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Canadian Journal of African Studies / Revue canadienne
des études africaines
ISSN: 0008-3968 (Print) 1923-3051 (Online) Journal homepage:
Peace Versus Justice?: The Dilemma of Transitional
Justice in Africa
Lyn S. Graybill
To cite this article: Lyn S. Graybill (2012) Peace Versus Justice?: The Dilemma of Transitional
Justice in Africa, Canadian Journal of African Studies / Revue canadienne des études africaines,
46:2, 345-348, DOI: 10.1080/00083968.2012.705609
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Published online: 11 Sep 2012.
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Canadian Journal of African Studies / La Revue canadienne des études africaines
Tripartite Alliance during the election may have strengthened the collection. In
addition, the final chapter of the book briefly mentions the ability of the ANC to use its
control of state resources as patronage in order to affect electoral results. Daniel notes,
“we miss the main point if we do not acknowledge how powerful a factor the ‘pork and
pap barrel’ or state largesse has become in our politics” (p. 272). Indeed, understanding
this aspect of South African politics is crucial in terms of analyzing the processes and
outcome of general elections. Further elucidation of this important point would provide
readers with much needed contextual information in understanding electoral politics in
the country.
Overall, Southall and Daniel have compiled a noteworthy volume that addresses the
2009 election in a rigorous manner. They present the election within its historical context,
document carefully the various activities of each party, and offer insightful analysis
regarding the broader implications of the election. The book is sufficiently accessible that
it will appeal to a broad audience, but also offers depth of analysis for those more familiar
with electoral politics in South Africa.
David P. Thomas
Mount Allison University
Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada
q 2012, David P. Thomas
Peace Versus Justice?: The Dilemma of Transitional Justice in Africa, edited by
Chandra Lekha Sriram and Suren Pillay, Rochester, NY, KwaZulu-Natal, James Currey,
2010, xiii þ 373 pp.
Winner of a Choice Outstanding Academic Title award for 2010, this edited volume by
Chandra Lekha Sriram and Suren Pillay is a significant contribution to the literature on
transitional justice. The book is the culmination of a seminar hosted by the Center for Conflict
Resolution in Cape Town in 2007 which brought together scholars and practitioners – mostly
from the African continent – to reflect on the challenges posed for countries moving from
conflict to democracy. It addresses the peace versus justice debate – whether transitioning
countries should promote peace through reconciliation, or justice through punishment, and
whether these goals are incompatible. While transitional justice may include an array of
instruments, including reparations, purges, and memorials, these essays focus mainly on the
two (at times opposing) institutions: truth commissions and tribunals.
Part One provides an overview of the challenges to peace and justice in Africa. The
authors eschew a sharp dichotomy in a choice between peace or justice. While achieving
peace and promoting justice may be goals in tension, there is an ongoing search for a balance
between the two. Yasmin Sooka, who was a commissioner for both the South African and
Sierra Leone truth commissions, argues that the option for peace over justice (referring to
the amnesties given in South Africa) may be an appropriate strategy at one historical point,
but that justice may be a better option later. She cites the example of Argentina, which had
granted amnesties from prosecutions only to have them overturned in 2005. In Chile, too,
Augusto Pinochet was charged with human rights violations despite being covered by an
amnesty agreement along with his generals when the court decided in 2007 that serious
violations could not be subject to amnesty. She suggests that amnesties and truth
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Book Reviews / Comptes Rendus
commissions may be an appropriate first step in the pursuit of accountability, and that full
accountability – through prosecutions – may not occur until decades later, at a time when
they would not destabilize the nation. Kingsley Moghalu also cites the Argentina and Chile
cases to make his argument that decisions to grant amnesty are later negatively re-evaluated:
“This is the problem with ‘forgiving and forgetting’. Just as the Argentine and Chilean
dilemmas have become clearer through the wisdom of hindsight, so the South African
transition has not remained immune from a reappraisal of the conventional wisdom that the
TRC process was a saintly affair” (84). A former spokesperson for the International
Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), he concludes, perhaps predictably, that judicial
processes have a better track record than truth commissions.
Part Two focuses on truth and reconciliation commissions. Alex Boraine, the co-chair of
the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, highlights its accomplishments and
weaknesses and compares the commission in South Africa with those that followed in Sierra
Leone, Peru, Timor-Leste, and Peru. Boraine laments the fact that no other commission has
granted a conditional amnesty to perpetrators, arguing that more truth came out from
perpetrators’ evidence than from witnesses’ stories – a conclusion that I do not share (most
perpetrators obfuscated and only shared what they knew was already in evidence against
them). He regrets that prosecutions for those who did not apply for amnesty, or who applied
and were denied it, have not taken place as the TRC recommended.
Along with a chapter on the Sierra Leone TRC providing a general overview of its
operation, and one comparing Sierra Leone (which held both a truth commission and a
court) with Mozambique (which did nothing), there are chapters on the Nigerian and
Ghanaian truth commissions, written by insiders: Father Matthew Kukah, a commissioner
of the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission (HRVIC) of Nigeria, and
Kenneth Attafuah, executive director of the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) of
Ghana. Kukah, after highlighting some of the failures of the HRVIC, including the refusal of
the former generals to testify and the government to release the official report, concludes
that it at least “exposed the underbelly of the military in terms of its incipient corruption and
bankruptcy . . . ” (183). Attafuah points to a distinguishing feature of the commission in
Ghana: it was not part of a transition from military to civilian rule, nor did it follow a period
of armed conflict. It started nine years after the restoration of civilian rule, which suggests
the “widening of uses to which [truth commissions] may be put” (200). Likening it in that
respect to Morocco’s Equity and Reconciliation Commission (ERC), and the Truth and
Reconciliation Project (TRP) in Greensboro, North Carolina, which were also set up absent
the context of a transition, Attafuah foresees a “new genre” of truth commissions (200).
Part Three looks at war crimes tribunals: the Special Court for Sierra Leone (held
contemporaneously with a truth commission); and the International Criminal Tribunal for
Rwanda, held in neighboring Tanzania. Like John Hirsch in his chapter comparing Sierra
Leone and Mozambique (in Part Two), Abdul Tejan-Cole also criticizes the Special Court.
His main objection is the lack of input from locals. He argues that senior positions in the
Court went to foreigners and that senior management made decisions “with little or no input
from nationals – in a court that was supposed to be a hybrid” (234). The debate concerning
peace and justice is too important, he argues, “to be left in the hands of mediators and
lawyers. Trade-offs between peace and justice must involve society as a whole and must be
locally owned and accepted” (243). This echoes Hirsch’s contention that Mozambique’s
transition was successful because amnesty had been internally decided, rather than
internationally driven as had the Special Court for Sierra Leone and ICTR (the view that
Mozambique’s amnesty was internally decided, however, is countered by Victor Igreja,
who argues that it was an elite, rather than a popular, decision). Abdul Lamin in his chapter
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Canadian Journal of African Studies / La Revue canadienne des études africaines
on the Special Court criticizes the prosecution of Samuel Hinga Norman, head of the Civil
Defense Forces, whom many Sierra Leoneans view as a national hero for defending the
country against the RUF rebels, saying that “‘victims’ on whose behalf the prosecution
claimed to be working did not share the same enthusiasm about categorizing the CDF and
the RUF as ‘two sides of the same coin’” (255).
Continuing the theme of local ownership is the contribution by lawyer Wambui
Mwangi, a one-time employee of the ICTR, who discusses the Rwandan government’s
objections to a court that was outside the country, staffed by non-Rwandans, and whose
prosecutors alone chose who to prosecute. An acquittal at the ICTR, in the view of
Rwandans, did not necessarily mean innocence but reflected “a lack of due diligence by
the ICTR” (270). Mwangi worries about the difficulty of reconciling those acquitted with
their communities when verdicts are not locally accepted.
Part Four includes two chapters on indigenous justice attempts: gacaca in Rwanda,
and rituals involving spirit healers in Mozambique. Helen Scanlon and Nompumelelo
Motlafi consider whether gacaca, which is heralded by the government as a traditional
justice mechanism which promotes reconciliation, is really that, or whether it is instead an
instrument of political expediency to deal with the backlog of genocide-related cases.
They wonder, too, whether exclusively targeting Hutu crimes and ignoring abuses
committed by the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front, who control the government,
can lead to reconciliation.
Tradition as a vehicle to promote reconciliation is also the subject of Victor Igreja’s
fascinating study on magamba spirits and healers in central Mozambique. He makes the
point that in the absence of officially sanctioned institutions such as a truth commission
or tribunal, Mozambicans employed rituals involving spirits and healers in order to fill
the gap of the government-imposed silence. Describing the rituals which he observed in
central Mozambique – in which a gamba spirit, presenting himself as a dead victim,
possesses the body of a survivor, and the magamba healer reenacts war events while the
spirit discloses what happened to him, leading to acknowledgment and confession – he
concludes that these practices are ways in which survivors assume their own individual
and collective responsibilities over wartime events. He believes that the strategy of
amnesia implicit in the peace accord indicated a complete lack of concern by state
leaders for survivors living in remote areas whose “painful memories of violence and
abuse did not fade away simply because of the authorities’ unwillingness to address
them officially” (284). Igreja views this ritual as a rupture between the needs of local
communities and the central government who mandated amnesia. This position seems
at odds with earlier assessments of anthropologists Alcinda Honwana and Carolyn
Nordstrom, who argued that the choice for amnesia was acceptable at both the elite and
local levels. They assert that it was culturally inappropriate to speak about what
happened during the war, since looking back – and in particular vocalizing what
happened – opens the door for harmful spirits to penetrate the community. (See
Honwana, “The Collective Body: Challenging Western Concepts of Trauma and
Healing,” Track Two 8, no. 1, 1999; Nordstrom, A Different Kind of War Story,
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997.)
Part Five concludes with an appraisal of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Chandra Sriram addresses the two major criticisms waged against the ICC: that it is merely
an “International Criminal Court for Africa” and that its prosecutions will hamper peace
processes. On the first count she is not convinced, arguing that the reason there are so
many African cases is that there are so many African signatories to the Treaty, that many
African countries are in conflict, and that of the four cases then before the Court, three
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were self-referrals. She is more sympathetic to the view that prosecutions may hurt peace
negotiations, citing the example of the indictment of Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance
Army, and its impact on peace negotiations in Uganda.
Overall, this is an exceptional book. My main criticism is that there is an overabundance of material about the South African and Sierra Leonean cases, much of it
repetitive from author to author. Some tighter editing to avoid duplication would have
been appreciated. For experts on transitional justice in Africa, there is not much new here,
the exception being the information on the Nigeria and Ghana truth commissions about
which not much is generally known. The subject of traditional methods of conflict
resolution is such a burgeoning area of research that I would like to have seen more
examples discussed, such as mato oput, nyouo tong gweno, and gumo tong from northern
Uganda, and fambul tok in Sierra Leone. Surely, too, the post-election violence in Kenya
in 2007 –2008, and the prevailing discussions surrounding appropriate accountability
measures, should have triggered inclusion here. An entry on the Liberian Truth and
Reconciliation Commission would have also complemented the other chapters. Lastly,
although the workshop on Justice in Africa was held in May 2007, this book was only
published in 2010 with the result that much of it is already dated.
Lyn S. Graybill
Independent Scholar, Atlanta, GA
q 2012, Lyn S. Graybill
African Police and Soldiers in Colonial Zimbabwe, 1923– 80, by Timothy Stapleton,
Rochester, NY, University of Rochester Press, 2011, xiv þ 313 pp.
David Killingray, a pioneer in the field of police and soldiers in Africa, stipulated that
effective colonial government rested on two pillars: the collection of revenue to finance
the colony and, more importantly, the maintenance of law and order to preserve the
administration of the colonial state.
In that same vein, Timothy Stapleton’s book on the African police and soldiers of
colonial Zimbabwe examines Africans’ role in maintaining law and order, and how that
role facilitated the extension of the Southern Rhodesian colonial system. Stapleton argues
that the position of Africans in police and military forces within Southern Rhodesia was
crucial to the continuation of minority rule and the facilitation of European power within
what would become Zimbabwe. While Stapleton’s more recent work on the military
history of South Africa dealt with a broader interpretation of military development, this
book provides greater focus and detail. Stapleton admits that sources largely dictated the
scope of the book, beginning with the establishment of self-government in 1923 to the end
of the civil war in 1980. Despite this restriction, it remains clear that this period was a time
of considerable transition and change within not only Southern Rhodesia, but also amongst
the African police and soldiers who defended it.
Stapleton must contend with a deeply entrenched view of the Africans serving the
colonial government as collaborators or “sell outs” to the nationalist struggles of the 1960s
and 1970s, which he argues is one of the primary reasons why this topic has been largely
ignored by historians. At the root of his argument, Stapleton attempts to illustrate why the
Africans worked to defend the colonial government and what factors motivated their
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