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Africa Today 47.2 (2000) 171-173

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Adedeji, Adebayo, ed. 1999. Comprehending and Mastering African Conflicts: The Search for Sustainable Peace and Good Governance. London and New York: Zed Books. 377 pp.

Nothing could be more appropriate at this time than a book on improving the management of conflicts in Africa, a continent described by Adedeji as "at war with itself, with war-torn polities and pauperized and divided societies." This book is the result of an international workshop held in Bamako, Mali in November 1998 sponsored by the African Centre for Development and Strategic Studies (ACDESS), as part of the UNDP's ongoing program to promote peace, stability, and good governance on the continent. According to the UNDP representative, Thelma Awori, the conference was structured to bring together representatives from six countries undergoing violent conflict (Angola, Burundi, Liberia, Mali, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone). Adedeji, the volume's editor, tells us that the cases selected for study included Sudan and Somalia, as well as Mozambique and Mali, but that security problems in Sudan and Somalia prevented the teams from conducting research on site. As a result, the conflicts in Somalia and Mozambique were not treated in depth in this workshop. African scholars from four additional countries, from UK, and the US also participated in the conference. Given the ambitious goal of the conference and the volume to "capture and synthesize the main ideas and concerns about conflict in Africa," "to draw the main lessons and establish general trends," and to identify the "mechanisms, structures, and institutions to be put in place to eradicate conflict in the continent after due comprehension and mastery of its causes," it is laudable that this volume is principally by African scholars. It is regrettable, however, that representatives from such important conflicts as those going on in Ethiopia, Congo, and Uganda were absent, and that few of the countries housing sub-Saharan Africa's most important research institutions attended. The heavy representation of work by Professor Reginald Green of Sussex (UK) is also in stark contrast to the absence of contributions by scholars from France, Germany, Scandinavia, and the US.

Overall, this volume is indicative of the laudable efforts and inevitable difficulties involved in developing "authentic, authoritative, indigenous and objective" (pp. xviii-xix) analyses of African conflicts, consciously promoting capacity building by organizing multidisciplinary national research teams. Several years ago a similar effort focusing on "Democratic Transitions" was made by the Global Coalition for Africa and the African Leadership Forum, under the direction of Senegalese scholar Boubacar [End Page 171] Barry. In addition to the Sisyphean task of organizing this research in the current research climate in Africa, the difficulties of producing roughly comparable, and therefore comparative, studies across the cases is legend in both of these efforts.

The volume begins with several essays designed to synthesize and offer hypotheses about conflict. The relationship between "good governance" (a distinctly UN, British, and World Bank formulation, which conveniently avoids issues of regime type) and "the mastery of conflicts," as dis-cussed in Adedeji's chapter, is regrettably circular. On the one hand, the lack of "good governance" and lack of democracy are causes of persistent political crises and unmanageable conflicts. "Civil wars and civil strifes are but violent reactions to the lack of [these things]" (p. 7). Adedeji adds that economic crisis and poor development performance also result from the same causes. On the other hand, Adedeji adds that political violence and instability also produce "bad governance." While the positing of a vicious circle is understandable, it does little to advance a scientific and comparative investigation of the problem. In fact, Adedeji does focus his attention on unmanageable conflict as the dependent (result) variable when he emphasizes that we must fully understand the causes of these conflicts, especially if we are ever to master the management of them.

Apart from Adedeji's reflections, none of the remaining essays in Part I make the slightest effort at coming back to the thesis of governance and conflict management, although several bear titles which seem...


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