Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute, University of Manchester
If politics is about who gets what, when and how, then Alex de Waal's new book on war in the Horn of Africa is all about politics. Yet, it is far from a typical political science book. Drawing on thirty years of experience, Alex de Waal employs an anthropological approach to provide a rich narrative of each of the countries in the Horn of Africa. Based on these cases, de Waal derives a general finding: governments buying off rebel groups is close to a necessary condition for resolving civil wars. Although de Waal provides a materialist account of how to make peace, this book does not put forward the standard materialist argument in favour of mediation by a manipulative power broker. On the contrary, de Waal clearly shows that a square table format in which a 'negotiated' settlement is imposed is unlikely to result in durable peace. Instead, de Waal argues in favour of an approach that can handle the complexities of contemporary peace processes, as for example many different factions within rebel movements. One is left wondering after reading de Waal's book whether the complexities of contemporary peace processes make conflict resolution impossible. Indeed, rather than a blue-print for conflict resolution, de Waal's book is a sobering diagnose of conflict in the Horn of Africa. Accordingly, scholars and practitioners of conflict resolution will need to build on de Waal's insightful analysis to identify the most efficient ways to resolve wars. In short, this book is essential reading to those interested in issues of peace and security in the Horn of Africa and beyond.