Global Uncertainties: Security In an Africa of Networked, Multi-Level Governance

Lead Research Organisation: Institute of Development Studies
Department Name: Research Department


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Description Post-conflict security in an Africa of networked, multilevel governance

How should the various institutions responsible for security and reconstruction in African states evolve when faced with violent conflict? IDS Bulletin 44.1 argues that international rebuilding efforts have to date focused too much on central government and too little on local 'foundation blocks' of governance and order.

The international community devotes many resources to identifying the causes of violent conflict. Far less is known about how to rebuild a war-torn country. The authors of this bulletin have lived in and researched six tropical African countries affected by conflict. Their fieldwork reveals that assumptions derived from classical social contract theorists frequently lead the international community astray when rebuilding shattered societies. This bulletin studies the complex networks of actors involved in African post-conflict reconstruction, from the village community to the international donor. It asks how key conflict-management institutions must evolve in response to these multilevelled systems of governance.

The six nations studied closely in this bulletin - Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Côte d'Ivoire, Kenya, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Somalia - have all experienced substantial domestic violent conflict. These conflicts threatened not only the security of the state and its citizens, but also the resources and livelihoods on whichcommunities depend.

In these and other situations in Africa, sovereignty exists only as a formal, juridical concept. No one institution or set of institutions is in charge. Instead authority is negotiated in complex, fluid relationships from village level upwards. The question is not whetherthis erosion of sovereignty is good or bad, but rather what new concepts can be proposed to best fit this reality?

In answering this question, the research in this bulletin centres on two major areas: the way conflict-management systems evolve during prolonged conflict [Leonard; Allouche and Zadi; Mushi; Vincent; Leonard and Samantar]; and the networks of relationships between states, communities, NGOs, international bodies and donors [Schmidt; Leonard].

Too often the instinct for internationals is torecreate the state as envisioned in European political philosophy since the1600s. But for most Africans, the fundamental social contract is not between the state and individuals alone, but with and through communities.

Community authority structures are often the only governance that survives serious conflict, making them key building blocks of social order in a post-conflict situation. However, conflict changes these structures considerably. Inherent inequalities and weaknesses widen, patronage becomes more prominent and the influence of 'purveyors of violence' increases.

The bulletin warns that two 'bargains' with the state must also be considered. These are: (i) the regime with the military; and (ii) the state with the international community.

Too often the military (police and army) prey on the populations they are supposed to protect. Many weak states need international assistance to stabilise their societies, but this comes at a price that the international community sets without fully understanding thenational and local contexts.

Key Findings

· Fieldwork in DRC, Côte d'Ivoire, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Somalia shows that the international community is struggling withinadequate conceptual tools when rebuilding shattered societies.

· Researchers found that in the aftermath of conflict, communities lacked networked relationships with all but a few international donors.

· Communities find it difficult to identify and understand donor and international NGO priorities.

· The arbitrary way in which traditional chiefs often allocate land in areas where it is scarce is undermining local governance, especially with young men.

· Conflict weakens and changes community governance structures, so handing power back to them is not the answer. Conflict-management institutions must improve understanding of how local governance structures evolve during conflict when planning reconstruction.

· In conditions of instability in Africa, the army and police tend to prey on, rather than protect, citizens. Communal authorities usually maintain local order because national forces are too sparse and/or undisciplined to provide local security.


Post-conflict systems of governance in Africa are now more multilevelled and networked than during the immediate post-independence era. These local governance systems - characterised by bonds between families and communities, and communities with the state - are key to the restoration of human security in conflict-affected societies.

Severe resource constraints caused by conflict also makes international actors central to reconstruction. Their presence curtails the power of a country's president, creating space in which local leaders, NGOs, professionals and churches can influence policy and politics. But research presented here found these revitalised networks did not challenge the state as an institution.

Policy Lessons

· Instead of rebuilding unaccountable presidencies, state reconstitution must emphasise countervailing and balancing powers (eg. courts, local governments, NGOs, the professions). Montesquieu's concept of liberty, bolstered by checks and balances, offers a fruitful path for state reconstruction.

· Traditional administration in post-conflict situations should be reformed, for instance by allowing local adults to elect chiefs, who serve for a defined period of office.

· Weaknesses in local social contracts often sustain national conflicts and cannot be by-passed if human security is to be regained.

· Government revenues must be separated from the incomes of governing personnel to remove the perception of bias and corruption.


The Congo is yet again an example of the current ineffectiveness of peace-keeping in Africa.

Why are we so bad at peacekeeping in Africa?

Armed conflict in the eastern Kivu provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo has reignited and the international community is once again struggling to bring peace to the region. The UN's MONUC peacekeeping force (now 20,000 strong), which has been in the area for a dozen years now has been regarded as ineffectual, at best, and, at worst, contributing to the problem. Frustrated, perhaps, the international community is turning to blunt diplomatic instruments, such as the freezing of aid to Rwanda, to apply pressure.

Clearly something new is needed. Research just published in Bulletin 44.1 of the Institute of Development Studies on the conflicts in Congo, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Somalia suggests key elements that have been missing in this effort.

Far too much attention in reconstruction efforts to-date has been focused on the national government, and a top-down approach to resolving the conflict.

However, all states everywhere are subject to multiple levels of actual authority, ranging from the local community to a variety of international actors. The effectiveness of governance depends on the performance of all these authorities and the complex networks linking them. In the case of Eastern Congo the UN has treated the ongoing conflict as being a result of central government weakness, the presence of the perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide who crossed the border when they were overthrown, and the predation of local militias. Although these factors were present at the start of the conflict in 1996, the problems now go well beyond them --- as is common in civil wars as disruption works its way into the social fabric.

Initially Tutsi Rwanda, with Ugandan support, intervened in Congo and overthrew then Congolese President Mobutu in order to destroy the Hutu army and militia there that had perpetrated the Rwandan genocide, and had set up camp across the border. But their agenda quickly expanded to include the extraction of mineral wealth from Congo, the protection of Rwandan Tutsis there from earlier waves of emigration, and a guiding hand in the government of the country. In this way they ceased being just aggrieved neighbours protecting their national interests and became major domestic stake-holders in the Congo itself. In doing so they inherited purely local conflicts over land-use between groups wholly indigenous to the Congo and the Rwandan-speaking immigrants and over the governance of the mines. These conflicts then spawned local militias and violence, adding micro-level Congolese fuel to what initially had been an international and Rwandan struggle. True, the Congolese state and its security forces themselves remain fractured, as the military success of the M23 rebels shows. However, the UN and and the international community have continued to treat the civil war as being solely what it was originally - about the Rwandan genocide and the weakness and predation of the Congolese state and its security forces. In this way, they have missed critical aspects of peace-building and state reconstruction - as they usually have in the other African conflicts we have researched.

A return to human security in conflict states requires a reconstitution of the implicit contract between the state and its society. For Hobbes, Rousseau and Locke - the classical political philosophers on this subject - the social contract was conceived as being directly between the central state and individual citizens. In Africa, however, it is instead more often a two level contract between citizens and their community governments and then between those local authorities and the national government. Weaknesses in the local social contracts often sustain national conflicts and these cannot be by-passed if human security is to be regained, as our research in Sierra Leone and Somalia also demonstrates. Conversely, our work in western Ivory Coast shows that when local government does perform effectively it is able to substantially mitigate local violence even when the central government breaks down.

Community authority structures are usually all the governance that has survived a serious conflict, but their weaknesses sometimes contributed to the violence and they will have been changed during the conflict. Authority therefore cannot simply be handed back to 'traditional' leaders without their reconstruction and addressing the issues that weakened them (particularly conflicts over land between ethnic groups and generations). Reforms of police and local courts and the use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms are important to this process but the structural disputes around land are likely to require more.

International governmental and non-governmental agencies most often provide the bulk of reconstruction resources, as they have in Congo. This does not threaten the viability or legitimacy of the national government because coordination between donors usually is ineffective (as we demonstrate in Somalia) and locals access international resources through central and local governments (as is evident in Sierra Leone and Congo). But the UN and western donors are ill-equipped to mediate the complicated local conflicts that continually threaten to restart a civil war. The UN rotates its international civil servants and peacekeeping forces every six months in conflict zones and this means that they don't even understand purely local issues before they leave again. Diplomacy, military presence, separation of the combatants and financial aid for (often predatory) central state institutions have not worked. International peace-keeping will be effective only when it gives priority to continuity and engagement in detailed mediation between local protagonists (frequently together with their international sponsors).

Most specifically, the UN needs to finance and lend its authority to locally grounded NGOs that can mediate the conflicts between the Rwanda-speaking groups living in the Congo (both Hutu and Tutsi) and the other ethnic groups that are aggrieved by their presence. Similarly MONUC must challenge the ability of the Rwandan and Ugandan armjes and miliias to control the extraction of the valuable minerals in the eastern Congo. These are the two sets of issues that are fuelling the on-going violence and preventing the Congolese state from reasserting its authority and control.
Exploitation Route for general public and policy makers Posted on the Poverty blog site of THE GUARDIAN and on the Governance blog site at the Institute of Development Studies
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy,Transport

Description In presenting and evaluating the research findings, Professor Leonard has held workshops in Nairobi and Abidjan, and spoken with parliamentarians and policy makers at events in London and Brussels. The research has also received significant interest from the Department for International Development (DFID) and European Union (EU). Professor Leonard also presented evidence to the House of Commons International Development Committee in 2012. This committee presentation influenced the decision by DFID to open a local office in Goma (Democratic Republic of Congo). The research has also been used by Dr Anna Schmidt, a governance and security advisor for the EU Somalia Mission, to inform the restructuring of the governance portfolio that reflects the importance of local processes in efforts to strengthen public authority. Professor Leonard contributed a chapter titled Elections and Conflict Resolution in Africa to the book When Elephants Fight: Preventing and Resolving Election-Related Conflicts in Africa, edited and authored articles from the project for a special journal issue of the IDS Bulletin, (44,1, 2013) entitled Piecing It Together : Post-Conflict Security in an Africa of Networked, Multilevel Governance,.and has contributed to a blog on The Guardian website.
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Hybrid Security Orders
Amount $700,000 (CAD)
Funding ID grant to N. Bagayoko and Eboe Hutchful 
Organisation International Development Research Centre 
Sector Public
Country Canada
Start 04/2014 
End 03/2017