STATES OF VIOLENCE: Politics, Youth, and Memory in Contemporary Africa

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STATES OF VIOLENCE Politics, Youth, and Memory in Contemporary Africa Edna G. Bay and Donald L. Donham, eds. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2006. 268 pp, US$49-50 cloth (ISBN 978-0-8139-2569-1).

This interdisciplinary examination of the social reconstruction of six African states (Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Zimbabwe) after conflict explores the dynamics of violence. The essays provide a number of particularly insightful case studies that reveal the pivotal role that violence can and does play in tearing apart the long-standing social relationships that make up contemporary African society. These cases are both wide-ranging and critically engaged in an exploration of themes that are expanded and repeated throughout the book.

The volume describes a number of conflicts that have taken place on the continent of Africa since the late 19803. It outlines the grim reality of the outcome of the power struggles that took place in Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, as well as the Rwandan genocide. These four cases are by now fairly well known. But it also details lesser-known community-level gang warfare in Nigeria, South Africa, and a microcosm of ethnic conflict in Guinea-Bissau. This combination of cases provides a rare qualitative treatment of the importance of conflict.

One of the most useful contributions of States of Violence is a discussion, by co-editor Donald L. Donham, of violence itself. He skilfully dissects common notions of violence as a structural inevitability. Particularly in Africa, where many believe that numerous cases of extreme violence result from a predisposition to aggression and brutality, Donham reveals how colonial intervention actually constructed, and then exacerbated, patterns of violence. …