Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Magic and Warfare: Appearance and Reality in Contemporary African Conflict and Beyond

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Magic and Warfare: Appearance and Reality in Contemporary African Conflict and Beyond

Article excerpt

Magic and Warfare: Appearance and Reality in Contemporary African Conflict and Beyond. By Nathalie Wlodarczyk. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. Pp. xix, 188; maps, tables, figures, bibliography, index. $80.00.

The stakes of Nathalie Wlodarczyk's fascinating Magic and Warfare are announced early in the Introduction. "The battlefield in these [contemporary] wars," she writes, "is increasingly the population. Winning their hearts and minds requires that we understand their way of thinking" (p. 7). What follows is ostensibly a case study of the occult practices of a pro-government irregular militia that existed in one form or another through much of Sierra Leone's 1991-2002 civil war. Civil Defense Forces (CDF) fighters (or more specifically, the Mende kamajors who made up most of the force) maintained that initiation into the group made their bodies bulletproof and bestowed a range of other occult powers. Yet unlike most recent studies of the African occult, Wlodarczyk's intended audience is not anthropologists or historians. Magic and Warfare is a user's manual for theorists and policy makers in strategic studies and international relations. It is a guide for engaging a world in which religion and belief factor into warfare in ways that don't make sense according to conventional teachings about military strategy and tactics. The result is a book that should find its place in military and security studies for the way it takes culture seriously.

Magic and Warfare consists of ten short chapters. The first four of these deal little with the kamajors or the CDF. Instead they map out the intellectual terrain on which the case study (and the book's central argument) are built. "Magic," Wlodarczyk explains, describes activities that deploy "invisible supernatural power to affect people and events in the visible and tangible human world" (p. 13). Crucially for her argument, this means that the seemingly irrational claims of African militia forces share a qualitative similarity with those of world religions, their more "organized and centralized kin in cathedrals, mosques, and temples" (p. 3). And these beliefs are not going away. As Wlodarczyk makes clear by cataloging a range of conflicts, spiritual practices are commonplace on contemporary battlefields in Africa and elsewhere- and they have practical consequences for how wars are waged and violence is performed.

These chapters play two important roles in relation to the case study that follows. …

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