Dominant narratives and theories developed at the turn of the 21st century in order to account for civil wars in Africa converged around two main ideas. First, that the increase in civil wars across Africa was the expression of the weakness and collapse of state institutions. Second, guerilla movements, once viewed as the ideological armed wings of Cold War contenders, were seen as roving bandits interested in plundering the spoils left by decaying states and primarily driven by economic or personal interests.
However, recent research has challenged such account by looking into the day-to-day politics of civil war beyond rebels’ motives to wage war against the established order. Indeed, civil wars, while being the cause of immense suffering, contribute to shaping and producing political orders. Thus, if we are to understand how stable political institutions can be built in the aftermath of civil war, it is essential to study the institutions that regulate political life during conflict. This project therefore looks at state formation through violent conflict. It focuses on political orders put in place by rebel movements, on their strategies to legitimise their existence and claim to power, and on the extent to which they manage to institutionalise their military power and transform it into political domination.
To this end, the research projects takes a broader perspective by looking at (dis)continuities between political orders established under rebel rule and post-war state formation. It investigates the social fabric of legitimacy in areas under rebel control during conflict and analyses how it relates to state formation in the post-conflict phase. Based on a political anthropology of governance and state practices in three different countries (South Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire and Angola), this project provides empirical and theoretical insights into state formation in Africa as well as into domination and legitimacy. It also links to current policy debates on statebuilding and peacebuilding in fragile contexts.
Civil wars do not only destroy existing political orders. They contribute to shaping new ones, and thereby play a crucial role in dynamics of state formation. This 2-year research project, conducted by a consortium of five research institutions in Switzerland and Africa, researched and analyzed the social construction of order and legitimacy during and after violent conflict. It focused on political orders put in place by armed groups, their strategies to legitimize their (violent) action as well as their claim to power, and on the extent to which they strive and manage to institutionalize their military power and transform it into political domination. Drawing on case studies in Angola, Côte d’Ivoire and South Sudan, it showed how international aid agencies impact on the legitimacy of armed groups and state actors, how strategies of legitimization are central to understanding the politics of armed groups and their relation to the state, and how continuities between war and peace, especially in key sectors such as security forces, need to be taken into account in any effort at establishing long-term peace and stability.
University of Geneva
Université de Bouaké
Leben Nelson Moro
Universidade Católica de Angola
Seydina Ousmane Zina
Université de Bouaké
DCAF – Center for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces