10.06.2015 Press Release

CIGI report on armed conflict and political violence in Africa marks launch of research project aimed at stronger cooperation

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Waterloo, Canada – June 10, 2015 – Policy-makers and civil society in Africa need closer cooperation to counter the violent extremism of ideology-based groups such as Boko Haram and the Lord’s Resistance Army, according to a new report issued by the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI).

Conflict in Africa: Diagnosis and Response is a new report by CIGI Senior Fellow Pamela Aall that marks the launch of a CIGI research project on Africa and its capacity to prevent, contain and resolve conflicts. In addition to closer cooperation, those actors engaged in African conflict management need to better understand the dimensions of and responses to power struggles, weak institutions and identity, such as ethnicity, religion and tribe, as key sources of conflict in Africa, according to the report.

The new report is informing a project-based, high-level workshop taking place June 10 in Pretoria, South Africa, and co-hosted by CIGI and the Africa-based Institute for Security Studies. As part of the African Regional Conflict Management project (ARCM), the workshop will allow experts to review and critique key insights, issues and analysis on managing African armed conflicts and political violence. Participation will come from conflict management experts at CIGI, including researchers Fen Osler Hampson, Chester A. Crocker and the report’s author Pamela All, and from organizations within and outside of Africa, including the Crisis Management Initiative, International Crisis Group, the Nairobi office of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, the National Democratic Institute Royal United Services Institute, the University or Pretoria and University of Witwatersrand. Former Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark will also be in attendance.

It is critical to understand sources of conflict in Africa, given the risk that they may rapidly expand across borders and promote foreign involvement from neighbours or non-state actors, according to Aall. With the interplay of political, social and economic factors, as in the case of Sudan, it is important to consider that even highly sophisticated approaches to conflict management, such as high-level United Nations, can address only some of the conflict dynamics, Aall explains.

“Conflicts in Africa are diverse and complex, and efforts at managing and resolving them are mixed,” says Aall. While they seem to share common elements — profound disagreements over the basic vision of what the nation is; struggles over state-society relations and contests over who gets to rule — the rise of identity-based and ideology-driven conflicts is complicating the field. “The attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was specific in its immediate goals…yet, the ultimate goal was unclear. The same uncertainty characterizes Boko Haram’s goals,” says Aall.

“This imprecision in terms of a target is a problem on the analytical side. But there is also a serious problem on the response side. Most of the tools of conflict management — military intervention, diplomacy, containment, sanctions, dialogue and problem-solving workshops — are not effective against terrorism,” according to the report. “Working on ‘countering violent extremism’ changes the traditional roles of the institutions involved. It requires close cooperation between governments and civil society inside the conflict country.”

The new report outlines three key sources of conflict and responses to each:

  • Power struggles: power struggles characterize many conflicts in Africa and elsewhere. One approach to violent conflicts around contested leadership is to increase elite incentives to negotiate an agreement (or consent to elections), rather than using force to settle the dispute. Another response is through limiting access to resources that can fund conflict.
  • Weak institutions: conflicts occur in fragile, weak and failing states where national institutions have lost authority over their own territories, with limited ability to reach beyond their capital cities or provide security and services to their people. The response can be for donors to focus on building up more representative and responsive governmental institutions.
  • Identity divisions: identity-based conflicts can produce deeply divided visions for the future of Africa. These existential, identity-based antagonisms are very difficult to deal with politically, in part, because they produce a zero-sum attitude toward shared governance. The response is for the conflict management community, including those in the non-governmental sphere, to build relationships between the antagonists, which may take the form of dialogue processes, people-to-people programs or problem-solving workshops.

CIGI’s ARCM project will produce a series of policy-relevant publications with recommendations aimed at strengthening African regional conflict management. The project will focus on how African institutions and partners in the international community cope with traditional security threats. Phase two of the ARCM project will focus on the resilience of African states and societies in the face of armed conflict and political violence, and will examine social, economic and political institutions. To learn more about the project, and to read Conflict in Africa: Diagnosis and Response, please visit:

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