Edited by John Cooper-Poole (UK) and Marion Doro (USA)

WAR IN PRE-COLONIAL EASTERN AFRICA. Richard Reid, (London: British Institute in Eastern Africa/Oxford: James Currey, 2007). Pp. xvi+256, ISBN 978-1-84701-604-1. £55.00 cloth. £16.95 paper.

This is an illuminating study that seeks to put African warfare in a more objective context than that which has prevailed since the colonial period and, to a significant degree, persists to this day. According to these dated, yet hardy, models, African warfare was usually ‘barbarous’ and had little to do with ‘civilized’ motives but everything to do with cattle-rustling and slave-raiding. ‘This was combat that lacked the soul, the aims and the complexity of ‘civilized war’ as Richard Reid puts it; ‘these were parochial and decidedly low-calibre struggles’. Furthermore, the nineteenth century European-promulgated stereotype – still with us today, as those familiar with reportage on African violence will know – portrayed these struggles as ‘irrational’ and ‘interminable’, suggesting that all Africans did was fight each other and, of course, providing one of the bedrock justifications of European rule and pax colonia. ‘The aim of this book, put simply, is to contribute to the growing refutation of these notions. The history of African warfare is perhaps the last bastion of the kind of distorted Eurocentric scholarship that characterized African studies before the 1960’s. Continue reading