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A Socialist Peace?

Explaining the Absence of War in an African Country

A Socialist Peace?

Explaining the Absence of War in an African Country

For the last twenty years, the West African nation of Guinea has exhibited all of the conditions that have led to civil wars in other countries, and Guineans themselves regularly talk about the inevitability of war. Yet the country has narrowly avoided conflict again and again. In A Socialist Peace?, Mike McGovern asks how this is possible, how a nation could beat the odds and evade civil war.  
Guinea is rich in resources, but its people are some of the poorest in the world. Its political situation is polarized by fiercely competitive ethnic groups. Weapons flow freely through its lands and across its borders. And, finally, it is still recovering from the oppressive regime of Sékou Touré. McGovern argues that while Touré’s reign was hardly peaceful, it was successful—often through highly coercive and violent measures—at establishing a set of durable national dispositions, which have kept the nation at peace. Exploring the ambivalences of contemporary Guineans toward the afterlife of Touré’s reign as well as their abiding sense of socialist solidarity, McGovern sketches the paradoxes that undergird political stability.

240 pages | 13 halftones, 1 table | 6 x 9 | © 2017

African Studies

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Political Science: Political and Social Theory


“Based on a deep reading of the statements and actions of key players and ordinary Guineans, A Socialist Peace? reveals important micro-level insight into the macro-level problem of explaining how and why conflict doesn’t break out in an African state. McGovern provides a provocative and entirely convincing argument about the dynamics of state building and conflict in an authoritarian state over the past fifty years. Tapping a wealth of ethnographic material and close readings of primary sources, this theoretically elegant book deserves comparison to classic works on conflict and state formation in other parts of the world. It will immediately gain recognition as a major work and is sure to change the way that people think about postcolonial legacies in Africa and their influences on contemporary politics.”

William Reno, Northwestern University

“A formidable read in its own right, A Socialist Peace? is also a wonderful follow-up to McGovern’s previous book on Guinea. Based on an incredible amount of field research in the depths of the biggest rain forest in West Africa, it is bound to become a must read in the anthropology of the state and in the comparative study of postsocialist contexts and legacies.”

Ramon Sarró, University of Oxford

Table of Contents

List of Figures and Table

One / Explaining the Absence of War
Orientations toward the Future
Temporality and the Legacies of Socialism in Africa
Counterfactual Arguments and Anthropology’s Advantages
Choosing War
Part I: Resentment

Two / “Those Who Eat Monkey Will Never Rule over Us”
The Setting
The Interplay of Stereotypes
A Troubled Succession, 1984
Religion and Politics in West Africa, 1800–1958
The Ethnic Calculus, 1950–90
Disgust and Political Exclusion
From Autochthony to Culture
“It’s Our Turn”

Interlude: Palm Wine and Ethnic Cleansing

Three / Articulating Betrayal
Case Study: N’Zérékoré, 1991
Secrecy, Trust, and Betrayal
Narratives of Betrayal
From Words to Acts
Part II: War Averted?

Four / An Exceptional Case: The Killings in Nuvanuita
Case Study: “Nuvanuita,” October 2000
Socialist State Practices and Their Legacies
Macenta as Microcosm

Part III: Afterlives

Interlude: “I’m not putting my life on the line . . .”

Five / The Rhetoric of Counterinsurgency
Case Study: The Antirefugee Attacks of September 2000
Postsocialist Publics and Counterpublics
The Touré Legacy: Semantic, Rhetorical, and Organizational

Six / The Symbolic Death of Sékou Touré
The General Strikes of 2006–7
The Death of the Father: The Afterlife of a Socialist Regime
The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of Trade Unionism in Guinea
The Two Bodies of the King and the Timing of the Strikes
Interlude: Ga li?

Seven / The Cinquantenaire and the Dadis Show
The Annual Ceremony, 2008
Following the Money
“La Vérité Finira Toujours par Triompher un Jour”
A Musical Interlude
The Dadis Show
The September Massacres and the Resurgence of Disgust

Eight / Conclusion
The Current State of Play
On Sacrifice and Suffering
Works Cited

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