, and human cost of these conflicts is just as devastating.

In Peacebuilding in the African Union, Abou Jeng explores options for sustainable peacebuilding in Africa. The book seeks to gauge the relevance and applicability of international law in confronting postcolonial internal conflicts in Africa. It examines the philosophical and structural limitations of international law in the context of peacebulding and considers whether this necessitates reconceptualization through the framework of the African Union.

The central argument of the book is that international law has largely failed to provide effective and sustainable solutions to postcolonial internal conflicts in Africa. In its normative and institutional framings, international law has proved incapable of advancing innovative approaches to confronting African conflicts. A major reason for this, Jeng argues, is that international law is "still overwhelmingly trapped in dialogues of historical contradictions and controversies" (278). These contradictions arise partly from the Eurocentric historical framework from which contemporary international law emerged. Dominant peace advocacy has therefore generally conceptualized peace and peacebuilding in the context of "Eurocentric thinking" (6).

The role of the Organization for African Unity (OAU), founded in the immediate aftermath of colonial rule in the 1960s, epitomized the limitations of international law. The OAU's principle of nonintervention in the [End Page 207] internal affairs of member states proved to be an impediment to addressing conflicts in the continent. With the proliferation of internal violence, unconstitutional governments, and human rights violations in the 1980s and 1990s, it became increasingly clear that the initial vision that inspired the OAU had failed and that transformation was needed to meet the new challenges of conflict resolution and peacebuilding. The establishment of the African Union in 2002 to replace the OAU offers a new peacebuilding framework.

Jeng proposes that the transformative peacebuilding approaches articulated in the Constitutive Act of the African Union offer more relevant and appropriate engagement with internal conflicts in Africa. The principle of nonindifference enunciated in the Constitutive Act marks a radical shift from the OAU's principle of nonintervention. According to Jeng, the nonindifference principle in Article 4 represents a "robust challenge to the dominance of the neoliberal international approaches to peace" (10). It marks a departure from aspects of international law's foundational ethos that have conditioned and constrained postcolonial Africa's peacebuilding initiatives.

The author offers two case studies of recent interventions in African conflicts to buttress this point. The discussion of the African Union Mission in Burundi (AMIB) and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) focuses on the potential and challenges of the African Union's practices of peacebuilding. In spite of their limitations, AMISOM in Somalia and the proactive internal peacebuilding initiatives in Somaliland are seen as a departure from previous tepid responses to internal conflicts in Africa. The approaches to conflict and peacebuilding embedded in the Constitutive Act of the AU, Jeng concludes, offer a window of opportunity through which a more peaceful Africa can be envisioned.

The book, which is theoretically grounded in so-called Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL), offers original and engaging insights into understanding the legalities of peacebuilding in postcolonial Africa. Although the book is largely a work of international law, it succeeds in going beyond a discussion of legal processes to include relevant historical, political, and sociological perspectives. The case studies of Burundi and Somalia offered in the later chapters provide appropriate and convincing justification for the author's key arguments. As the author acknowledges, however, the political conditions in these countries are still evolving, and as such, some of the book's conclusions are tentative at best.

The main limitation...