Tragedy and Triumph: Mozambique Refugees in Southern Africa, 1977-2001

Article excerpt

Mario J. Azevedo. Tragedy and Triumph: Mozambique Refugees in Southern Africa, 1977-2001. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2002. 221 pp. Maps. Bibliography. Index. No price reported. $64.95. Cloth.

In comparing living conditions among groups of Mozambicans who were displaced by the country's brutal postindependence civil war, this book, written by a former Mozambican refugee now living and teaching in the United States, documents the plight of the almost two million people who settled temporarily in neighboring countries. Even though Azevedo's assertion that academics have hitherto ignored Mozambican refugees is simply untrue (his own literature review betrays him), this book's broad comparative perspective nevertheless promises new insights, especially into the poorly understood links between host countries' socioeconomic and political conditions and the refugee experience. Moreover, the book's central argument- that refugees living in Malawi and Zimbabwe suffered less than their compatriots who remained in Mozambique-counters prevailing images of refugees as hapless victims. Perhaps most impressively, the author's personal connection with the subject allows him to reveal refugees' joy and courage-their "triumph"-in ways a more distanced observer could or would not. Unfortunately, a feeble research design, combined with labored writing, poor editing, and a lack of analytic clarity means that much of the book's promise goes unrealized, leaving the reader with little more than raw facts and vague pronouncements.

Much of the book's weakness is rooted in the project's design. Rather than relying on a well-conceptualized comparative framework with predetermined metrics for evaluating refugees' experiences in different countries (Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Mozambique), Azevedo's conclusions are founded on an irregular and ad hoc set of indicators. The results, consequently, are disappointing. Statements like "It is hard to determine whether the refugees dressed worse [in Malawi and Zimbabwe] than at home, except for the fact that water designed to wash one's clothes was scarce when the rains were not enough" (62) are not only poorly written, but also do little to challenge prevailing beliefs or further the reader's understanding. …


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