Through Fire with Water: The Roots of Division and the Potential for Reconciliation in Africa/Shadows of War: Violence, Power, and International Profiteering in the Twenty-First Century

By Harbeson, John W. | African Studies Review, September 2005 | Go to article overview

Through Fire with Water: The Roots of Division and the Potential for Reconciliation in Africa/Shadows of War: Violence, Power, and International Profiteering in the Twenty-First Century


Harbeson, John W., African Studies Review


Erik Doxtader and Charles Villa-Vicencio, eds. Through Fire with Water: The Roots of Division and the Potential for Reconciliation in Africa. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, lnc, 2003. 405 pp. Maps. Notes. $29.95. Paper.

Carolyn Nordstrom. Shadows of War: Violence, Power, and International Profiteering in the Twenty-First Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004. 293 pp. Photographs. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $50.00. Cloth. $19.95. Paper.

Through Fire with Water and Shadows of War document the pervasive, endless, and complex political conflicts that have afflicted sub-Saharan Africa in the later twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. As such they are essential reading for specialists and nonspecialists alike who would seek to understand in greater depth the weakness, fragility, and even collapse of postcolonial sub-Saharan African states. Each volume, moreover, brings to the table atypical perspectives on these conflict syndromes. Carolyn Nordstrom offers the insights of an anthropologist on subjects that have tended to be dominated by political scientists. Erik Doxtader and Charles Villa-Vicencio have assembled the much-too-infrequently heard perspectives of African scholars and practitioners and others who have immersed themselves in the postindependence stories of African countries.

Through Fire with Water is a collection of essays profiling the historical roots and course of internal conflicts in fifteen sub-Saharan African countries, together with assessments of prospects for peace-building and reconciliation. It is introduced by the distinguished jurist Richard Goldstone. The essays are arranged according to estimates of the status of the conflicts: countries in the process of healing with potential for transitions to stable polities; countries in the midst of ongoing and recurrent conflicts; and finally those that are wrestling with the challenges of democratic consolidation.

The countries selected are from all regions but with a predominance of southern and eastern African entries, although Nigeria and Sierra Leone are included among the countries estimated to be in healing phases. All five of the essays focused on democratic consolidation are about southern African countries. A remarkable and important inclusion is Botswana. Long recognized as one of two sub-Saharan African stable democracies since independence (the other is Mauritius), Botswana nonetheless exhibits weak opposition parties, low and declining voter turnout, simmering ethnic tensions, a globe-leading HIV/AIDS pandemic, and shortfalls in observance of human rights. Presumably for reasons of length, there are no chapters on major conflicts in Liberia and elsewhere in the Horn of Africa besides Somalia.

The essays are all detailed, comprehensive, and, it would appear, balanced. …

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