- Daily Lives of Civilians in Wartime Africa: From Slavery Days to Rwandan Genocide
Daily Lives of Civilians in Wartime Africa is part of a Greenwood Press series of books entitled "Daily Life through History," which—as I write—includes sixty-six titles, ranging from Daily Life during the Black Death to Daily Life in the Soviet Union. According to the publisher, the series is meant to represent "a treasure trove of information for students and general readers" and provide "easy reference and enjoyable reading." Laband's volume covers a lot of ground, stretching across Africa from the eighteenth century to the present. And with such widely different forms of conflict and such broad implications of the term "civilian," assembling "a representative range of civilian experiences during wartime in Africa" (12) is indeed a challenging task. The book includes essays on the Atlantic slave trade, on the mfecane and Zulu kingdom, on the Boer War and the First and Second World Wars, on Angola after independence, on Liberia and Sierra Leone in recent decades, on civil wars in Sudan, and on genocide in Rwanda.
The contributions are concerned with a variety of experiences. They are also of varying quality and interest; despite the objectives of the series, many chapters are neither "easy" nor "enjoyable" for either the "general" reader or others. Paul Lovejoy writes well about enslavement and the slave trade, and argues that since slavery required "the redistribution of population through coercive means" (34) it should be considered as warfare. John Laband's own chapter on the Zulu is full of stereotypes and generalities and reproduces casualty tables from his 1990 Ph.D. dissertation; it does not tell readers about subsequent advances in Zulu historical research, such as the work by Jeff Guy.
Bill Nasson's essay, titled "Civilians in the Anglo-Boer War, 1899–1902," is the best in the book—competent, focused, well written, and likely to engage both expert and lay readers. Tim Stapleton and David Killingray are in line with conventional notions of military history in their articles on the impact of the two World Wars on Africa. The volume then jumps to Angola in the 1960s as representative of postindependence conflicts in Africa—which are described in Laband's introduction as both "total" and [End Page 248] "civil" wars—and as a reigniting of forms of "internal warfare" suppressed by European "conquest and subsequent pacification" (4).
A chapter by Lansana Gberie covers both Liberia and Sierra Leone from 1989 onward—too much for one chapter. Gberie is not only writing for novices or "general readers" but also contributing to an ongoing polemic among researchers, mobilizing Ibrahim Abdullah and William Reno against Paul Richards, and advancing notions of "pillage" and "predatory violence" against those of aspirations for "social justice" as causes for civil war. He claims in his chronological outline of violent conflict in Liberia and Sierra, where civilians rather than "armed opponents" were targeted, that the latter argument is "self-explanatory." Unfortunately, he lacks the space to discuss the effects of war on civilian lives in any depth.
While Gberie ends on a note of pessimism toward the prospects for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Sierra Leone, Alhaji M. S. Bah is Afro-optimistic in the book's final essay on Rwanda: "The implementation of continental governance mechanisms such as the African Peer Review Mechanism and the consolidation of individual human rights would go a long way in enhancing the protection of civilians" (278). This is certainly true, but it is a reflection at a very different level from those of the preceding contributions.
This book is a mixed bag indeed, and it is difficult to see what kind of audience would be attracted to reading it all.
Roskilde University, Roskilde, Denmark