Images of war, narratives of suffering and notions of ethnicity are intrinsically linked to Western perceptions of Africa. Filtered through a mostly international media the information of African wars is confined to narrow categories of explanation emerging from and adapted to a Western history and political culture. This book aims at reversing this process; to look at war and suffering from the point of view of those who fight it and suffer through it. In doing so it reveals that the simplistic models explaining contemporary wars in Africa which are reproduced in a Western discourse are basically false.
This book examines the understanding of war and the impact of warfare on the formation and conceptualisation of identities in Ethiopia. Building on historical trajectories of enemy images, the recent Eritean-Ethiopian war [1998-2000] is used as an empirical backdrop to explore war's formative impact, by analysing politics of identity and shifting perceptions of enemies and allies.
Kjetil Tronvoll —
Kjetil Tronvoll is Professor in Human Rights, Peace and Conflict Studies at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, University of Oslo. His other publications include Brothers at War: Making Sense of the Eritrean-Ethiopian War (co-author; James Currey/Ohio University Press, 2000) and The Ethiopian Red Terror Trials: Transitional Justice Challenged (co-editor; James Currey 2009).
Tronvoll, Kjetil. War & the politics of identity in Ethiopia: making enemies & allies in the Horn of Africa. James Currey, 2009. 239p bibl index; ISBN 9781847016126. Reviewed in 2010feb CHOICE.
The book begins with the promise to view war from the perspective of those who undertake it. It refers to conflicts in Ethiopia, and indeed all Africa, as crises of identity, nationality, and state formation. The case study is the war initiated by Eritrea in May 1988 that turned allies into enemies and unleashed an unforeseen chain reaction. The tragedy may have begun at Haile Selassie University, initiated by Marxist intellectuals who considered class and suppressed nationalities as the most prominent contradictions within Ethiopian society. They ultimately replaced their emperor with Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam and his military junta. The result was predictable carnage and divisive politics until the junta collapsed in 1991. The postrevolutionary elite then deconstructed the nation into ethnic-geographic component parts with more predictable suffering. The accentuated rivalries of Amhara, Tigray, and Eritrea elite may have precipitated the 1988 war on the one hand, and renewed attempts to reconstruct the Ethiopean/Habeshi national identity on the other. Historic empires may be viewed as precursors to today's federal states. Their transformation into well-governed federal unions may prove less painful than divisive wars of disintegration. Detailed and well written with glossary, references, and index.
Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduate, graduate, and research collections. -- F. L. Mokhtari, National Defense University