Soldiers at Peace: Veterans and Society After the Civil War in Mozambique

soldiers_at_peaceSoldiers at Peace: Veterans and Society After the Civil War in Mozambique, Jessica Schafer (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 256p.

Reviewed by Jennifer L. De Maio, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Political Science at California State University, Northridge

With an ever-growing number of African countries being ravaged by civil war and facing the difficult challenges of reintegrating combatants in post-conflict societies, Jessica Schafer’s book, Soldiers at Peace: Veterans and Society After the Civil War in Mozambique, about the experiences of veterans in Mozambique, is an important and relevant case study.

Based on fieldwork conducted under the auspices of USAID from November 1995-November 1996, Schafer’s book is the first to examine the return of soldiers and guerillas demobilized after the civil war in Mozambique. Interviews were conducted with former fighters from both sides of the war and with civilians who interacted with combatants during and after the conflict. This has the effect of humanizing the soldiers and situates their experiences in the proper context. In doing so, Schafer broadens our understanding of citizenship and sociopolitical identity in post-colonial Africa. She brings to the surface the historical, geographical, and political realities to challenge the notion that “veterans that emerged from this process…[were] an undifferentiated group of soldiers who posed a danger to society through their capacity to abrogate the peace agreement, cause political instability, and threaten social and economic progress.”

What emerges from Schafer’s study is a depiction of soldiers who share three fundamental beliefs: the idea that their war experiences have given them political insights that should translate into increased civic authority; the notion that the state is obligated to look after them in the post-war period in exchange for service provided during the war; and the rejection of divisions between veterans and the demand for equal access to benefits and resources. She argues that previous scholarly and policy-based analyses of post-war Mozambique have inaccurately assumed that contemporary veterans are a “species fundamentally different from their ancestors, both within Mozambican society and across cultural boundaries.”  She rejects the “new war” theories popular with scholars like Mary Kaldor, arguing that Mozambique’s civil war was set against the backdrop of Cold War politics and apartheid South Africa and while it did not end until after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, it still warrants cross-cultural comparisons of veterans from so-called “old wars.”

Schafer also takes issue with the process of “othering” African soldiers and seeing them as somehow more wild, barbaric, and irrational than Western veterans. Instead, she favors a comparative perspective that places the Mozambican veterans in a shared, universal social group while at the same time acknowledging their historically specific and socially constructed features. Her approach allows for broader applications of her analysis to post-conflict societies across time and space and challenges the notion of African exceptionalism.

One of the real values of Schafer’s analysis is her exploration of the psychology of combatants. Like Mahmood Mamdani’s seminal work When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda and Ted Robert Gurr’s Why Men Rebel, Schafer provides a view into the minds of individuals committing massive atrocities. Throughout the book are several excerpts from interviews she conducted in Mozambique that explore the question of how killing, an unthinkable act, becomes thinkable during war: “Q. Do you know if you yourself killed anyone during the war? A. I killed many Q. How do you feel about this? A. I feel bad, because it’s not a good thing. The problem is that he also wanted to kill me, and I was there to kill him, so we entered into shock.”

In sharing these narrations of war, Schafer explains how soldiers found themselves in the situations they did, in military positions for which they did not volunteer and ignorant of the movements for which they were fighting. She explores their subsequent political education and military training, as well as the process of demobilizing and reintegrating them. She devotes two chapters to focusing on veterans’ roles in post-war society, looking at assistance from the state and external sources and from veterans’ associations and local-level politics.

This book is a valuable contribution to the literature on the reintegration of combatants in post-conflict societies. With its clear and accessible writing style, it will be of a great use to students and researchers from various fields, including political science, anthropology, and sociology. It also opens up new directions and possibilities for research on the process of post-war reconciliation.

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