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Intervening in Africa

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Intervening in Africa: Superpower Peacemaking in a Troubled Continent

“Here are wisdom and insight (and adventure) from some of the best years of US Africa policy by the man who made it…. [R]equired reading for anyone interested in knowing how foreign relations should be practiced and the difficulty of doing so, not just in Africa but anywhere in the world.”


I. WILLIAM ZARTMAN, professor, Johns Hopkins School of Advaned International Studies

As the Cold War wound down in 1989, Africa was awash in civil wars. Ambassador Hank Cohen initiated an aggressive policy of diplomatic intervention in African conflicts, using the prestige and credibility of the world’s only superpower to search for peace. Cohen details his own and others’ efforts in seven civil wars, with results ranging from heady triumph in Mozambique to utter disappointment in Angola. At every stage, deadly power struggles and bureaucratic and political infighting raised formidable obstacles.

In this account of assertive diplomatic intervention, Hank Cohen describes and analyzes the art of mediating in the midst of war, techniques of encouraging negotiation, problems of cease-fires, troop encampment, and demobilization, the fundamental causes of civil war in Africa, and cultural gaps between mediators and protagonists. He candidly characterizes key personalities and events and offers valuable lessons for practitioners of internal conflict resolution. With civil wars still raging in Africa, Cohen’s experiences as a diplomatic practitioner of conflict resolution and the complex lessons he learned in the trenches remain as relevant as ever.

A top specialist in African affairs and a pioneer in promoting democratic transition, good governance, and civilian control in Africa, Hank Cohen served 38 years in the Foreign Service, reaching in 1991 the highest rank of Career Ambassador. He was President Reagan’s senior advisor on Africa (1987–89) and Assistant Secretary for African Affairs in the first Bush administration (1989–93). Earlier he was ambassador to Senegal and the Gambia (1977-80) and served in Uganda, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Paris.