No. 10: Peacebuilding, Power, and Politics in Africa / Stephen Baranyi / Canadian Journal of African Studies/ La Revue canadienne des etudes africaines, September 2014

Reviewed in: Canadian Journal of African Studies/ La Revue canadienne des études africaines, 30 September 2014

Peacebuilding, Power, and Politics in Africa edited by Devon Curtis and Gwinyayi A. Dzinesa, Athens, OH, Ohio University Press, 2012, ix-353 pp., US$ 26.36 (paperback), ISBN 978-0-8214-2013-3

This edited work brings together a rich mix of scholarship, from different disciplinary perspectives, on the politics and checkered outcomes of peacebuilding in Africa. A product of collaboration between analysts based mostly at the Cambridge Centre of African Studies and the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town, the volume is organized into sections addressing key themes and debates, institutions and their ideologies, and particular cases. Though somewhat dated, its breadth and the rigor of certain chapters should place this volume on obligatory reading lists for students of conflict and peace, particularly in Africa, for years to come.

The central argument of this collection is that those aspiring to foster a more inclusive, lasting peace in Africa require a deeper understanding of, and engagement with, the complex intersection of local, national and international politics. This idea is hardly new: building on the seminal work of Paris (1997), many critics have faulted mainstream or "liberal peacebuilding" for failing to comprehend the agendas and power relations that shape the project. What is original is the light this volume sheds on the contested and often contradictory agendas that have shaped the limited outcomes of peace efforts in sub-Saharan Africa — a region which Adekeye Adebajo appropriately calls "the world's most important peacebuilding laboratory" (x).

In her introduction, Curtis traces the emergence of different approaches to peacebuilding — from those privileging political and economic liberalization during the heyday of liberal peacebuilding in the 1990s to those emphasizing stabilization and statebuilding, especially since 9/11, as well as recurring calls for more attention to social justice. Her attempt to link those approaches to theoretical perspectives could be more complex: for example, by acknowledging how critical constructivists like Baranyi (2008) and Richmond (2010), and realist institutionalists like Zuercher (2013), offer distinct explanations of the historically constructed, geographically varied and transnationally negotiated politics of peacebuilding. Nonetheless, her suggestion that "peacebuilding may best be thought of as a set of multiple ideas, relationships, and experiences that are embedded within hierarchies of power and knowledge" (3) is a conceptual addition to nuanced constructivist analysis. Her argument that the United Nations (UN) and the African Union (AU) "use the language of all three" frameworks (15), also offers lucid insight into the hybridity of key international institutions' discourses in a deeply contested domain.

These themes are picked up by other contributors. Zaum distinguishes between the "horizontal legitimacy" (between constituencies in conflict) emphasized by peacebuilding and the "vertical legitimacy" (between the state and citizens) privileged by statebuilding. He explains how those agendas have been at odds and how statebuilding has undermined the goal of respecting truly local (as opposed to governmental) ownership. Hutchful explores how those tensions are playing out in security sector governance (SSG). He suggests that African SSG efforts have tended to privilege the professionalization of statutory security institutions rather than taking more socially-inclusive and locally-appropriate approaches. Hutchful addresses debates on the gender dimensions of SSG here — in contrast to the gender blindness of some chapters. He ends with sobering observations on the challenges facing hybrid (statutory and customary) security arrangements in Africa, including their vulnerability to elite capture and historic reversals. Olonisakin and Ikpe examine the efforts and limits of the UN Peacebuilding Commission's (PBC) work in priority countries like Burundi and Sierra Leone, arguing that despite its attempt to be inclusive and responsive to local needs, the PBC has tended to support elite-controlled political strategies and exclusionary neoliberal approaches to economic policy. Harrison returns to that theme in his chapter, tracing the evolution of international financial institutions' (IFIs) approaches to peacebuilding in Africa. Drawing on key cases like Mozambique, he suggests that despite some discursive shifts, the IFIs have not relaxed their insistence on (conflict-reproducing) market-oriented reforms as the basic conditions for international assistance.

The case studies also add much to our understanding of peacebuilding in sub-Saharan Africa. Srinivasan's analysis of the contradictions in Sudan's 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement seems eerily prescient, given the enduring, recurring violence in Darfur, several border-states and South Sudan. Lemarchand's chapter on the Great Lakes updates the literatures on the political economy of protracted warfare and the micro-politics of enduring conflict in that region. Clapham's chapter revisits the case of Somalia, boldly arguing that the Islamic Courts experiment should not have been summarily dismissed by the West (or African partners like Ethiopia) and that state-centric, externally-driven attempts to build peace are doomed to fail.

Those case studies require updates. Recurrent conflicts in the Central African Republic and Mali merit deeper analysis. Recent developments at the global level and in several African countries, notably the (uneven) implementation of the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States (2011), suggest that another volume is in order. One hopes that the chapters of the next volume will speak to each other more than those in this collection. The gendered aspects of violence, peace and statebuilding also merit more systematic study across chapters, given their salience on the ground and the emergence of new norms and scholarship (Scully, McCandless, and Abu-Nimer 2010) focusing on that essential dimension.

Baranyi, Stephen, ed. 2008. The Paradoxes of Peacebuilding Post-9/11. Vancouver and Toronto: University of British Columbia Press.
Paris, Roland. 1997. "Peacebuilding and the Limits of Liberal Internationalism." International Security 22 (2): 54-89.
Richmond, Oliver, ed. 2010. "Palgrave Advances in Peacebuilding." In Critical Developments and Approaches. New York: St. Martin's Press.
New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States. 2011. Accessed
Scully, P., E. McCandless, and M. Abu-Nimer. 2010. "Gender Violence and Gender Justice in Peacebuilding and Development. Special Issue." Journal of Peacebuilding & Development 5 (3): 3-6.
Zuercher, Christoph, et al. 2013. "Costly Democracy." In Peacebuilding & Democratization after War. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Stephen Baranyi
School of International Development and Global Studies, University of Ottawa, Canada

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