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 [email protected]