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Foreign Affairs Anthology Series

The Best of Books 2016


Making and Unmaking Nations: War, Leadership, and Genocide in Modern Africa

In This Review

Making and Unmaking Nations: War, Leadership, and Genocide in Modern Africa
By Scott Straus
Cornell University Press, 2015
400 pp.

Straus’ previous book was a penetrating analysis of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Here, he returns to the issue of large-scale ethnic violence in Africa, demonstrating an impressive command of the historical material to contrast the cases of Rwanda and Sudan, where genocides took place, with three cases in which ethnic conflict did not reach that point (Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and Senegal). In the end, he concludes, whether interethnic strife results in genocide depends almost entirely on national leadership. Straus argues that African genocides occur during civil wars when governing elites prove willing and able to mobilize the majority of the population and the state apparatus to commit systematic violence against an ethnic minority. That is what happened in Rwanda and Sudan; in the other three countries, leaders instead embraced a pluralistic nationalism that made space for ethnic minorities and sought to end their civil wars through negotiation.

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