The articles in this issue deal with a diverse range of topics, including the effects of colonial conquests in Africa, the genocide debate, peacekeeping in relation to the profiles of civil-military coordination officers, ‘bad’ regional ‘neighbourhoods’ and self-determination.

In the first article, Emmanuel Mbah takes us to north-west Cameroon, where, as elsewhere, the causes of many disputes about land or boundaries can be traced back to the era of colonialism – although some date from pre-colonial times. This article proceeds from the premise that when certain countries in Europe tried to increase their economic and political power through colonialism, they were little concerned about the interests of the countries and peoples colonised. Regardless of demographical realities, geographical or even geometrical borders were inflicted on previously borderless stretches of land. When colonies were eventually granted the independence they claimed – in the case of Cameroon less than a century later – these contestable borders were left unchanged and proved to be a source of significant conflict. Boundary issues notwithstanding, the advent of colonialism also resulted in various uneven administrative arrangements. Village-groups or tribes who collaborated with the colonial authorities were rewarded with favouritism and preferential treatment. This was often informed by colonial perceptions that a particular group was superior to another on the grounds of being more ‘intelligent’, ‘talented’ or ‘friendly’. This resulted in administrative arrangements that benefited the favoured tribes or ethnic groups – causing conflict among and between those colonised. Mbah expands his analysis to include cases where colonial authorities introduced new administrative procedures to counter some of the above-mentioned dilemmas. These included processes of a less top-down nature which attempted to draw in participation by local leadership. Mbah also examines how potentially effective methods of dealing with boundary disputes failed to be upheld and consolidated by post-colonial authorities who instituted new bodies that were ineffective, did not favour consultation and often protracted the process. This article recommends ‘meaningful dialogue, to examine the economic plight of the people’, and ‘peace initiatives that consider economic stimulus plans’.

In the second article, the focus is Darfur, where the death toll rises as the world debates whether the loss of innumerable lives amounts to ‘genocide’ or not. Ben Okolo frames his argument by referring to the massacre of Armenians in Turkey and the elimination of Jews in Nazi Germany, which both took place in the first half of the 20th century before the crime of genocide was recognised by the United Nations (1946) and the Genocide Convention was adopted (1948). He also discusses the role of the International Criminal Court, which includes punishing perpetrators of genocide. With reference to cases tried by the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, Okolo discusses the situation in Darfur. He illustrates how the genocide debate does not stand alone, but is interrelated with various questions – for instance, the complicity of the Government of Sudan, the complicity of the rebel movements, the ability of the International Criminal Court to prosecute the architects of the atrocities, and the indifference of the international community. If the declaring of a situation as genocide is not followed up with assistance from the side of the international community, it makes little or no difference to the survivors of the victim population. Too often in cases of genocide, before the term was coined and thereafter, action by other states or global institutions was conspicuous by its absence. Okolo places strong emphasis on the fact that since the adoption of the responsibility to protect principle, the obligation to intervene has to be taken seriously by other states and international institutions – especially if the state concerned is unwilling or unable to stop the genocide, or is itself the perpetrator. So, for the sake of the victims in Darfur and elsewhere, ‘the international community should strive to prevent further killings even if it later turns out that it made a mistake in its labelling of the situation’.

The field research for the third article was also conducted in Sudan, but its findings could well apply to peace-support operations in most other situations. The contexts in which peace missions function are almost always complex and challenging. Cooperation between military and humanitarian components are therefore of crucial importance, and civil-military coordination (CIMIC) of the highest quality is necessary. This need has prompted Gary Lloyd, Gielie van Dyk and François de Kock to explore the psychological profiles of civil-military coordination officers in order to recommend a suitable selection profile. Before this project, Van Dyk had already developed a generic psychological profile for peacekeeping soldiers in general peacekeeping duties. During the fourteen-month research period in the setting of the African Mission in the Sudan (AMIS), a competency model for CIMIC officers was first developed. On account of end-of-mission reports, the sample of officers could be divided into a successful and an unsuccessful group. The performance ratings of the two groups and the sample as a whole were analysed with regard to each of the ten competencies in the model. It was found, for instance, that CIMIC officers should preferably be extrovert leaders who perform well in intuition, thinking and judging, but do not regard themselves as superior to others, are not self-centred, and are not inclined to blame others for failures. CIMIC officers who have been selected according to such a profile should be able to perform and cope better in the challenging environment of a peace support operation.

The fourth article deals with peacekeeping in West Africa. David Francis shows how the West African sub-region – comprising almost a third of the states of Africa and almost a third of the population of Africa – ‘has emerged as the new theatre of violent intra-state conflicts and a “bad neighbourhood” in Africa’. It is a region struggling with socio-cultural, ethnic and linguistic differences, and with economic, social and political under-development. It ‘has the highest incidence of military coups and interventions in civilian politics in Africa’. Six West African countries (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger and Côte d’Ivoire) have suffered under state collapse and civil wars, but the majority of these wars have also spilled over into neighbouring countries. Francis further describes how the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which was established in 1975 with the main objective of regional economic development, inevitably had to become involved in responding to all the threats to security that emerged in the region. Francis examines how ECOWAS had to intervene for the sake of stabilising conflict and restoring peace. The article focuses on peacekeeping and peace support operations of the ECOWAS Ceasefire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau and Côte d’Ivoire. Francis argues that in the context of a ‘bad environment’ effectiveness in matters of regional peace and security prove to be a distinct challenge for ECOWAS – particularly if peace is understood to be ‘not only the mere absence of war but also the elimination of all conditions that cause human suffering such as structural, cultural and physical violence’. He does mention several factors that have nonetheless enabled ECOWAS to play a fairly effective role in the region, and then concentrates on the four most important of these. Firstly, in spite of historic colonial divisions, and the current self-interests of states, a good deal of common foreign and security policy has been developed, and a common West African identity seems to be emerging. Secondly, Nigeria’s political, military and financial leadership in ECOWAS and ECOMOG interventions has played a crucial role. Thirdly, external actors, such as former colonial and other foreign powers, the United Nations, European Union and African Union, have also played pivotal roles in negotiating peace agreements, and supporting political and diplomatic activities of ECOWAS and peacekeeping and peace enforcement operations of ECOMOG, as well as post-war peacebuilding and reconstruction in West Africa. Finally, the quality of leadership within ECOWAS and in leading states, particularly Nigeria, has to be acknowledged. The conclusion Francis reaches, is that valuable lessons may indeed be learnt from what ECOWAS and ECOMOG have been doing, and especially from understanding the motivations behind the actions and the reasons for the various successes and failures.

The final article takes us to the conflict in Western Sahara. Andreu Solí -Martí­n gives us a clear insight into the background and context of the conflict, the attempts to contain it, and possibilities for resolving it satisfactorily. Before withdrawing from the then Spanish Sahara, Spain began preparing a referendum on self-determination. The United Nations decided to sponsor it, but the plan was thwarted by a Moroccan-Mauritanian invasion. Up to now, the referendum has not yet been held. A ‘Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic’ (SADR) was declared in 1976 to turn ‘Africa’s last colony’ into an independent state, but Morocco clung to its ‘southern provinces’. Fighting between the liberation movement (POLISARIO) and the Moroccan regime escalated into a full-blown war, but eventually a ‘cease-fire’ was announced. A United Nations ‘Mission for the Referendum’ is still monitoring the cease-fire, but there is a deadlock – not only between the parties, but between the ideologies of democracy and authoritarianism. Solí -Martí­n shows how there are factors – such as historical, economical and anti-terrorist alliances – that can tone down the West’s insistence on pro-democratic reforms. He then argues for ‘shifting the diplomatic agenda beyond containment policies … towards a conflict resolution approach’, and recommends ‘a strategy of maximising efforts to implement a UN plan for the self-determination of the Western Saharan people, advocating international recognition of SADR’.

This issue also reviews two books, namely Democratization and Islamic law: The Sharia conflict in Nigeria, by Johannes Harnischfeger, and Traditional justice and reconciliation after violent conflict: Learning from African experiences, edited by Luc Huyse and Mark Salter. The book on the Sharia conflict in Nigeria is based on thorough research of the implementation of the Islamic Sharia law in the north of the country. According to the reviewer, ‘This book is an unashamedly honest, remarkably well documented study, and a courageous exposure of the major threat to Nigeria’s stability’. The book on post-conflict justice and reconciliation contains a comparative analysis of tradition-based practices in five countries and ‘highlights the strengths and weaknesses of both traditional and modern systems of justice’. It therefore shows how, where relevant and appropriate, traditional methods may be combined with modern legal methods. Two recent examples are given in which traditional ways played a prominent and constructive role.

We trust that our readers will find the contents of this issue relevant and thought provoking, and that this collection of articles will lead to further debate on the ways in which African conflict is articulated, and conflict resolution conceptualised.