In view of the recent resurgence of violent extremism and terrorism (VET) and unconstitutional changes of government (UCGs) on the African continent, and parallel debates within the United Nations, the African Union and some of the regional economic communities (RECs) about adjusting current peacebuilding strategies and instruments to these challenges, the Routledge Handbook of African Peacebuilding is a timely publication. Edited by the Canadian scholar Bruno Charbonneau and the French researcher Maxime Ricard, the handbook provides a rich overview of the field. It is characterised by un mélange réussi of experienced scholars and emerging academics, a good mix of voices from the continent and also concerned scholars from beyond, and a focus on African experience and thoughts on peacebuilding.
Bruno Charbonneau is professor and director of the Centre on Security and Crisis Governance (CRITIC) at the Royal Military College Saint-Jean in Montréal, Canada. He is the founder and director of the Centre Franco Paix en résolution des conflits et missions de paix of the Raoul-Dandurand Chair at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). He is also a deputy editor of the Canadian Military Journal. He has published widely on France’s role in West Africa, armed conflict in Africa, and peace operations in the Francophone world. Maxime Ricard is researcher on the West African region at the Institute for Strategic Research (Institut de recherche stratégique de l’École militaire, IRSEM, in Paris, France). He is also an associate researcher at the Centre Franco Paix en résolution des conflits et missions de paix of the Raoul-Dandurand Chair at UQAM where he has served as the centre’s coordinator (2016–2021). He has done his PhD with Charbonneau (2020), and his publications focus on Côte d’Ivoire.
The Handbook of African Peacebuilding comes in three parts and 18 chapters. The first part focusses on institutions, with chapters on the relation between peacekeeping and peacebuilding (Alexandra Novosseloff), the relation between the United Nations and the African Union (Arthur Stein and Marie-Joëlle Zahar), the role of security sector reform and governance in peacebuilding (Niagalé Bagayoko and Eboe Hutchful), and the prevention of forced displacement in Africa (Marina Sharpe). The second part of the handbook addresses “themes and debates”, with chapters on African mediation (Laurie Nathan), the African Union’s transitional justice policy (Tim Murithi), politics of knowledge and African transitional justice (Ulrike Lühe and Briony Jone), the local turn in peacebuilding (Jeremy Allouche and Patrick Zadi Zadi), women and gender in African peace agreements (Nina Wilén), development and peacebuilding (Jonathan M. Sears), peacebuilding and democracy (Daniel Eizenga) as well as the nexus between climate change and peacebuilding (Charbonneau et al.). And the third part of the handbook in on various country or regional case studies: Sahel and G5 (Ousmane Diallo), Somalia and Mali (Charbonneau and Louise Wiuff Moe), The Gambia (Festus Kofi Aubyn), South Sudan (Kuyang Harriet Logo), Guinea-Bissau (Fiifi Edu-Afful and Ruth Adwoa Frimpong) as well as Côte d’Ivoire (Maxime Ricard). This is followed by a succinct conclusion on African peacebuilding in which Cyril Obi (head of the African Peacebuilding Network at the New York-based Social Science Research Council) raises the critical question of “peacebuilding for whom”, reinforcing the handbook’s clearly compelling argument on the centrality of African agency, ideas, and practices to peacebuilding.
Each handbook is a natural invitation to search for the topics that the reviewer would also like to have analysed in a similarly competent manner as in the other chapters. I do not want to resist this temptation. Competing handbooks also point to gaps that the editors could perhaps have addressed more thoroughly (for example, Tony Karbo and Kudrat Virk’s Palgrave Handbook of Peacebuilding in Africa). There is no doubt that the Routledge Handbook of African Peacebuilding has a bias towards Francophone Africa, which probably is owed to the editors’ previous work (not only is the Great Lakes region absent or the Horn of Africa). So, what issues could still have been considered in the best of all cases and with a view to African agency? Obviously, the experience and practices of the regional economic communities, first and foremost the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), but also the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and others, could have been interrogated more systematically; and also, frictions between their interventions and those of the United Nations and the African Union (the European Union does not feature as a major actor in this handbook). Beyond transitional justice, it would also have been interesting to take a closer look at other peacebuilding policies of the AU, for example in the field of post-conflict reconstruction and development (PCRD). Another research gap relates to AU institutions such as the African Court of Justice and Human Rights, or the African Commission of Human and Peoples’ Rights. Dependence on external donors in financing African Union-led peace support operations (e.g., in Somalia or the Lake Chad Basin), is another issue that deserves more attention in the context of African peacebuilding. Finally, the role of youth in the peacebuilding debate is a common thread that is receiving increasing attention on the African continent.
Moreover, the claimed focus on African peacebuilding could have been pursued more consistently throughout the handbook. However, the first part of the handbook in particular seems to suggest that the norms and practices of global peacebuilding are developed in New York and not elsewhere. From a post-colonial perspective and looking at local practices as well as the co-production of knowledge between the UN and various African actors, more attention could have been paid to historical experiences and practices on the African continent in this regard (as indicated in chapter 7 on the politics of knowledge and transitional justice).
But this discussion of “shortcomings” should not obscure the fact that the Routledge Handbook of African Peacebuilding is a substantial, well-researched, and at times original contribution to the debate. Any serious publication that gets to the bottom of the actors in Africa's complicated peace processes is highly welcome in order to overcome the prevailing public ignorance in this field.
 Tony Karbo / Kudrat Virk (eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of Peacebuilding in Africa, Cham 2018.