Summary of "The Politics of Memory: Truth, Healing, and Social Justice"

Summary of

The Politics of Memory: Truth, Healing, and Social Justice

Edited by  Ifi Amadiume and Abdullahi An-Na'im

Summary written by Eric Brahm, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: Amadiume, Ifi, and Abdullahi An-Na'im, eds. 2000. The Politics of Memory: Truth, Healing, and Social Justice. London ; New York: Zed Books.

This collection aspires to provide an 'African-centered' perspective on the issues of social justice as both ends and means of healing and reconciliation, the nature of conflict, judicial accountability, and truth commissions. It draws upon the work of activists, policy-makers, and academics to explore how shattered lives and societies can be rebuilt.

Wole Soyinka's chapter argues that reparations are critically important and calls for any analysis of the past to be cognizant of the continued relevance of memory of the slave trade for Africa. The first part on social justice and the nature of conflict in particular take the Biafran War as its point of departure. For the editors, it serves as a useful precursor to exploring current efforts at healing and reconciliation in Africa. The record of reconciliation after Biafra is a mixed one. Ifi Amadiume, for example, argues that Nigerian political problems of the 1990s can be traced to the persistent public silence about the Biafran War. Akachi Ezeigbo examines the role of art, literature in particular, in providing healing. Axel Harnet-Sievers and Sydney Emezue examine the psychological benefits of myth-making as a survival strategy. Others focus more on broader lessons. Abdullahi An-Na'im and Svetlana Peshkova argue that realizing social justice, let alone conceiving of it, can vary tremendously depending on the context. Meaning can vary by country, culture, gender, or class, for example. They caution that, while social movements are frequently a strong force for realizing reconciliation, they can also contribute to the conflict.

The second part of the volume reflects on institutional responses to human rights abuses. Juan Mendez sees the specific choice a country chooses, whether trials or truth commissions, as less important than the fact that the choice be rooted in international law, which he argues contains a right to remedy. Julie Mertus disagrees in looking at Bosnian victims. She does not see international law as a basis for justice because it largely serves the needs of the international community, not those of local victims who often have different expectations. Using Rwanda as a case study, Binaifer Nowrojee and Regan Ralph chronicle how ill-equipped the international community and local initiatives are in dealing with the particular needs and suffering of women. Mahmood Mamdani writes critically of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which he sees as a political compromise that became a moral one by failing to address the roots of colonialism and apartheid. Finally, Francis Deng reflects on how the growing emphasis on local empowerment in the post-Cold War era has increasingly put conflict resolution in the hands of local powers that are ill-equipped to do so.