Review of the edited volume “The History and Practice of Humanitarian Intervention and Aid in Africa”

Bronwen Everill, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the King`s College London, and Josiah Kaplan, Research Associate at the Department of International Development of the University of Oxford, have recently published the interdisciplinary volume The History and Practice of Humanitarian Intervention and Aid in Africa, Basingstoke/New York, Palgrave Macmillan 2013. Both editors compiled a variety of interesting essays by scholars of international relations as well as historians, which deal with cases of humanitarianism in sub-Saharan Africa. Seeking to investigate the continuities and evolutions since the colonial era, Everill and Kaplan deliberately chose a rather broad conceptual approach, one that “sees humanitarian military interventions as part of a series of related activities – or ‘interventions’ – in African societies, which includes military action, economic aid, political support and state-building and assistance” (p. 3).

Browne Kaplan

However, by subsuming assistance for refugees, medical campaigns to combat leprosy, various forms of charity, famine relief, and discourses on good governance under the term of humanitarian intervention, in my opinion the editors run the risk of blurring the term and losing its conceptual precision. Both editors acknowledge the analytic importance of a long-term historical perspective and emphasize the need to link nineteenth-century colonial experiences with today’s humanitarian engagement in Africa. Yet the volume actually contains only one genuine essay dealing with the nineteenth century; nearly all of the other contributions concentrate on case studies from the second half of the twentieth century. The international relations approach seems to dominate the volume at the expense of the intended deeper historical perspective. Despite this conceptual critique each individual essay of the volume offers new intriguing perspectives of various forms of humanitarianism in sub-Saharan Africa. You will find my complete review of the volume @ http://www.sehepunkte.de/2013/11/23978.html.


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