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The book first examines the origins,

nature, causes and changing dynamics

of violent conflicts, and then discusses

mitigation efforts by internal

and external actors: Africans,

individual nations beyond

Africa, and the larger global

community through interna-

tional and nongovernmental

organizations. It concludes with

an excellent summary chapter

by the editors, who review the

authors’ major points and find-


It would have helped those

unfamiliar with the subject if the editors

had started the book by highlighting the

significant impact of Africa’s illogical colo-

nial borders on its current conflicts, both

historically and today. Both by splitting

individual ethnic groups between states,

and combining mutually hostile groups

within the same state, the colonizers virtu-

ally guaranteed that violence would follow

their departure.

Without this fundamental knowledge

at the outset, the reader can quickly

become lost in Africa’s complexities, even

when the material is so well articulated by

the authors.

Although each author examines

different aspects of the topic, there are

a number of common threads that run

throughout the collection of essays. “Afri-

can solutions for African problems”—a

phrase often spoken by African leaders—

is found in several chapters and examined

as it relates to such issues as use of African

“eminent persons” in resolving conflicts,

how international peacekeeping opera-

tions use increasing numbers of African

troops, and how Africa’s own capability

for dealing with conflicts has continued to

dramatically improve.

Realistically, though, paying to help

resolve conflicts remains part of the “gap,”

The Difference Between

Needs and Capacities

Minding the Gap: African Conflict

Management in a Time of Change

Edited by Chester A. Crocker and

Pamela Aall, CIGI Press, 2016,

$38/paperback, $15.38/Kindle,

342 pages.

Reviewed By Tibor Nagy

Former Assistant Secretary of State for

African Affairs Chester Crocker and the

founding provost of the U.S. Institute

of Peace’s Academy for International

Conflict Management and Peacebuild-

ing, Pamela Aall, are joined by 20 other

renowned African scholars in

Minding the


to examine every aspect—past, pres-

ent and future—of African conflicts and

how to resolve them.

The “gap” refers to the difference

between the needs and the available

resources and capacities—internal,

regional, continental and global—to

adequately address African conflicts.

This work is most timely because Africa

is on the cusp of dramatic change—with

rapid urbanization, the fastest-growing

population and biggest “youth bulge” in

the world, and indications that climate

change will be particularly devastating for

the continent.

At the same time, though the number

of Africa’s conflicts continues to shrink,

some of the remaining ones seem unend-

ing, and new types of combatants such as

Boko Haram and al-Shabaab are increas-

ingly significant.

While the book exemplifies the mean-

ing of the term “comprehensive” in its

scope and content, the immense richness

of data, along with the many examples

and case studies, can overwhelm the

non-academic reader with the feeling of

drinking from a fire hose.


because almost all such funding continues

to come fromWestern donors.

Another recurring theme is the struc-

tural tension inherent in

addressing conflicts between

the competing interests of

the United Nations, the Afri-

can Union, Africa’s regional

economic communities

and individual prominent

nations (e.g., the United

States, France, Britain).

Besides overlaps and

uncertainties concern-

ing what role each should

play, there are situations of duplicative

and even competing efforts that serve to

confuse and open the door to “resolution

shopping” by the involved parties.

I saw this firsthand in Ethiopia over

many months as mediators from the

United States, the European Union, Italy,

Algeria and the U.N. literally tripped over

each other at Addis Ababa airport trying

to end the Ethio-Eritrean War. Despite

the incredible effort and duplication of

resources, the conflict was only resolved

(partially) when Ethiopia defeated Eritrea

on the battlefield.

The authors also comment extensively,

and at times disagree, on whether the key

component in conflict resolution involves

addressing the “root causes” or the imme-

diate “triggers”—furnishing excellent

points to support both views.


Minding the Gap

is a signifi-

cant contribution to the academic study of

African conflicts and will be an excellent

textbook for advanced courses on the sub-

ject. It is not, however, an easy-to-follow

roadmap for practitioners or policymakers

seeking to navigate the complexities of the


During 32 years of U.S. government service,

Tibor Nagy spent more than 20 years in Afri-