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Book Review:
A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region, By David Zarembka

Madera Press, 2011, 322 pp., $25

To purchase book: please click here

First published in Quaker Life, July-September 2011, page 40.

This particular American Quaker, David Zarembka, is in a unique position to write a primer for wazungu (Swahili for “white people” or “foreigners”). It is the real deal. After having lived and worked in Kenya for nearly 20 years, Zarembka has been able to write a clear picture of the political, social and economic landscape — the exotic and the highs and lows. So often we extend the assistance we think is needed but our good intentions amount to nothing because we are so ignorant of the culture into which we are insinuating ourselves. A Peace of Africa is a must-read for anyone, particularly Quakers, planning to work, volunteer or visit in East Africa.

The legacy of colonialism today still affects almost all aspects of African life. Zarembka describes the significance and origins of tribalism and land divisions that actually created “ethnic states” that today are a root cause of so much corruption and violence. Because Friends United Meeting was heavily involved with humanitarian relief during and after the 2008 post-election violence, we Friends should be particularly interested in learning more about why the violence targeted those that it did. After having led Friends Peace Teams in East Africa for so many years, Zarembka has been able to draw parallels to Europe, including the Third Reich. His theories about why some multi-ethnic countries survive and some do not are compelling.

In addition to sharing facts and figures, the author takes us on a moral/spiritual journey as he describes his work establishing the African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI) for Friends Peace Teams. Included are many personal vignettes that help the reader understand how AGLI has been able to build a Peace Center in Kenya and establish throughout East Africa teams that teach the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) and Healing Relationships in Our Communities (HROC). Their work and Zarembka's commitment is impressive. The reader is confronted with the horrors of ethnic cleansing as well as the many successes healing the victims as well as their attackers. The author's experiences leave many questions for missionaries. Clearly, A Peace of Africa would be an excellent selection for a book discussion group.

North American Friends who are led to work with farming projects in Kenya will be particularly interested in the extensive data about agriculture and rearing animals. Friends who are on finance committees need David's insight into the wide differences that exist between how Westerners and Africans think about money. American educators have little to no idea how different attitudes and practices in Africa are compared to those in the west. Even something like corruption, that we assume is frowned upon, is looked at through an entirely different lens in Africa. It was appalling to learn how much money the United States and other governments donate but how little they actually “do.”

The lasting impression the reader is left with is David Zarembka's commitment to the Quaker Testimonies of Peace, Simplicity, Equality and Integrity. These values permeate his life, his work and this book.

Lisa Stewart
Lake Worth, Florida

To purchase book: please click here