Macola’s history of the mid-nineteenth-century introduction of firearms into Malawi, Zambia, and what is today the southern section of the Democratic Republic of the Congo provides a fascinating perspective on the evolution of societies, trade, ethnic rivalries, and war in the decades leading up to the European scramble for the continent. Macola documents how hundreds of thousands of firearms made their way into the region and further unsettled places that had already been destabilized by the slave trade. Some ethnic groups enthusiastically adopted firearms and quickly integrated them into their war-fighting and state-building strategies. Others did not, viewing the new weapons as a threat to prevailing notions of masculinity and honor and thus putting themselves at a military disadvantage. Macola’s broader purpose is to place the study of precolonial Africa back on the scholarly agenda and show how it remains relevant today. The conclusion of his fine book suggests a link between the adoption of firearms in central Africa a century and a half ago and the motivations and actions of the young men in today’s eastern Congo who join militias and spread insecurity and violence.
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