MOST Ethno-Net Africa

Complex Political Emergencies in Africa
21-23 May 2001, Douala, Cameroon

Call for papers

Ethno-Net Africa (ENA) in co-operation with UNESCO's Management of Social Transformations (MOST) Programme will organize a conference on Complex Political Emergencies in Africa, in Douala, Cameroon, 21-23 May 2001.

Coming in the wake of three seminars organized under the auspices of the program and three years since the ENA went operational, the conference will be an occasion for stock taking. It will also be a forum for continuing the on-going discussion between various actors working in the field of comparative research on ethnic conflicts, ethnic conviviality and social transformation in Africa. Understanding the dynamics of these conflicts which seemingly are endemic to the continent is necessarily a pre-requisite for the building of a culture of peace. As such, ENA expects that the proceedings of the conference will be of interest not only to those in the academy but also in policy making instances.

Conflicts are usually sui generis, but there are some generic issues and problems intrinsic to all conflicts. It is as a result of this that this particular conference will foreground Complex Political Emergencies(CPEs). To paraphrase Goodman and Hulme, CPE is not just an analytical tool but a descriptive category, a shorthand expression for many and often dissimilar conflicts. Their commonalities include: conflict within and across boundaries; their political origins; a protracted duration; the persistence of social cleavages as an expression of enduring ethnic identities which are seen as the only relevant moral territorial community in Africa and the probability that this may give rise to ethnic fascism, its concrete manifestation being the emergence of predatory social formation and feelings of ressentiment toward the other. These generic issues and problems shall enable conference participants and ENA to focus on the commonalities of conflicts in Africa.

To focus on commonalities that underlie ethnic conflicts in Africa will be important to scholars involved in theory building at this juncture when the contribution of indigenous knowledge to conflict resolution is being recognized. Even if this contribution involves what Ali Mazrui has labelled as a way "forward to the past", the significance of this paradigm lies in its contribution to helping policy makers resolve ethnic conflicts. By so doing, ENA would be fulfilling its engagement to participate actively in resolving ethnic conflicts, undertaken at the MOST Regional conference at Nairobi in September 1995. Pointedly, it would also enable the network to develop a framework that can be used by policy makers involved in peace building. Because this concept seeks to redress the destructive processes that accompany violence and shifts attention away from the warriors with whom the peace keepers are concerned toward the attitudes and socio-economic circumstances of ordinary people, its contribution to conflict resolution cannot be overemphasized. So far, this has been hampered by the fact that approaches to conflict resolution have been disparate, uncoordinated and uninformed by home grown knowledge.

To this end, we are calling on scholars and other actors involved in the realm of conflict management in Africa to submit papers on the following themes (regional; variations, if any should be emphasized):

Theme 1
Problems of State construction and transformation in multi-ethnic societies

A cursory examination of the literature on the history of the post-colonial Africa reveals that focus has been on state construction rather than on fostering a national imagining. To this end, policy makers have privileged consociational and differential incorporation. These strategies tend to privilege the group rather than the individual. This emphasis on groups has fostered the growth of sectional moralities, breeding feelings of ressentiment and even religious fundamentalism, and thereby preclude even schools that are supposed to serve as laboratories of a national imagining or a homogenizing culture (because of the similitude that they promote) from playing this conventional role. In some cases, failure to deconstruct the past, a condition that enables negative remembering, has hampered all efforts at state construction. But to be capable of good forgetting, we have to first "actualize" what we may then "deactualize". To the extent that failure to "right" and carry out these processes lead to the denial of just desert for any group or relegates them to the bottom of the symbolic ladder, it is bound to be a source of ethnic tension or low intensity confrontations. As group identifications gain increasing saliency, tension inevitably degenerates into conflict. Recent experience from states such as the Democratic Republic of Congo show that loss of sovereignty over one’s political space allows other states to move in, especially in circumstances where the same ethnic group which has taken up arms against that state intersect the borders of contiguous states. Similarly, the tendency of regimes to base their power on "securocrats", leading the absence of or defects in the democracy process also enable conflict as the governments tend to suffer from a legitimacy deficit. Similarly, factors tending to promote ethnic conviviality should also be examined.

Theme 2
The Political Economy of Ethnic Conflict

Ethnic groups being the only relevant territorial community in Africa, it is not surprising that in the face of the declining capacity of the state, warlords who may gain real material as well as (comparative) political or psychological advantages and gains from conflict have mobilized a ready following. Some people, especially ethnic entrepreneurs or groups therefore have an interest in propagating and sustaining war, once it has started. This warlord rational actor model, as it has been called, has a tendency of converting what begins as liberation, separatist or reformist rebellions into warlord insurgencies.

Theme 3
Dealing with the legacies of the failed state

Autocracy and similar tendencies that lead to the failure of the state are like a phoenix continuously being born out of its own ashes. With a view to averting this, there is a need for research and policy that addresses their institutional legacies. Ths helps to postpone the end-game. Relevant issues to be addressed under this rubric, especially in a post-conflict situation include: state institutions or the degree to which a rump of them survive or what if anything actually replaces the state; local institutions that survive the conflict and given that land is always fought over, what mix of institutions are set up for the equitable (re-)distribution of this resource?; how far are social capital and social networks destroyed, what if anything replaces them and how are the new forms of political and social participation and patterns of social action that have been engendered effective in playing their role within their areas of action or in reintegrating a fractured civil society.

Theme 4
Issues in Reconstituting the state

Cliffe and Luckham have pointed out some of the pertinent issues that should be addressed in this section. Sounding almost heretical, they ask if the failed state should be reconstructed at all or should some other forms of political organization or community replace it? If the state is to be rebuilt, then a key issue revolves around the kind of structure that should replace it and the approach that should be used in putting up this structure – should it be the bottom-top approach or the reverse or an approach that marries these two?; what should be done about powerful groups which had vested interests in the conflict – should it be a win-win game in which both the victors and the vanquished end up sharing power (politcs of inclusion versus exclusion); how much priority should be attached to democratization and in what form? How much importance should be attached to formal constitutional and legal arrangements and how much do informal processes thrive amid peace building? How should those responsible for past misgovernment, abuses of power and human rights (during conflicts) be made accountable?; what strategies should be followed (and are ususally politically feasible) for rebuilding security and law and order systems and how is it possible to restore the state’s capacities- to assure basic law and order, organize development and provide social services. Here, it would also be interesting to focus on the woman as a vector for the promotion of peace and the contribution of education to peacebuilding.


Preliminary drafts of all papers must be written and reviewed before being submitted to the Organizing Committee of the conference. Papers should be grounded in theory, analytical and where possible prescriptive. Political tracts will not be accepted. Drafts will be edited after the conference and considered for publication in the UNESCO/MOST series. Only high quality papers will be accepted for publication.

Though not all policy makers and frontline officials who implement policies in the field have the opportunity to make presentations, they will be given the opportunity to provide input on the third day of the conference as a result of a three way dialogue programmed between policy makers, frontline officials and researchers from the academy.


    Monday, May 21, 2001

    Morning: Official Opening

      Welcome Speech by Professor Nkwi, Co-ordinator of ENA
      Speech by the Representative of UNESCO
      Speech by the Representative of the Cameroonian Government
      Coffee – Break
      Keynote Address: H.E. O. Otounu or I. Gambari, Invited Guest Ambassadors
      Debates and discussions

    Coffee – Break


      Pattern of State Construction in Multi-ethnic States
      Presentation of Papers (3)

    Tuesday May 22, 2001

      First panel: The Political Economy of Conflicts
      Presentation of Papers (2)

    Coffee – Break

      Presentation of Papers– cont. (2)

    Lunch – Break

      Second panel: Dealing with the Legacies of Failed States
      Presentation of Papers (3-4)

    Wednesday May 23, 2001

      First panel: Reconstructing the State (I) 
      Presentation of Papers (2)

    Coffee – Break

      Presentation of Papers – cont. (2)

    Lunch – Break

      Second panel: Reconstructing the State (II)
      Presentation of Papers (2)
      Dialogue between Researchers, Policy Makers & Frontline Officials
      Drafting of recommendations

    Official Closing

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