Center for Interdisziplinary Research

Violence Control in the Context of Fragile States - Insights from Africa

Date: June 5 - 7, 2008

Organizers: Wilhelm Heitmeyer (Bielefeld), Heinz-Gerhard Haupt (Bielefeld/Florenz)

This international workshop aimed to discuss general changes in state power in Africa's so-called 'fragile' or 'weak' states in terms of their impact on the possibilities for controlling violence and to locate them within a broader temporal, political, and societal context. For although scientific research on state failure has increased substantially since the topic appeared in academic journals about fifteen years ago, there are still many issues and 'blind spots' worthy of further study. Hence, new perspectives and a more nuanced understanding of violence control in the context of so-called failed states in Africa are deemed necessary. The organizers of the workshop sought such a new perspective on violence in failed or fragile states by introducing an interdisciplinary paradigm of 'violence control'. Most contributors referred to empirical case studies-among them Sierra Leone, Liberia, Somalia, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Nigeria. The workshop also included conceptual contributions that critically reflected on 'fragile' statehood as an analytical category. This led to intensive debates regarding the scientific value of the concept and triggered thinking about possible alternative terms like zones of limited or challenged statehood. Almost all participants underlined that fragile statehood does not necessarily lead to a 'total' loss of control over violence. Rather, in such contexts a multitude of non-state actors and means and mechanisms of violence control come into play. The critical role of local, regional, and international actors and regimes of control was highlighted several times. However, not one of the participants disputed the crucial role of the state (or at least a central authority with a monopoly on the use of force) in order to control violence effectively. In his keynote speech Making war and crafting peace in contemporary Africa: The neglected significance of skill formation in control of violence Paul Richards (Wageningen University) used the example of Sierra Leone to consider the role of demobilization and disarmament programs as a means of controlling violence in countries marked by conflict. He made the point that in a context in which the ubiquitous bush knife was the main weapon used, such measures for controlling violence were inadequate. According to Richards, long-term control of violence could only be achieved through qualification programs, particularly for adolescents, who were the group easiest to recruit for non-state wars. Only by engaging in meaningful activity could adolescents become integrated and obtain social recognition. This would in the long term serve to restore social cohesion and make a relapse into violent conflict more difficult. Richards thus defined control of violence in rather broad terms and emphasized how essential it was to address the structural and historical origins of conflict if violence were to be controlled in the long term.
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