States of Violence: Politics, Youth, and Memory in Contemporary Africa

By Turner, Thomas | African Studies Review, December 2007 | Go to article overview

States of Violence: Politics, Youth, and Memory in Contemporary Africa


Turner, Thomas, African Studies Review


Edna G. Bay and Donald L. Don ham, eds. States of Violence: Politics, Youth, and Memory in Contemporary Africa. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006. ix + 268pp Notes, References. Index. $49,50 Cloth, $24.50. Paper.

This edited volume attempts "to dissolve violence into its contexts rather than to create it as an academic subject to be theorized" (18). It offers a series of outstanding essays dealing with violence and memories of violence in Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.

Martha Carey demonstrates the importance of Sierra Leone's Poro initiation societies, which for generations have structured the passage of boys into adulthood. She suggests that mass destruction and control of individual agency, rather than lineage rank and expensive initiation, became the new requirements for advancement and access to more authority, with amputations carried out by the Revolutionary United Front seen as a form of symbolic communication-a challenge not just to government but also to the Poro leadership. Carey also stresses the extreme heterogeneity of the rebels, many of whom had been forcibly incorporated into the militias and compelled to commit atrocities against kin and community.

Also writing on Sierra Leone, William Reno rejects Robert Kaplan's simplistic argument that violence there was due to "loose molecules" in the form of rootless young men. Instead, Reno connects the violent behavior of these youths to the processes of predation, with local variations providing the key to understanding. In some areas the pattern described by Carey prevailed, but in some towns, vigilante bands organized by a major politician and local chiefs repelled the rebels of the RUF: "Under the rubric of religious authorities and initiation societies," even "stranger" youths who might otherwise have supported the RUF were integrated into the local forces (46-53).

Joanna Davidson analyzes an episode in Susana village (Guinea-Bissau) where Diola expelled Fula "strangers" who had been living in their midst for decades. Rejecting Mamdani's argument that Europeans structured relations between "strangers" and locals, Davidson demonstrates the power of local categories of strangers dating to the precolonial era (77). Nevertheless, while the Susana incident was local, Davidson explains, both Diola and Fula agree that the story of the expulsion should start thirty years earlier, when fighters of the PAIGC (African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde) killed several Fula families in the nearby town of Sangatutu; in the aftermath, other Fula of Sangatutu moved to Susana. …

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