Editorial

This issue of the Africa Review of Books is dedicated to an assessment of events and developments that have been unfolding in three African countries in the last decade or so: Algeria, Rwanda and South Africa. The crisis in Algeria, which began in 1992, has a longer time span, while 1994 serves as a landmark for both Rwanda and South Africa. That year was for Africa, at one and the same time, the best of times and the worst of times. It combined anguish and despair with hope and promise.

April 1994 encapsulated this ambivalence in starkly dramatic fashion. On the evening of April 6 was unleashed the worst genocide in living memory. One hundred days later, nearly a million Rwandans had perished in a process of apocalyptic magnitude. On April 27, the first democratic elections were held in South Africa, thereby bringing to an end the heinous and universally condemned system of apartheid. A couple of weeks later, Nelson Mandela, symbol both of African suffering and of African defiance, was sworn in as the first democratically elected president of South Africa. That event was a great moment of triumph not only for the many South Africans who sacrificed their lives but also for the many more who had campaigned against the apartheid system in all corners of the world.

The reviews and essays assembled in this issue explain and evaluate these events and developments. Five of them deal with South Africa. While the overall thrust of the contributions tend to be critical of the postapartheid regime, the more positive developments of the period are not entirely ignored. The essay by Patrick Bond synthesizes the critique of the regime from the left, highlighting in particular the regime’s pursuit of neo-liberal economic policies, the widespread poverty and unemployment, the rampancy of the AIDS crisis and the authoritarian suppression of dissent. The theme of poverty is picked up and elaborated in Bill Freund’s review of Desai’s famous work, We are the Poors, while Rajeev Patel’s review of the innovative novel, Finding Mr. Madini, highlights one of the most glaring aspects of poverty, homelessness. Manthiba Phalane provides a critical assessment of the government’s “Growth, Employment and Redistribution Strategy” (GEAR), with particular focus on its injurious effects on women. Raymond Suttner, on the other hand, argues that women have made substantial gains in the post-apartheid era. Warning us of the danger of applying the neo-liberal tag, he emphasizes the beneficial effects of the South African Constitution, generally regarded as one of the most liberal, and urges a policy of applying constructive pressure
rather than outright rejection. 

The 1994 genocide in Rwanda had deep historical roots. And it had repercussions throughout the Great Lakes region. The first phenomenon is captured in Paul Rutayisire’s review of a historical investigation of the genocide, which reads like a countdown to the event that hit the international headlines with so much force in April 1994. This contribution has the added value of setting a precedent for ARB of reviewing a work in an African language, in this case Kinyarwanda. The second phenomenon is dealt with in Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja’s essay, which also describes the events and processes leading to 1994. But beneath these broad and somewhat impersonal historical processes are the personal traumas of the many victims of the genocide. It is in that respect that Rangira Gallimore’s review of the works of Yolande Mukagasana has so much pertinence and poignancy. The testimony of a female victim of the genocide, contrary to Rwandese custom, which privileged only male witnesses, not only defies tradition but also has a great cathartic effect.

The violence that has been rocking Algeria since 1992 has generally been explained by the suspension of the 1991/2 elections, which the Islamic Salvation Front appeared to be winning. But Hassan Remaoun’s essay emphasizes the complex origin of Islamic terrorism by exploring its historical roots (before and after Algerian independence) and its global context. In a similar vein, Haddab Mustapha’s review explores the philosophical/ theological foundations of Islamic fundamentalism, while that by Mohamed Daoud investigates the relationship between literature and violence.

Pagination

Pages 4

Africa Review of Books / Revue Africaine des Livres

Volume 01 N° 02, Septembre 2005

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