Africa

Review Article

WRITING ABOUT CONFLICT IN AFRICA: STAKES AND STRATEGIES

Mike McGovern

CHRIS COULTER, Bush Wives and Girl Soldiers: women's lives through war and peace in Sierra Leone. Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press (hb $69.95 – 978 0 80144 782 2; pb $24.95 – 978 0 80147 512 2). 2009, 304 pp.

SVERKER FINNSTROM, Living with Bad Surroundings: war, history and everyday moments in northern Uganda. Durham NC: Duke University Press (hb $84.95 – 978 0 82234 174 1; pb $23.95 – 978 0 82234 191 8). 2008, 304 pp.

DAVID PRATTEN AND ATREYEE SEN (eds), Global Vigilantes. London: Hurst and Co. (pb £17.90 – 978 1 85065 838 2). 2007, 464 pp.

Writing about conflict in Africa is a tricky thing. Publications from non-governmental organizations and human rights campaigners often read as if they were calibrated to maximize public distress, and thus the political or financial support that would keep human rights institutions in business. Many journalistic accounts are stitched together from the rhetorical and analytical remnants of a colonial and sometimes racist common sense. Against this backdrop, fine-grained empirical studies like those typically produced by anthropologists, historians and geographers take on a particular salience. They stake out a privileged space for explaining other logics, other incentives, and different causal relations that could make sense out of wars, insurgencies and other forms of violence that appear irrational to Europeans and North Americans.

Mike McGovern is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Yale University, where he also serves as Director of Graduate Studies of the Council on African Studies. He is the author of Making War in Côte d'Ivoire and a forthcoming book on socialist-era Guinea entitled Unmasking the State. Email michael.mcgovern@yale.edu