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The Frontlines of Peace: An Insider’s Guide to Changing the World, Séverine Autesserre

Reviewed by Lionel Beehner

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Séverine Autesserre has a bone to pick with outside peacekeepers. Over the course of her trio of books on the Congo and her countless articles, the Barnard College political scientist has skewered the $22 billion industry that she derisively labels “Peace Inc.”—the United Nations (UN) and its dizzying flowchart of peacebuilding agencies—and all its vices. As an intrepid and pull-no-punches prophet, she has earned herself—rightfully, in this reviewer’s estimation—a cult-like following for taking Peace Inc. to task for its one-size-fits-all, top-down, technocratic approaches to peacebuilding.

Autesserre is the rare breed of academic who writes with passion, clarity, and a storyteller’s eye for detail. To wit, we meet a fair-skinned Congolese businessman who gets taken more seriously by foreign interlocutors when he pretends to be Puerto Rican. This anecdote is outrageous, yet emblematic of the wider arrogance that outsiders hold toward locals.

The author is hardly the first to criticize top-down approaches by the UN. Unlike previous diatribes against “dead aid,” however, she brings to the table nuance, rigor, passion, and firsthand knowledge, having previously cut her teeth as a peacebuilder herself.

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