Political settlements in Africa
Political settlements in Africa, the politics of inclusion and the role of international actors were the focus of the most recent BISA Africa Working Group workshop, convened by DLP Research Fellow Suda Perera at the University of Birmingham (7 July 2016).
The first panel considered the politics of inclusion in the post-conflict contexts of Burundi and South Sudan, and through the lens of urban transformation. In Burundi, said Astrid Jamar (University of Edinburgh), attempts to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission were fudged and blocked for almost a decade although a range of actors paid lip-service to the concept. Now, although TRC legislation was adopted in 2014, Burundi has relapsed into conflict.
Daniel Watson (University of Sussex) described how South Sudan’s move from war to statebuilding and back to war has upended the conventional wisdom on post-conflict peacemaking. He argued that the seeds of failure were sown in the militarised nature of the statebuilding process in South Sudan. The militarisation of social relationships considerably expanded the state, but also made renewed conflict more likely by building into the new political settlement a perception that the use of force was a feasible option for opponents.
Urban built environments can tell us a lot about political settlements, said Thomas Goodfellow (University of Sheffield). The way land is used and allocated, the pace and form of construction, the lack or presence of effective environmental regulation, and whether all income groups have access to good quality housing are also revealing of their broader developmental implications.
The workshop’s second session considered the intended and unintended consequences for political settlements of international involvement were discussed in the second session. Pablo Yanguas (University of Manchester) argued that, like the economic and business spheres, the evolution of political settlements should not be seen as strictly national events. Many policy domains in developing countries have become transnationalised, and foreign aid is one of the external factors that can play a significant role in the shaping of political settlements.
Findings from two strands of DLP research were presented by Sarah Phillips (University of Sydney) and Suda Perera (University of Birmingham). Sarah considered the problems of definition posed by a political settlements framework. In the context of her analysis of Somaliland’s relatively peaceful status quo, she questioned whether such a framework was useful for understanding polities where no group, for instance, could legitimately claim to have a monopoly on the use of force.
Suda’s presentation offered evidence from her extensive fieldwork in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the importance of the informal processes that underpin political settlements. When international actors dabble with elite-level ‘Big-P’ politics, and ignore the underlying ‘small-p’ political processes that create and sustain elite power, they may inadvertently create perverse political settlements. Instead of offering alternatives to violence, such settlements may provide incentives for the use of force.
The final session asked “Can political settlements help us better understand change in Africa?”, with contributions from Peter Evans (DFID), Jeremy Armon (DFID), Ben Shephard (Chatham House) and Ed Laws (GSDRC).