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The virtual book launch commenced with brief introductions of the author of When Peace Kills Politics, Sharath Srinivasan, and discussant, Devon Curtis, by the program director of the Social Science Research Council’s African Peacebuilding Network (APN) and Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa programs, Cyril Obi. Sharath Srinivasan provided an overview of the book against the background of the theories, history, and practices of peacemaking in Sudan. He examined the roles of various national, regional, and continental actors such as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the African Union (AU), and the United Nations (UN), focusing on how international interventions have fed into violence. Noting the messy nature of peacemaking, the author analyzed how such interventions have undervalued and undermined non-violent political action. The author drew on Hannah Arendt’s thoughts on political action to explain the relationship between politics and violence, including how international solutions and models get caught up in local politics with rather violent consequences. He also interrogated the assumption that it is possible for all political actors to come together equally without some form of domination or cooptation coming into play, deepening existing contradictions and crises.
Noting that the book addresses the ineffectiveness of actions by outsiders in terms of institutional fixes aimed at advancing peace in the conflict-affected (North-South) Sudans, Sharath observed that such depoliticized approaches to peacemaking risk and kill the political dimensions of civil war, thereby complicating the nature of conflict with rather tragic consequences for peacebuilding. He also raised concerns that the means had overrun the ends, resulting in a paradox of peace—achieving its exact opposite by fostering authoritarianism and conflict in the Sudans. In examining the dialectics of peacemaking, he argued against simplifying the war as a North-South conflict, urging instead that more attention be directed at the ways peacemaking in the Sudan has prioritized edifice-building over political action.
In her discussion of the issues raised during the overview, Devon Curtis drew attention to the structural factors and idealism that shape and constrict the space for civil and political action, resulting in the legitimization of violence for political purposes by contending interests. Some of the issues raised during the question-and-answer session that followed ranged from what research methods to adopt in war zones, how to access local gatekeepers, and the nature of the contending local forces and the State in the Sudan. Others included the possibility of having peace without politics, the nature of conflict and international peacemaking, and where attention should be directed in understanding the politics of peacemaking in the Sudan. The importance of critiquing the dominant peacemaking project was noted alongside the possibilities that need to be explored. The event provided an opportunity for the author and participants to exchange views on a rather innovative book that opens the door to a critical perspective on international peacemaking in Africa, drawing on the case of the Sudans.