BOOK REVIEWS | 90 African Studies Quarterly | Volume 12, Issue 1 | Fall 2010 http://www.africa.ufl.edu/asq/pdfs/v12i1a4.pdf
Henning Melber and John Y. Jones (eds).
“Revisiting the Heart of Darkness—Explorations into Genocide and Other Forms of Mass Violence.” Development Dialogue 50 (December 2008). 302 pp.
"Genocide studies" has emerged in recent years as an interdisciplinary field in its own right, drawing upon the methodologies of history, political science, psychology, and sociology in an effort to answer the question as to why groups of human beings pursue the wholesale extermination or extirpation of other groups. Not only has this blossoming field produced countless books on the subject, in addition to several journals (such as the Journal of Genocide Research and Holocaust and Genocide Studies), but now several universities across the globe have established centers, or offer programs, devoted to the subject. Unfortunately, however, twinned with this increased desire to understand the mechanics of genocide is the growing willingness to employ the label for political purposes, so that the true meaning of the word is forgotten amid accusations and counter-accusations launched across the world in our twenty-four-hour news cycle. Too, the commercializing of genocide manifest in movies like Hotel Rwanda popularly reduces the etiology of such crimes against humanity to mere original sin or man’s inherent inhumanity to man.
All of which make this particular issue of Development Dialogue—devoted to genocide and mass violence, with a particular focus upon the African continent—a most welcome addition to the literature. Arising from papers presented at two different conferences in Scandinavia in 2006 and 2007, this issue tackles both the broader questions of the definition and archaeology of genocide while, at the same time, offering analysis specific to the Congo, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and more. Opening the issue is Jacques Depelchin, who links modern genocide with European colonialism in the question, ‚what if the evil which has so often and unquestioningly been associated with Nazi Germany, or, today, with believers of Islam, were to be seen as deeply imbedded in a way of thinking which is actually more associated with the triumph of the West, its economic, political and social models?‛
Contributor Gerald Krozewski follows up this question by asserting that violent conflict in Europe’s African colonies must be contextualized within the doctrines of the nation-state then being debated in Europe at the time, while Jürgen Zimmerer provides a comparison of the Holocaust and colonial genocides, concluding that they are different only in levels of organization, centralization, and beauracratization. Dominik Schaller—contrary to writers such as Adam Hochschild of King Leopold’s Ghost fame, who insist that European colonial violence cannot be dubbed genocide despite the fantastic death count—applies to the colonial project Raphael Lemkin’s original definition of genocide, which can cover the deliberate destruction of cultural and political institutions as well the elimination of targeted populations, and concludes that ‚the situation coloniale in Africa was not only violent but inherently genocidal‛
Coupled with these and other papers that embody much of the theorizing at the center of genocide studies are four papers which zero in on specific events of mass violence in post-colonial Africa. Mohamed Adhikari explores the Rwandan genocide through the lens of the popular movie Hotel Rwanda, offering not only a contrast of the real-life experience of hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina with that of the character played by actor Don Cheadle, but also presenting the deep context of Belgian and German colonialism, Huti-Tutsi relations through history, and the post-independence regimes of Gregoire Kayibanda (during which thousands upon thousands of Tutsis were massacred) and Juvenal Habyarimana (widely seen as a traitor by Hutu extremists). While recounting this bigger picture, Adhikari takes to task the film’s unnecessary simplification and decontextualization of events. Iam Phimister recalls the largely unknown massacre of some 20,000 Ndebele speakers in Matabeleland, Zimbabwe, during the early 1980s—a crime directed largely at a population known to have antipathies toward Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF political party. The author argues in conclusion that such violence, ‚as regionally bound as it was undiscriminating,‛ could well fall under the UN definition of genocide.
A second case study centered upon Zimbabwe is Mary E. Ndlovu’s paper on the 2005 ‚Murambatsvina,‛ the central government’s notorious attack upon the infrastructure of informal trade and informal housing, an event for which Ndlovu offers several possible explanations, including the government’s desire to suppress or pre-empt urban opposition to ZANU-PF rule or to reassert control of a black market economy that deprived the state of revenue. Finally, Elina Oinas and Katarina Jungar examine the HIV activism of the organization Treatment Action Campaign and its indictment of both the South African government and multinational pharmaceutical corporations on the charge of homicide for their respective failures in addressing the AIDS crisis in the country. Examining the struggle from the perspective of Foucauldian body politics, the authors conclude that the government, largely on the basis of inaction, has ‚played itself into a corner where it can be defined as a perpetrator of mass violence and lethal biopolitics on a mass scale‛.
Closing this issue is a handful of shorter papers that link colonialism and genocide with modernity, explore the economic interests behind mass violence, ask the question as to whether or not there exists a unique global south perspective on genocide, and report from a panel debate on what constitutes genocide. The whole package, coming in at just over 300 pages, has the feel more of a scholarly book than it does a single journal issue, and it practically demands employment as such—for this volume has both the philosophical heft and general accessibility to serve as a primer to the fields of genocide studies. While its modern historical case studies are limited to a meager handful of sub-Saharan nations (with two of them focusing upon Zimbabwe), they are all excellent works that provide a useful template for further inquiry.
Moreover, the Dag Hammarskjöld Centre generously makes this issue, along with others in the Development Dialogue series, available for free download at its website. If this volume is indicative of the broader work of the Dag Hammarskjöld Centre, then people of goodwill across the world have a valuable ally in their struggle against inhumanity and violence.
Guy Lancaster, Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture