Africa's Armies: From Honor to Infamy: A History from 1791 to the Present

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Africa's Armies: From Honor to Infamy: A History from 1791 to the Present by Robert B. Edgerton. Westview Press (http://www.westviewpress.com), 5500 Central Avenue, Boulder, Colorado 80301-2877, 2004, 328 pages, $30.00 (hardcover), $18.00 (softcover).

The need for creative, multidisciplinary analyses of security problems is more critical than ever. Africa provides a potentially fertile field for such research: cultural, geographic, and historical environmental circumstances merge there in a way that seems unique.

Robert Edgerton would appear an ideal scholar to help in this undertaking. An anthropologist who teaches at the UCLA School of Medicine, Edgerton has published works that examine the Crimean War, the Mau Mau rebellion, British and Zulu soldiers in late nineteenth-century South Africa, Japanese military traditions, Asante warriors in West Africa, and multicultural relativism in "primitive" societies.

His new monograph promises a "review [of] the history of sub-Saharan Africa's armies from precolonial times to the present," a discussion of "possible pathways to future well-being," and speculation on "the role Africa's military forces can and must play if the future is to bring better times" (p. viii). Edgerton assumes that in precolonial and colonial times, African militias fought with honor and courage, but, with independence, African military leaders selfishly grabbed power-with catastrophic results (p. vii).

Edgerton skips about the region to present his case. A cursory chapter (19 pages) covers political, military, and cultural aspects of precolonial Africa; chapters 2 and 3 offer a potpourri of African resistance to colonial conquest and rule. Subsequent chapters sketch various civil wars, military coups, and government corruption, as well as provide an in-depth look at genocide in Rwanda and Burundi. A final chapter, "Africa Today and Tomorrow," cites Mauritius, Botswana, Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, and the Côte d'Ivoire as moderately successful examples of "hope for the future."

The book is a disappointment, neither living up to its title nor attempting to fulfill its declared purposes. Rather, it is a compilation of selective, often sensationalistic, descriptions of African security dilemmas drawn from secondary materials (the chapter on genocide in Rwanda and Burundi is a prime example). …