CategoryConflict

Reflections on ECAS and Fieldwork in African Conflict areas by Marsha Henry

Attending the European Convention of Africa Studies this past June for the first time, it was encouraging to see several panels devoted to methodological questions raised by conducting research in African conflict areas and violent settings.  The topics discussed in the multiple sessions included, amongst others, how researchers make sense of proximity and distance in relation to field methodologies, participants and epistemologies; how researchers negotiate the unstable and insecure settings; and how the research experience and context affects a researcher’s own identities, narratives and representations.  One roundtable, in particular, brought many key ethical dilemmas and methodological challenges into sharp focus, and provided some opportunities for interdisciplinary discussion and debate.  However, the discussions revealed a number of gaps, which I think are worth exploring in order to push methodological discussions within Africa Studies further.  In particular, I argue that methodological discussions should reflect on the identities of researchers when considering issues of proximity and distance.  Who the researcher is, and how they are socially, culturally and economically located in the world, is of significance in any reflections on the challenges encountered in insecure field sites in Africa.  In doing so, I hope to both acknowledge the genealogy of research privilege that haunts such discussions, and draw attention to the limits of perspectives that emanate from a homogenously racialised and embodied experience that can perpetuate an unacknowledged Euro-centric researcher habitus.

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Rape Claims and article 15: Reflections on Researching Sexual Violence in the Armed Conflict of Eastern DRC, by Charlotte Mertens

September 2012. My Congolese friend Marie-Noël, who runs a small, community-based NGO, welcomes us in Ruzizi, a border town between Rwanda and the DRC. We hop in her jeep and head for Bukavu. Five minutes later, the car is stopped. Two men have barricaded the road with a large tree branch. Fidel, our driver, refuses to pay the money they ask for. He shouts at them to let us pass. The men give in, open the barrier and exclaim ‘c’est pour la sécurité régionale!/ it is for our regional security!’, which is met with a roar of laughter on the street. Marie-Noël laughs too. She explains fictional article 15 of the former Zaïrean constitution which means ‘débrouillez-vous/fend for yourself’. Article 15, also known as ‘système D’, came into existence under Mobutu’s dictatorship. It allows the ‘petit prédateur’/little predator (Devisch, 1998) a social space of power ‘in a context where the difference between legality and illegality makes no more sense’ (Jourdan in Vlassenroot & Raeymaekers, 2004). Institutionalised in all levels of society, article 15 allows every civilian to grab whatever his predicament can afford for his daily survival. In the wartorn Kivus, ‘système D’ has become the rule for individual behaviour. I think about the women who claim they have been raped to get access to medical care and wonder whether this occurrence of would-be victims can be considered as a normal expression of  ‘système D’ or ‘survival maximising behaviour’.

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Ground zero: Revival of Democratic Mali?

Not long ago Mali was considered a beacon of democracy in West Africa. Then came a military coup, out of the blue to many outsiders, and a rapid mobilization of several armed groups, more or less radical in religious view, that quickly moved to capture much of the north and even started to threaten the capital Bamako. Then came the French to the rescue of the south and somewhat awkwardly also to the rescue of a government the military junta had put in place. France together with forces from Chad and Niger quickly forced the armed groups to retreat into the vast deserts of the north. In the blink of an eye came elections and transition to a civilian democratically elected government. Seldom has a conflict scenario containing such national and regional complexity become so compressed in time. And here we are today at some kind of ground zero.

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Anatomy of a feeble analysis: a critical reading of Crisis Group’s latest report on the DR Congo by Judith Verweijen

Last week, the International Crisis Group (ICG) published a new report on the eastern DRC in which it zooms in on a conflict over customary power in the Ruzizi Plain (Uvira territory, South Kivu).  Apparently, ICG no longer tries to weigh in on broader diplomatic, political and military developments in the DRC, like the recently signed Framework Agreement and the current army restructuring process, but has decided to focus uniquely on conflict dynamics at the micro level. This choice reflects ICG’s understanding of the “root causes” of violence in the eastern DRC, which it describes as “local competition between communities for land and economic opportunities” (p.i).  As the report concludes: “far from the national and regional preoccupations of the national government and the United Nations, ethnic spaces are being redrawn by violence” (p.24). In order to prove this point, the report subsequently presents an “anatomy” of the conflict around the customary chiefdom of the Ruzizi Plain, portraying it as primarily resulting from ethnic tensions between the (“immigrant”) Barundi and the (“autochthon”) Bafuliro that have existed since the colonial era.

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Generals for good? Do-good generals and the structural endurance of wartime networks

In the aftermath of civil wars there is a general belief that old command structures of former rebel movements and militias is a serious threat to newfound stability. Indeed there is enough evidence around pointing out how easily remobilized such networks are. There is however a tendency of viewing this mobilization as the very logic of the networks themselves – as if their very raison d’être is to create eternal conflict. The problem with this hackneyed focus on armed groups is that we are letting the leading political characters that acted behind the façade of the armed groups off the hook. In any DDR process a lot of effort is placed on dismantling chains of command, command and control etc., of armed groups. Despite this, ten years after the end of the second Liberian war contacts between commanders and their former soldiers still prevail, yet most commonly for non-military reasons. Indeed some networks of ex-combatants have disappeared but many others remain. It appears that what the DDR process chiefly managed to do was to drive the networks underground and out of sight of the international community.

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The (LRA) conflict: Beyond the LRA lobby & the hunt for Kony… and towards civilian protection – By Kristof Titeca

On the 28th of February this year, an unfortunate incident happened in Garamba National Park, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)-affected area in North-Eastern Congo. A group of Congolese soldiers went on patrol, in order to track LRA-elements; while at the same time a group of (armed) park rangers was patrolling the park. In an area where civilians were present, both groups noticed each other, and both groups considered the other group to be the LRA. The shooting between the two groups, left one Congolese soldier and one civilian dead, and three soldiers and one civilian wounded. The following day, the park rangers were actually attacked by the LRA in the same area, but managed to push them away after heavy fighting. A park ranger later died of his injuries.  At least, all of this was the official version of the events, which was communicated by the Congolese soldiers involved.  Reports from local civil society groups and international military actors revealed that the above group of soldiers was poaching in the park: they had killed 2 hippopotamus, and had asked civilians to help them cutting and transporting the animals. The park rangers had noticed them, and fighting erupted, which resulted in the above injuries and killings. In retaliation, the soldiers had attacked the park rangers the next day. They also threatened to attack any park ranger leaving the park, or passing through their area. This tense situation also had a strong effect on civilian life: not only were civilians wounded through the above attacks; civil society actors complained that markets could no longer take place, as civilians feared more violence and attacks by the soldiers, who were blaming civilians for the park rangers’ attacks.

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The (LRA) conflict: Beyond the LRA lobby & the hunt for Kony… and towards civilian protection – By Kristof Titeca

On the 28th of February this year, an unfortunate incident happened in Garamba National Park, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)-affected area in North-Eastern Congo. A group of Congolese soldiers went on patrol, in order to track LRA-elements; while at the same time a group of (armed) park rangers was patrolling the park. In an area where civilians were present, both groups noticed each other, and both groups considered the other group to be the LRA. The shooting between the two groups, left one Congolese soldier and one civilian dead, and three soldiers and one civilian wounded. The following day, the park rangers were actually attacked by the LRA in the same area, but managed to push them away after heavy fighting. A park ranger later died of his injuries.  At least, all of this was the official version of the events, which was communicated by the Congolese soldiers involved.  Reports from local civil society groups and international military actors revealed that the above group of soldiers was poaching in the park: they had killed 2 hippopotamus, and had asked civilians to help them cutting and transporting the animals. The park rangers had noticed them, and fighting erupted, which resulted in the above injuries and killings. In retaliation, the soldiers had attacked the park rangers the next day. They also threatened to attack any park ranger leaving the park, or passing through their area. This tense situation also had a strong effect on civilian life: not only were civilians wounded through the above attacks; civil society actors complained that markets could no longer take place, as civilians feared more violence and attacks by the soldiers, who were blaming civilians for the park rangers’ attacks.

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The Malian crisis: causes, consequences, responses by Morten Bøås and Mats Utas

Even if Northern Mali has been in the hands of armed Salafist forces since spring 2012, it has not yet morphed into another ‘Afghanistan’. The Salafist forces, may have taken the name of al-Qaeda, but they are of a different origin and nature than the one in Afghanistan. The danger is, however, that if the international response to Mali is too heavy-handed, it may create a dynamic that pushes the conflict into a similar pattern like the one in Afghanistan.

On January 11, 2013, French airplanes attacked strongholds of Islamist rebels in the north of Mali. Soon thereafter land troops followed in a quick sweeping raid, clearing most of rebel controlled areas. French forces, assisted by several thousand troops from Chad and Niger, thereby efficiently ended the offensive of Islamist rebels and gained nominal control over the cities of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. This was, however, the easy part.

The Islamists have not completely lost the battle for northern Mali. They still have the capacity to resist and even strike inside towns formally under French control. As France is scaling down its number of troops from 4,000 to 1,000 by the end of the year, controlling this vast territory will prove even more difficult for the remaining French force and the joint ECOWAS/AU mission and the Malian army.

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A scary end for Democrazy in Mali, by Ruben Eberlein

Each time political scientists in the West talked about democratisation in Africa during the last twenty years, you could bet that Mali was rated as a reformer and a good example. The country received a lot of plaudit from Western governments, the academic world and developmental organizations especially for its transition from a long period of military rule under Moussa Traore to a civil government under Alpha Konare. He became the first democratically elected President in 1992.

The coup of March 2012 terminated the Malian experiment with democracy for the time being. Dissatisfied with the hesitant reaction to the uprising of Tuareg and Islamists in the North, young officers under the leadership of Captain Amadou Sanogo disposed the President Amadou Toumani Toure. In August 2012, an interim cabinet under President Dioncounda Traore with 31 ministers officially took over, but most observers believe that the military still holds the real power.

Despite all the regalia, Mali’s democracy had and has not much in common with a parliamentarian democracy in the Western world. Politics and economy of the country were and are coined by clientelistic networks between some big men or big women and a multitude of poor and politically marginalized people. The sheer number of NGO’s and political parties cannot hide the fact that Mali is a neopatrimonial state where the logics of the formal and the informal are intimately intertwined.

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A scary end for Democrazy in Mali, by Ruben Eberlein

Each time political scientists in the West talked about democratisation in Africa during the last twenty years, you could bet that Mali was rated as a reformer and a good example. The country received a lot of plaudit from Western governments, the academic world and developmental organizations especially for its transition from a long period of military rule under Moussa Traore to a civil government under Alpha Konare. He became the first democratically elected President in 1992.

The coup of March 2012 terminated the Malian experiment with democracy for the time being. Dissatisfied with the hesitant reaction to the uprising of Tuareg and Islamists in the North, young officers under the leadership of Captain Amadou Sanogo disposed the President Amadou Toumani Toure. In August 2012, an interim cabinet under President Dioncounda Traore with 31 ministers officially took over, but most observers believe that the military still holds the real power.

Despite all the regalia, Mali’s democracy had and has not much in common with a parliamentarian democracy in the Western world. Politics and economy of the country were and are coined by clientelistic networks between some big men or big women and a multitude of poor and politically marginalized people. The sheer number of NGO’s and political parties cannot hide the fact that Mali is a neopatrimonial state where the logics of the formal and the informal are intimately intertwined.

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