Following the Wilton Park conference on “Peacebuilding in Africa: Evolving Challenges, Responses, and New Thinking,” African Peacebuilding Network (APN) staff had a chance to sit down with professor Michael Pugh1Michael Pugh is emeritus professor, University of Bradford, UK, and visiting professor, Centre for Conflict Analysis and Management, Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands. He was a Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow from 2011 to 2012. He founded and edited International Peacekeeping for twenty years, and remains editor of the Cass book series on peacekeeping. He has written extensively on peace and conflict and is the coeditor with Neil Cooper and Mandy Turner of Whose Peace? Critical Perspectives on the Political Economy of Peacebuilding (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). His latest publications are Liberal Internationalism: The Quest for Peace in Interwar Britain, London: Palgrave/Macmillan, 2012; “Lineages of Aggressive Peace,” in The Tyranny of Peace, ed. Florian Kühn and Mandy Turner (Routledge, forthcoming); and his autopsy “Diverse Narratives of War and Peace: Memoirs of An Apprentice,” Peacebuilding, 2 (1), 2013: 1–7. and discuss his thoughts on the event, as well as future challenges for the continent in terms of its peace, security, and development agendas, and the need for further collaboration between scholars and practitioners in the field of African peacebuilding. His reflections are shared below.


APN: What importance would you place on this meeting at Wilton Park? What value is there for an African perspective on peacebuilding?

MP: The meeting was a learning process thanks to the conceptual sophistication in the African community of scholars and practitioners who were present. I doubt whether there could be a single African perspective on conflict and post-conflict management, though forms of coordination through regional institutions are inevitable. There should be many perspectives from which Africans can gain understandings and policy initiatives. Nevertheless, the key may be to seek innovation in African approaches and not assume that foreigners from powerful countries and institutions have relevant answers.

APN: Were your expectations met? What do you think is the most important take away message from this meeting?

MP: My expectations were met because the debates were open and participants open-minded and inclusive. The most important message I took away was that the problems that Africa and other places share in peace management are quite remarkable—in spite of the sui generis contexts. Indeed, people in Bosnia and Herzegovina described their experience as Afrikanazija (Africanisation). They have in common dysfunctional or fragmentary states, oligarchy and clientelism, politicians with limited vision, distrust between social groups, widespread informal economic activity (a third of GDP in Kosovo), limited roles of civil society in spite of enormous potential, absence of state development strategies (Rwanda perhaps an exception), and the privileging of cosmetic democracy (elections) and private lobbying over continuous accountability.

Some of these things feature in non-Western countries too, and it makes me wonder if there is something shifting in the international system as a whole, or whether these are historical continuities in new forms. It is also clear that global institutions (such as the UN, the International Financial Institutions, the World Trade Organization, Western India Products Limited, and others) need to be released from the legacies of imperial control and financial power that affect peace management in Africa. This means that African peacemakers, maybe in alliance with other developing areas, may need to keep institutional reform agendas at the forefront of debates.

APN: Do you think that research and policy in Africa have adequately spoken to one another, and if not, how can they better interact?

MP: This is a complex question because, on the one hand, you have situations where implementers are confronting policymakers with the realities of trying to implement on the ground. On the other hand you have policymakers confronting academics with the realities of politics and resources. You also have academics confronting policymakers and implementers—first of all about research, and secondly with interpretations (of what is happening, what is going on, the effects of policies, what may be unintended consequences, etc.). One must be cautious and note that academics do not have the power of policymakers; they are vulnerable to co-option, sponsorship, and the mainstream views of things. I think therefore it is important for academics to maintain their independence and critical approach when being consulted and invited into policymaking forums.

That said, interaction is essential because researchers are usually well behind changes in policy, and policymakers have a hard job satisfying politicians especially when research and diplomatic and other intelligence sources counteract political ideology. Mutual understanding can be sustained, however, by researchers remaining independent and confronting policymakers with findings and interpretative options, just as those implementing policy need to confront policymakers with the realities of applying policies in various contexts. In other words, research—certainly academic research—while also producing knowledge informed by political theory, should avoid politicization by formal authorities as a consequence of co-option. Consensus is not necessarily as productive as peaceful confrontation. One option is for reports of research and policy engagements to cite “minority opinions,” much as legal inquiry cases do in some countries.

APN: What do you think will be the biggest challenge to peacebuilding in Africa in the next two decades, and how can the continent overcome these challenges?

MP: The biggest problems are political: how to manage war-politicians and how to manage the state. States have historically arisen as a consequence of war and brutal imposition of centralized control over varied groups of people. Many states have been micro-imperialisms. Furthermore, no state lasts forever, as any glance at the map of Europe before 1914 will demonstrate. Separatism is a consequence of deep-seated malaise and so addressing the causes of malaise in inherited colonial Africa requires extraordinary diplomatic and economic resources. Peaceful separatism is a relatively recent phenomenon, and decentralization an attempt at compromise. Decentralization, however, can only work when accompanied by the finances that would otherwise have been used by the central state.

Politicians, post-Nkrumah, sometimes seek to achieve and maintain power by manipulating divergent grievances. Perhaps the greatest current issue is that some African politicians combine their own economic interests with political power in symbiosis. Conflict creates new opportunities for this development—though oligarchic governance is not unique to Africa and “the best democracy that money can buy” is a feature of advanced capitalism. If African scholars are interested in alternative models of governance they might find it useful to study recent governance in Latin America, such as Uruguay.

That said, the biggest peace management problems are also developmental: population expansion, a combination of resource depletion and climate change, rentier activity, clientelism, indebtedness and inequality. The most effective way to tackle these problems is to politicize distributive justice. This is primarily an issue of political education—not an economic one—and is dealt with in Rama Mani’s excellent book on transitional justice, Beyond Retribution. African education systems can include discussion of developmental issues from primary school onwards. At higher levels and in research and political circles the collection and recording of African development policy data is important. To give just one example, it is not clear that much strategic thinking has been devoted to what negotiation strategies are appropriate for dealing with the markets in foreign aid and foreign direct investments that could help to manage peace. Research into the impact of these is already reflected in The Review of African Political Economy. However, the idea put forth by University of Cambridge economist Ha Joon-Chang that economics is too important to be left to economists alone can be given greater prominence in education systems.

It is also worth debating whether the pressures of economic globalization render peace more fragile and harder to manage. Is mimicry inevitable?2The dangers of mimicry are presented in an easily read, entertaining (and relatively cheap) book by Ha Joon-Chang titled Economics: The User’s Guide. What do African contexts really mean, given that people have to have a private contract for access to water as in the global North? And are those utilities more effective? Political control over state assets seems to correlate with elite corruption, but is this also true of privatized asset stripping. It is not my intention to load these questions; they should be open for debate.

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