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The Social Science Research Council’s (SSRC’s) African Peacebuilding Network (APN) and Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa (Next Gen) program hosted a panel at the 66th Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association (ASA), held in San Francisco, USA from November 30 to December 2, 2023, on the theme: “Envisioning Africa in Text and Deed”. The panel was organized under the “Peace, Law & Security” subtheme of the conference on the topic: “Contestations and Solidarities for Peace and Development in Africa: Towards Conflict Transformation and Security?.” The panel was an opportunity for former fellows of the program to showcase their research findings, connect with peers from across the world, and receive feedback from conference participants. It was a well-attended event, featuring a set of excellent presentations, followed by a highly engaged Q & A session with members of the audience.
In the first presentation on “Justice as Utu: The Theory and Practice of Alternative Systems in Kenya,” Dr. Steve Akoth (2012 Next Gen Doctoral dissertation completion fellow) explored Kenya’s homegrown procedures and institutional practices for administering and achieving justice by adopting a moral and human-centered approach known locally as Utu. He discussed the efficacy of Utu by drawing on the case of widows seeking justice, including how Utu enabled some to gain dignity and acceptance within their families and communities.
Dr. Simbarashe Gukurume (2015 Next Gen doctoral dissertation research fellow; 2021 APN IRF fellow) spoke on “The market is mine too:’ Youth Contestations, Violence, Conviviality at an Urban Market in Harare, Zimbabwe.” His presentation explored ongoing contestations over ownership of spaces in an urban market in Zimbabwe’s capital city. He explores how violent conflict within urban markets also reflects political cleavages, including within various levels of municipal boards. The paper also examines the role of local peacemaking and peacebuilding initiatives that seek to mediate and resolve such conflicts, including the holding of sports events featuring teams formed by youth to foster peaceful co-existence, harmony, and reconciliation within urban markets in Harare.
The third presentation by Dr. Muema Wambua (2019 Next Gen doctoral dissertation research fellow and 2020 Next Gen doctoral dissertation completion fellow) spoke on “African Union (AU) Infrastructure for Peace in Regional Interventions: Gaps, Challenges and Opportunities.” The presentation examined the AU’s peace intervention initiatives in different states and subregions of the continent, and the extent to which such initiatives have effectively responded to emerging threats to peace and security. His presentation also unpacked how the competing interests of AU member-states have delayed, worked against, or undermined such peace interventions. He also made recommendations directed towards implementing a set of reforms aimed at strengthening the capacity of the AU to intervene in conflict situations, arrest the slide towards democratic regression, and reinvigorate the participation of non-state actors in implementing the goals of peace infrastructure established within the framework of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA).
Dr. Ophelia Soliku (2022 APN IRF fellow) gave a presentation on “Navigating Conservation Conflicts: Historical Roots and Power Structures Shaping Conflicts and Peacebuilding in Ghana’s Premier Conservation Areas.” Her presentation addressed the conflicts in communities surrounding one of Ghana’s premier nature conservation parks, the Mole National Park. Based on her analysis of the conflicts between local communities and the authorities of the national park over access to and the management of natural resources, she emphasizes the need to go beyond ad-hoc investigations of the sources of conflict and the efficacy of mitigation strategies, by making a strong case for more holistic and comprehensive studies of the history, antecedent factors and power structures that drive conflict as important steps towards building sustainable peace in Ghana’s Mole national park and similar conservation areas.
The panel concluded with a lively panel-audience interaction, which made clear that the presentations and the questions raised around conflict, peacebuilding, natural resource governance, peace, security, and development in Africa elicited insightful responses from the panelists. The discussions also allowed panelists to refine their concepts, analyses, and conclusions, respond to questions posed by members of the audience, and clarify their research findings, including their implications for scholarship and policy.
Over the three days of the conference, APN and Next Gen fellows also participated in other panel discussions at the ASA conference, formed new networks and collaborative relationships among peers and colleagues from across the global scholarly community.