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Reviewed by:
  • African Actors in International Security: Shaping Contemporary Norms ed. by Katharina P. Coleman, Thomas K. Tieku
  • Jacien Carr
BOOK REVIEW of Coleman, Katharina P., and Thomas K. Tieku, editors, 2018. African Actors in International Security: Shaping Contemporary Norms. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers. 307 pp. $79.95 (cloth).

It is safe to say that Africans are not perceived as trendsetters in international security. From Biafra to Ogaden and Mozambique to Niger, the global consensus is that Africans are incapable of contributing to the stability of their continent without foreign support. While this perception is not without merit because of the level of foreign peacekeeping activity and Western military security operations in many African countries, the editors of and contributors to African Actors in International Security: Shaping Contemporary Norms disagree. They argue that Africans have been, and still are, active partners in establishing global security norms.

This edited volume was first envisioned in 2015 as part of an initiative backed by the One Earth Future Foundation, the Academic Council of the United Nations Systems, and Lynne Rienner Publishers. The contributions to African Actors in International Security examine the role that African actors have played in establishing global security norms and are solid in their scholarship and rigor. The editors have identified four pathways that encompass these efforts: “Shaping Global Norms Creation Processes,” “African Norms That May or May Not Diffuse beyond the Continent,” [End Page 140] “Shaping International Norms through Creative Implementation,” and “Direct Contestation of Global Norms.” Each of the contributing authors addresses one or two of these pathways in their study.

Linda Darkwa and Anne Seeger reference Africa’s earlier role in international norm creation in their analysis of the fifth-century North African theologian St. Augustine’s concept of jus in bello, or just war. They assert that transregional security concepts are deeply rooted in the African experience and emphasize Augustine’s distinction between combatants and noncombatants. These concepts are more closely associated with twentieth-century international conventions about warfare, but Darkwa and Seeger demonstrate that these impressions are incorrect.

Further challenging the perception that African actors are absent from international norm creation on international security, Gilbert Khadiagala demonstrates that African traditions of deference to a society’s elders in matters of conflict resolution in communal affairs have been incorporated into global conflict resolution. Khadiagala notes that the idea of engaging noted senior members of a society to assist in conflict mitigation was enhanced during the Organization of African Union’s meeting in Cairo in 1993. As he explains, this concept was further developed by Nelson Mandela when, in 2007, he established the Elders, a group composed of Martti Ahtisaari (Finland’s foreign minister), Fernando Henrique Cardoso (the former president of Brazil), Hina Jilani (the founder of a Pakistani woman’s legal firm), Ernesto Zedillo (former president of Mexico), and other African leaders. Since their establishment, the Elders have mediated stability operations in Sri Lanka, Egypt, South Sudan, and the Korean Peninsula.

While acknowledging the contributions that Africans have made to global security norms, the contributors to this volume also address the failings of African actors in implementing the security norms that they advocated. A prevalent theme in the book is the gap between perception, goodwill, and reality. The authors acknowledge that, in many instances, African actors have been the chief impediment to security norm centralization. Seeger’s chapter, “Implementing the Protection of Civilians Norm,” and Issaka K. Souaré’s contribution, dealing with the establishment of anti-coup d’état norms, are particularly salient on this point.

The African continent, like other continents, is far from perfect in the application of its leaders’ vision. This book establishes new ground, however, and puts forward a credible case that African actors have been, and are, contributors to global security norm adaptation, reinvention, and diffusion. [End Page 141]

Jacien Carr
University of London


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pp. 140-141
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