African Studies Quarterly
Volume 10, Issue 1
Spring 2008

Telling the Truths: Truth Telling and Peace Building in Post-Conflict Societies. Tristan Anne Borer, ed. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006. 328 pp.

Telling the Truths is a collection of essays developed out of a conference at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies of the University of Notre Dame. The book provides a novel and welcome comparative examination of truth-telling processes. The introduction by Tristan Anne Borer provides a careful and thorough overview of terms and concepts and is therefore a useful resource for students and neophytes. Borer also addresses some of the big questions such as the politics of historical memory; who defines truth and delineates who the victims are (and are not) and what are the ramifications as hegemonic narratives emerge, potentially marginalizing other discourses, views, and experiences?

The volume essentially examines the relationship between truth-telling and peacebuilding from a variety of perspectives. Most chapters are overviews without in-depth case studies, and the lack of these is surprising. Although she correctly points out that her case is somewhat unorthodox, Shari Eppel's chapter on Zimbabwe is a welcome exception. The other chapters consist of thematic discussions such as Pable De Grieff's "Truth-telling and the Rule of Law" and Debra DeLaet's "Gender Justice." While these two topics in particular are of great interest, this reader was disappointed by the general nature of the text; the chapters generally offer more of a philosophical reflection on the subject than a hard-nosed empirical review of past and current truth-telling efforts.

The TRC of South Africa has attracted the most attention, and it is also heavily referenced in this volume. As it is a relatively well-known case, more details of other truth-telling initiatives would be desirable (a TRC has even been established in Greensboro, North Carolina to deal with violence during the civil rights movement). Juan Mendez's "The Human Right to Truth" chapter is helpful in this regard as he provides an overview of truth-telling initiatives in Latin America, bookended by a brief comparative discussion. (Readers may also wish to consult Rosalind Shaw's work on Sierra Leone and other recent publications).

While arguably a necessary feature of the academic marketplace, most edited volumes are weakened by a lack of integration. Like the vast majority of others, this volume would have been greatly strengthened by a concluding chapter drawing out some lessons from the assembled chapters. The introduction somewhat addresses this task, but a more thorough discussion would have been an excellent addition.

In summation, truth-telling will likely remain an area of great interest to both Africanist and other scholars and practitioners for some time to come. As this review was being written, the media are reporting calls for a TRC in Kenya to address the post-election violence of 2008. Telling the Truths is a worthy or even, given the embryonic state of this literature, necessary addition to the collections of scholars specializing in peacebuilding, truth-telling, and reconciliation. The introduction would be invaluable for advanced classes on the latter two subjects. As the introduction of Telling the Truths underlines, much work must still be done on these topics, and one hopes that further works will soon appear. In the meantime, this volume provides an important contribution, and it may have a significant impact on the evolution of this literature.

Mark Davidheiser
Nova Southeastern University