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  • The Roots of Ethnic Conflict in Africa: From Grievance to Violence ed. by Wanjala S. Nasong’o
  • Peter Thompson and E. Ike Udogu
Nasong’o, Wanjala S., ed. 2015. THE ROOTS OF ETHNIC CONFLICT IN AFRICA: FROM GRIEVANCE TO VIOLENCE. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 208 pp. $77.27 (cloth).

Wanjala S. Nasong’o’s preface sets the stage for The Roots of Ethnic Conflict in Africa: From Grievance to Violence, an edited volume, which has three illustrations, nine chapters, a rich bibliography, and an index. The preface provides a general overview of the ideas on which the book rests:

the prevalent propensity for ethnic political mobilization in Africa [and] why such mobilization leads to violent conflicts. . . . The basic argument that underlies all the chapters in this volume is that ethnic political mobilization is a function of deeply felt grievances or threats[,] and whether such mobilization leads to violence depends on the response of incumbent regimes to mobilized groups.

(p. xi)

Arguably, political entrepreneurs in and out of government tend to fan the flames of ethnic marginalization. They frequently do so in their desire to mobilize their ethnos in pursuit of their faction’s interest and those of their elite ethnic jingoists. Nevertheless, considering how the media have pushed the frontiers of conflict discourse to new heights, this book could not have come at a better time. When the proponents of neoliberalism are effectively [End Page 67] dominating the global dialogue on conflict in Africa and other developing countries, it is unsurprising that the dominant explanation of the conflicts in Africa is constructed from the point of view of the continent’s colonial masters, who capitalized on ethnic identities to promote their claims.

Cyril Obi has noted that the hegemony of Western countries advanced the concept of globalization to the detriment of developing countries because of its implications on local politics. Western countries, to acquit themselves of blame suffered by developing nations, and having the dominant theories for the cause of conflict in Africa, claim that overpopulation and resource scarcity are the continent’s major causes of conflict.1 This book adds another dimension to the question of why conflicts happen in Africa.

It is refreshing that in the first chapter, “From Grievance to Ethnic Mobilization: An Introduction,” Nasong’o explores the theoretical underpinnings on which the book rests. He lays the foundation of group identities against the backdrop of the orthodoxies and scholarship of the doyens of the politics of ethnicity, from the primordialists’ perspective, who believe that ethnic group identity is a natural phenomenon, to constructivist scholars, who argue that such communities are socially constructed.2 The chapter argues, and rightly so, that ethnicity in and of itself is not problematic. A problem emerges mainly when its instrumentalist application is aimed at furthering self-interest or group interest (p. 3). Nasong’o asserts that the transition from a monoethnic concept of statehood before colonialism to a plural concept after the world wars not only provided traction for African states to seek ethnic political mobilization, but tactfully implicated its colonial heritage. The chapter ends with a summary of the thrust of each chapter in the book.

The second chapter, “Explaining Ethnic Conflicts: Theoretical and Conceptual Perspectives,” also written by Nasong’o, provides a broader evaluation of the core notional and conceptual frameworks of conflict in Africa. It brings to the forefront dominant thoughts in the study of ethnicity, including the primordial approach, the theory of internal colonialism, relative deprivation theory,3 the communist approach,4 and modernization dynamics approaches.5 Elucidating the inadequacies of these concepts to provide a more robust explanatory model of transition from mobilization to violence, Nasong’o presents the grievance theory of ethnic mobilization and violence. This model stipulates that the factors responsible for group mobilization are internal motivators, external factors, and resource availability (p. 17).

The third chapter, “Deep-Seated Historical and Socioeconomic Grievances: The North–South Conflict in Sudan,” also authored by Nasong’o, is a qualitative analytical review of one of Africa’s most virulent and infamous conflicts. Nasong’o uses the grievance model to expose the factors responsible for the conflict and observes that the conflict was wrongly construed to...