Africa's Armies: From Honor to Infamy

Africa's Armies: From Honor to Infamy

by Robert Edgerton
     
 

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Africa's Armies traces the military history of sub-Saharan Africa from the pre-colonial era to the present. Robert Edgerton begins this sweeping chronicle by describing the role of African armies in pre-colonial times, when armed forces or militias were essential to the maintenance and prosperity of their societies. During the colonial era, African soldiers fought

Overview

Africa's Armies traces the military history of sub-Saharan Africa from the pre-colonial era to the present. Robert Edgerton begins this sweeping chronicle by describing the role of African armies in pre-colonial times, when armed forces or militias were essential to the maintenance and prosperity of their societies. During the colonial era, African soldiers fought with death-defying courage, earning such respect as warriors that they were often recruited into the colonial armies not simply to enforce colonial rule in Africa, but to fight for the European homelands as well. After independence swept through Africa, African military men seized political power in country after country, ruling dictatorially for their own benefit and for that of their kinsmen and cronies. The author describes the post-colonial civil wars that have devastated much of sub-Saharan Africa - catastrophes marked by genocide, famine, disease, economic collapse, and steadily declining life expectancy. He closes by describing the role that Africa's military forces can and must play if the future is to bring better times to the continent's many peoples.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This is a deeply disturbing book, precisely because of its author's broad knowledge of, and deep sympathy for, sub-Saharan Africa. Edgerton (The Fall of the Asante Empire) romanticizes both the pre-colonial experience and the pre-independence insurgencies to a degree, but makes the point that African armies have fought in most cases with honor, sparing noncombatants even under the stresses of revolution. He is correspondingly at a loss to explain the behavior he describes in his next three chapters. What began in a context of corrupt and inefficient governance as a pattern of military coups and assassinations (totaling over 100 since decolonization), has increasingly degenerated into virtually random mass slaughters, for which Edgerton provides a compendium, from Liberia to the Sudan and back to Sierra Leone. By the time he finishes, the atrocities blur into each other and one account of torture or cannibalism seems just inexplicably horrific as the next. The common thread, however, is that these events have virtually nothing to do with armies or warfare. The perpetrators are not soldiers, whatever they may call themselves-and often, indeed, no longer even bother with such trappings as uniforms and chains of command. The most extensive and the one Edgerton describes in greatest detail, the mutual Hutu-Tutsi genocides of the 1990s, involved populations butchering each other; armed forces were vestigial. Edgerton is better at describing the phenomenon than explaining it. While sharply and legitimately critical of European failures to build infrastructures that sustain modern states, he eschews vulgar West-bashing. At the same time he is reluctant to accept the arguments of those African intellectuals who interpret African culture as structurally maladaptive. In the end he issues a generalized call for African armies to redevelop a professional ethic and rediscover their historic social roles. (Nov.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Prior to the Berlin Conference of 1885, in which the continent of Africa was divided among the European imperialist powers, the native tribes had armies. Although little was known about them owing to a lack of written records, Edgerton (UCLA Sch. of Medicine) has filled in many of the gaps, interestingly and concisely documenting the history of the continent's conflicts. In an engaging text, he provides insight into pre-1885 military activity, continues through the period of European control to independence in the 1960s and 1970s, and concludes with the present state of arms on the continent. (The civil war in Nigeria during the late 1960s, leading to the Biafran misery, and Uganda's reign of terror led by Idi Amin are each covered in detail.) Despite traveling from the Zulu wars and early 19th-century massacres to the genocidal conflict in Rwanda and Burundi in 1994, the author is able to leave the reader on a hopeful note, citing some relatively positive changes in the last half decade that include a greater number of democratically elected officials and a move away from military governments. Suitable for academic libraries and public libraries with large African collections.-James Thorsen, Central North Carolina Regional Lib. Syst., Burlington Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780813342771
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
11/01/2004
Pages:
336
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author


Robert B. Edgerton is the author of more than twenty other books on a variety of sociological, anthropological, and historical topics, most recently Hidden Heroism (Westview 2001). He also teaches anthropology at the UCLA School of Medicine.

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