Post-Conflict Transition, the State and Civil Society in Africa

Programme Co-ordinator: Ebrima Sall
The programme started in 2001 and was ended in 2003

This research programme was launched in February 2001. Its main objectives were to initiate studies on conflict and post-conflict transition, and to provide a framework for a scholarly conversation on conflict in Africa. As many as 20 countries in Africa have experienced civil wars or other forms of violent conflict in the past two decades. The Rwandan genocide was an exceptionally tragic episode. The conflicts have had devastating impacts on the economies, the institutions of the state and of civil society, social relations, cultures, and representations. Although most of the conflicts are intrastate, almost all have regional and global dimensions. New economies have emerged, and new modes of social and political regulation have developed. African societies and states have also invented several ways of managing, resolving and living beyond conflict. Consequently, while conflict is spreading and deepening in some areas, a number of others are in the period of post-conflict transition.

Programme Description

The nature of conflicts
The nature of conflicts and how they are viewed determines to a large extent the types of solutions proposed. Many of the conflicts have been diagnosed as ‘ethnic’, regional, or religious conflicts. The post-conflict political formulæ and institutional arrangements proposed tend to be some form of power-sharing involving elites claiming to represent various ethnic groups. Most of the recent civil wars are said to be primarily driven by economic agendas. Access to rents, particularly mineral resources, is often cited as an important factor in what sustains these conflicts. ‘Resource wars’ are, a post-Cold War phenomenon linked to globalisation. However, both the diagnosis and the proposed solutions are the subject of intense scholarly debates. Apart from the rational choice explanations, most civil wars are also seen as a result of the way power is organised and exercised, of a breakdown of political systems, or of “normal politics gone bad”.

Post-conflict transition
A ‘transition’ is an interval, and a phase in a process of change from one state to another, in this case from conflict to post-conflict. Countries and societies considered as being a ‘post-conflict’ state are those undergoing what has been called ‘a simultaneous reconstruction and reconciliation’. These processes are often carried out over a fairly extended period of time. Peace does not necessarily mean the end of the violent conflict. Transitions are in themselves conflict-ridden processes, and entail a certain amount of uncertainty, insecurity and volatility, a fluidity of rules, a fragility of institutions, and problems of legitimacy for the actors involved. Transitions go through various stages, and the risk of reversal may remain for a long time. Actors include the parties to the conflict as well as other actors who come in as mediators, facilitators, brokers, sponsors or guarantors, and the roles and relative importance of the forces on the ground keep changing.

Research agenda
The programme will encourage research on the causes of conflict, and on the ways in which the pasts are being dealt with in the post-conflict transitions, and how the future is imagined, as well as on the political cultures. Important research issues in the transitions, include the dynamics surrounding the negotiations towards and the signing of peace accords, the factors for success or failure of these accords, the demobilisation and re-orientation of ex-combatants, the rule of law, human rights and human security, and the resettlement of internally displaced persons and refugees. Medium and longer term issues include long-term peace building, traditional mechanisms for reconciliation and rehabilitation, truth and reconciliation commissions, problems of post-conflict justice. The transformation of regional security complexes into regional security communities, the re-building of infrastructure, institutions of the state and civil society, the building of democratic polities, and growth and development are also priority issues on the post-conflict reconstruction agenda. Violent conflict invariably impacts on values. Religion plays an important role, especially in terms of representations of the ‘good’ and the ‘evil’. Research should look into both the transformations in the values and ethics, and into the ways civil society and other actors are responding to the changes.

Certain ‘strategic’ actors, such as the local intellectuals, including school-teachers are often overlooked. The intelligentsia, strategically located in the societies, offer explanations for what happened, take on the responsibility, and claim the authority to speak for others. We need to understand what kinds of flows of ideas there are, and how they translate them in the particular realms where they operate.

Economic reform is often part of the process of post-conflict transformation. Equally important is the question of the legitimacy of the state, and how it is linked to the realization of various kinds of ‘dividends’ expected from peace. The policies and interventions of regional organisations such as the OAU, ECOWAS and SADC, as well as those of the EU, the UN, the World Bank and other multilateral bodies, and international humanitarian NGOs, and the consequences of the interventions of these organisations on post-conflict transition, development, and democratisation, is yet another area.

Programme activities
The study of a broad range of localised conflicts as well as those with a broad scope and a far reaching impact will help in identifying patterns, trends and cross-cutting issues. Conflict and post-conflict transition ought to be seen in the context of the larger processes, such as globalisation and informalisation. Both good data-sets and long-term research are needed. The former allow for the identification of patterns and correlations, whereas the latter makes it possible for us to interrogate narratives, and for in-depth analyses.

Following a series of consultations, a brainstorming workshop was held in Uppsala in May 2001. Participants came with “think-pieces” based on their many years of research on conflict and post-conflict transition. This helped in identifying a niche for the programme, whose activities will be of four kinds: 1) research; this will be carried out in country teams working on what they consider to be priorities for research in their countries, sub-regional networks and thematic networks, as well as in individual projects. Teams and networks will each hold methodology/orientation, and review workshops; 2) publications; 3) periodic brain-storming seminars; and 4) dissemination seminars and conferences, and policy forums. A scientific committee will also be set up.

Ebrima Sall is a sociologist by training. He obtained his PhD from Paris I–Sorbonne in 1992. He spent a year at Yale University as a Post-doctoral fellow at Yale’s Programme in Agrarian Studies. He has worked and published on issues of governmentality in small states, cross-border networks in the Senegambian part of West Africa, academic freedom, human rights, higher education in Africa, agrarian issues, democratization and conflicts. Prior to joining the Institute he worked for six-and a-half years at the CODESRIA secretariat in Dakar, Senegal. Since 2004 he works as Research Director at CODESRIA.

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