This is a timely and important contribution to the burgeoning academic field of peacebuilding in Africa. It is published in the Routledge series “Studies in Peace, Conflict and Security in Africa “which is edited by Cyril Obi (Social Science Research Council, SSRC, New York). The edited collection is based on a series of workshops organised by the SSRC’s African Peacebuilding Network (APN) programme, with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY). It brings together a group of former APN grantees and mentors. The APN aims to deploy “an interdisciplinary and reflexive approach towards a truly African perspective to peacebuilding” (p. xiv).
Ismail Rashid is a Professor of History and International Studies at Vassar College, New York, and the former chair of the APN’s advisory board. Among his recent books are West Africa’s Security Challenges (Lynne Rienner, 2004, with Adekeye Adebajo), The Paradox of History and Memory in Postcolonial Sierra Leone (Lexington Books, 2013, with Sylvia Ojukutu-Macauley) and Understanding West Africa’s Ebola Epidemic: Towards a Political Economy (Zed Books, 2017, with Ibrahim Abdullah). Amy Niang is a senior lecturer in International Relations at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, and a current member of the APN’s advisory board and a former APN grantee. She is also a visiting professor at the University of São Paulo, Brazil, and the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Among her publications is The Postcolonial African State in Transition: Stateness and Modes of Sovereignty (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018).
The editors start from the assertation that many of the peace studies programmes, institutes, and departments which have emerged in various African countries since the 1990s, “are merely reproductions of similar programs in other parts of the world, often ill-adapted and inappropriate for African contexts” (p. 2). Second, they observe that “there is relatively little writing on epistemological and methodological approaches to guide emerging scholars on the nature and relevance of the conceptual tools and research strategies utilized in producing knowledge in the field” (ibid.). Against this background the volume is structured into two parts and 13 chapters. In the first part, “Concepts, Theories and Methodologies” are at the fore, in the second case studies are presented. In the first chapter, Festus Kofi Aubyn (Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre, Accra, Ghana) offers an overview on recent trends in African scholarly writing on peacebuilding. This is followed by reflections on intersectional, feminist peace research in Africa (Heidi Hudson, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa). In the third chapter, Thomas K. Tieku (King’s University College, University of Western Ontario, Canada) develops a critique of the liberal peace paradigm and its Eurocentric underpinnings which he considers to be “eerily close to the European civilizing mission in Africa during the 18th and 19th centuries.” (p. 56). Ismail Rachid then goes into the ethics of research and fieldwork in conflict-affected settings. Part 1 is concluded by insights into applying qualitative research methodologies (Kenneth Omeje, a peace and security consult based in Bradford, United Kingdom) and quantitative research methods (Olayiwola Erinosho, Social Science Academy of Nigeria, Abuja), respectively.
The seven case studies in part 2 of the volume are devoted to complex new wars in the Sahel (Amy Niang), women and unpaid care work in Darfur (Fatma Osman Ibnouf, Development Studies and Research Institute, University of Khartoum, Sudan), doing fieldwork in violent spaces in Nigeria (Jimam Lar, Department of History at the University of Jos, Nigeria), and on the Borana of Ethiopia (Asebe Regassa Debelo, Dilla University, Ethiopia). The last three chapters include a critique of the United Nations/African Union’s conceptualisations of peacebuilding (Norman Sempijja, University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain), the use of digital media in Kenya (Duncan Omanga, APN programme officer, and Pamela Mainye, Faculty of Information Science and Technology at Kisii University, Kenya), and researching post-conflict emotions of Zimbabwean soldiers (Godfrey Maringira, Sol Plaatje University, South Africa).
Collectively the contributors address four broad concerns: (1) the landscape of peacebuilding research in Africa; (2) the liberal peace paradigm; (3) methodology, positionality, and language; and (4) Africa as a “field”, or testing ground, for peacebuilding practices, but also knowledge production. First, Aubyn and others demonstrate that no competing perspectives to the dominant universalistic Western epistemologies have been developed in or by Africans. This is explained with African scholars’ training in and dependence on Western scholarship. However, the editors do see narrative and theoretical innovation, and “thoughtfully applied intersectional approaches to peace and security studies beyond the security agenda of the state” (p. 5). Second, the critique of interventions resting upon the liberal peace paradigm – specific conflict resolution strategies; disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration (DDR) & security sector reform (SSR); the reconstitution of security institutions; election-based democratisation; market liberalisation; and the restoration of civil and political rights – is linked to a “modernist, civilizational” ideology which comes with colonial ambitions (ibid.). The alleged technically and value-neutrality of the liberal peace paradigm is fundamentally questioned. Third, regarding methodologies and fieldwork the contributors advocate reflexivity: discussing the specificity of African contexts offers opportunities “to critically reassess theories, methods, and polices as they apply to peacebuilding research” (p. 8). And fourth, the contributors reflect on the necessary ethics of doing fieldwork on peacebuilding in Africa.
The scope of epistemological and methodological questions this edited collection addresses is immense. The various chapters not just illustrate, but thoroughly interrogate the challenges of researching peacebuilding in Africa – even if, at the end, “a truly African perspective to peacebuilding” (p. xiv) remains a desideratum. However, as Dipesh Chakrabarty in his ground-breaking book on Provincializing Europe (Princeton University Press, 2000) has argued, the Western academic vocabulary is both “indispensable and inadequate”. Certain concepts also provide the basis for a critique of power in the name of universal values, and as such are important for the scientific and political decolonisation of the Global South. As it stands, in research on peacebuilding in Africa the quest for epistemic freedom and the removal of the “cognitive empire” (Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni, 2020) has only started. Researching Peacebuilding in Africa offers an important and thoughtful guide to this debate.