Opalo on African civil wars

A smart intervention by Ken Opalo here in response to my post below.

I was particularly struck by this passage:

“Completely anarchic conflicts involving collapsing states and incoherent hyper-localized rebellions — your stereotypical African conflict, if you will — are a unique historical experience rooted in the states that did really fall apart in the late 1980s to early 1990s (pretty much in the midst of Africa’s continental economic nadir). It is instructive that these states were concentrated in the Mano River region and Central Africa, some of the regions worst affected by the socio-political challenges of Africa’s lost long decade (1980-1995). ”

As Opalo suggests, for outsiders like me reading mainstream political science civil war studies rooted in African cases, this is indeed what we see presented as “how Africa is” – a lot of the literature I’ve read uses phrases like “warfare in Africa” and “ethnic politics in Africa” that asserts a particular politics – generally of greed and fear amidst neopatrimonial corruption – for the whole continent (a recent exception is Straus’s 2015 book, which focuses on ideology). I’ve always been struck by this, and wonder where its historical/sociological roots lie. It would be tricky for me to write something like “in South Asia, politics are characterized by X” since Nepal doesn’t work the same way as India, which in turn is a very different political kettle of fish than Sri Lanka.

Which is why it’s important, and valuable, to see pushback that emphasizes instead variation, both across countries and over time.

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