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Refugees, the State and the Politics of Asylum in Africa

vuvuzela horn, Alegis account of the symbiotic relationship between soccer and
Africa is not without its aws. Nonetheless, like the vuvuzela this book is a
welcome addition, because despite their geographical specicity they both allow
us to view the beautiful game in a new light.
University College London JAMES ESSON
doi: 10.1093/afraf/adr031
Advance Access Publication 31 May 2011
Refugees, the State and the Politics of Asylum in Africa, by James Milner.
Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. xv + 235 pp. £63.00 (hardcover). ISBN
978 0 23021 504 7.
Recent statistics by UNHCR suggest that 15.6 million people, many from and
in Africa, are currently refugees, forced to ee from their countries because of
persecution. Research has shown us all too vividly the vulnerabilities and proble-
matic conditions these refugees face and the profoundly inadequate responses to
their plight at local and global levels. By pushing us to look much more carefully
at the politics of refugees and asylum in Africa, Refugees, the State and the Politics of
Asylum in Africa adds signicantly to the work in this area.
Milner sets out to explain why in the late 1980s many African states became
more reluctant to host refugees, a trend that contrasts considerably with the more
open-door policies in the 1960s. He argues that this shift has little to do with refu-
gees themselves or the perception of the security threat they pose. Instead, broader
political changes explain this shift better. These changes include the fact that refu-
gees are no longer eeing wars of liberation and decolonization but complex civil
wars with regional dynamics. Another broad factor is the decline of donor support
for long-term refugee assistance. Using Kenya, Tanzania, and Guinea as case
studies, Milner argues that given the vulnerable and dependent nature of African
states and the deep sense of insecurity among state elites, decisions on how to treat
refugees (including whether to grant asylum) are linked to broader political calcu-
lations, including the political costs and potential benets of granting asylum.
Perhaps the most controversial claim in the book is that democratization can
play negatively into refugee protection. Democratization is complex and contradic-
tory, and the manipulation of xenophobia is sometimes one of the mobilization
strategies used within multi-party politics in Africa as elsewhere. However, such
politics of xenophobia is also part of the political repertoire of authoritarian
regimes. As the book notes, when it was politically expedient to do so, between
September 2000 and April 2001 Guinean President Conte whipped up hatred and
violence against refugees despite an ofcial open-door refugee policy.
What this suggests is that we might explore democratization and the treatment
of refugees in more depth, because there are more complexities to be unravelled.
Repression and the use of illiberal strategies that vilify whole ethnic communities
and strip them of citizenship rights help produce refugees in the rst place.
Problematic state institutions that are yet to decolonize and democratize in funda-
mental ways facilitate these negative dynamics. In the longer term, more demo-
cratic institutions and constitutions that protect minority rights, stronger and
independent courts, space for a vibrant civil society, a free press, and stronger
regional associations may help create more effective avenues for preventing refugee
creation along with strengthening refugee advocacy in Africa. However, the
process of getting there is complex and difcult.
Milners book recognizes the important role played by international and
national NGOs in refugee protection. However, besides resources, these NGOs at
the national and regional level in Africa also need political space to lobby and
sometimes criticize governments. Democratic change may thus also be necessary
to strengthen local and regional NGOs advocating for refugees. These NGOs
work best when they are protected, have access to refugees, are able to organize,
and have independent courts and strong legislation to draw on. It is not accidental
that when Kenya had its rst peaceful change in power in 2002, the new govern-
ment passed an improved refugee law. Kenyas new constitution, which has
emerged out of difcult struggles for change, includes provisions that may help
refugees in protracted situations in Kenya. Police reform may also help mitigate
some of the horrendous abuses of Somalis eeing to Kenya recently documented
by Human Rights Watch.
Overall, the book has an important and valuable focus on African states and
their policies in relation to the politics of refugees and asylum. Taking seriously
but critically the governments that run these states their politics and existing
concerns about burden-sharing and security is an invaluable step forward.
Further, this book raises the critically important question of the role of the US-led
war on terrorand its implications for refugees we need to explore this much
more. A next step in this research agenda would be to bring into this helpful
theoretical approach the complex dynamics of states and governments in relation
to society, including the informal networks between state and society and a more
detailed analysis of the way political transformation plays into refugee protection.
Overall, this is an excellent book, thoughtful and provocative, and an example
of the kind of engaged research we need if we care about pushing advocacy and
support for refugees forward.
Columbia University JACQUELINE KLOPP
doi: 10.1093/afraf/adr035
Advance Access Publication 26 May 2011
Morality, Hope and Grief: Anthropologies of AIDS in Africa, edited by
Hansjörg Dilger and Ute Luig. Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2010. x + 353 pp. £55
(hardback). ISBN: 978 1 84545 663 4.
How does AIDS affect communities in African societies and how does it
change local moral orders? How do people explain and make sense of an excep-
tional illness, of grief, death, and the social costs that come with it? How are the
strategies and practices of dealing with AIDS shaped by the broader structures of
social life and cultural reproduction through which disease is experienced? And
how do experiences of AIDS and the practices of confronting it change over time?
It is obviously not the rst time that these questions have formed the subject of
an edited volume. But it is perhaps the rst time that they have been addressed so
rigorously, not in terms of the interfaces between interventions and local culture
engendered by public health and humanitarianism but in terms of ethnographies
of the ordinary institutions of everyday life in specic African localities. Rather
than focusing on the workings of home-based care schemes, the authors analyse
how care is constructed in the vernacular key and organized in extended family
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