Conflicts and peacebuilding

Fotografía cedida por Jorge Reig. Todos los derechos reservados.


The research cluster on “Armed conflicts and peacebuilding” was created in 2005. The main purpose of this cluster is to do some research on African armed conflicts, as well as on peacebuilding policies and strategies carried out at the international, regional (European Union, African Union, ECOWAS and their sub-regional organizations) and national-local levels, highlighting local peace initiatives run by women, community leaders, etc.

This cluster deals with issues related to the origins, causes and maintenance of armed violence in Africa by addressing both endogenous and exogenous factors (derived from the unique integration of Africa in a profoundly unjust international political and economic system). Likewise, researchers in this field pretend to analyse aspects related to the history and politics of specific conflicts, their protagonists (local, national, regional and international), their dynamics, the role of women, the violation of human rights, etc.

The other major area of ​​interest is the field that explores the current international agenda of peace and security and how it unfolds in African theatres of conflict and post-conflict. This area affects issues such as humanitarian military intervention, the principle of the responsibility to protect (R2P), sanctions, embargoes, prevention efforts, conflict resolution and post-conflict reconstruction. The analysis deals with peacekeeping missions of the United Nations, the African Union and regional organizations (ECOWAS, SADC, IGAD), programs of humanitarian assistance, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of combatants, security sector reform, transitional justice (criminal tribunals, truth commissions), monitoring of human rights, refugees, internally displaced, returnee, etc. Analyses of the challenges facing the incorporation of a gender perspective in the international agenda after the UN Resolution 1325 are also addressed.

For the development of its work, the research cluster is structured as a flexible and open network with a core of GEA researchers and other collaborating researchers from other institutions or centres.

Research Projects

Causes and Dynamics of Armed Conflits in Africa

Since the end of the Cold War, civil wars in Africa have been depicted mainly as “new wars”, i.e conflicts taking place in failing or failed states, led by warlords and/or other criminal organizations trafficking in highly priced natural resources (diamonds, coltan, other minerals, precious woods) and in which violence and atrocities are widely committed against the civilian population. This has made the “natural resources curse” type of explanation into one of the main paradigms to accounting for conflict in Africa. Our work at the Conflict and Peacebuilding Cluster considers such monocausal type of narratives as highly reductionist, even if it finds some positive aspects to this literature.

We argue a better understanding of the complex and heteregoneous political, economic, social and cultural factors interacting in these conflicts is needed, instead of the oversimplistic narratives normally broadcast by the media, and reproduced in some of the academic literature. Our analysis tries and put each conflict in its historical and political context and gather as much interpretations possible by participants and observers alike. Who are the actors involved? What are their agendas and motivations? What type of grievances are at stake? How do they mobilize people into participating? Our answers to these questions also point to the misleading character of the “internal wars” label considering that nor their causes nor the protagonists are exclusively local or national. Instead we defend these to be sites of armed violence that ought to be explained at the regional and international levels. Finally, another feature of our aproach is that it doesn’t focus exclusively on the elites, but looks to capture the role played by other local actors such as women, community leaders, traditional authorities, human rights activists, etc. Among the conflict scenarios we’ve conducted research on are Angola, Ethiopia, Great Lakes region (DRC, Ruanda, Burundi), Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda.

The liberal peacebuilding agenda

In recent years, the idea of ‘peacebuilding’ -sending military missions to seek profound structural changes in scenes of armed conflict and peace processes- has consolidated within the international political agenda. It has been propelled by major international organisations, including the United Nations, European Union and African Union, as well as Western powers (e.g. United States, France, the United Kingdom) and local elites. The official objective is to reconstruct state institutions in order to convert the recipient states into liberal democracies with neoliberal market economies. This prescription called ‘liberal peace’ has been implemented in more than eighteen African states, generating debate over controversies and dilemmas surrounding their efficiency, effectiveness and legitimacy.

The GEA’s research group on armed conflicts and peacebuilding has approached a number of related topics through diverse research engagements. These have included debates of critical approaches to peace and security that involve ‘liberal’ or ‘post-liberal’ peace, the processes of securitisation of peacebuilding, the impact of international sanctions, as well as other controversies and dilemmas that constitute the three main dimensions of liberal peace:

  • The security dimension, with narrow Security Sector Reform (SSR), including Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programmes, refugee repatriation, transitional justice (international courts, truth commissions, etc.)
  • The political dimension, constitutional reform, support to political parties, gender agenda, human rights, etc.
  • The socio-economic dimension: adjustment policies, fiscal reform, fight against corruption, reconstruction of infrastructure, etc.

In a transversal manner, we analyse the gender agenda in peacebuilding (with implementation of UN Security Council resolutions 1325, 1820 and others).

This liberal agenda, constructed on a hegemonic vision according to which liberalism constitutes prescription for peace, portrays ‘external’ actors as agents of liberalism, peace builders faced by the others -the Africans (local and regional)- portrayed as non-liberal. However, these stereotypes hide the multiple non-liberal practices also deployed by international actors involved in peace processes on the Sub-Saharan continent. Moreover, they veil the important role played by local actors in African peace processes.

Participation in Research Networks

The Conflict and Peacebuilding Research Cluster works as a network of researchers from different universities in Spain and abroad. We welcome requests for collaboration in new cooperative research projects or other. Since 2006, we’re a member of the Research Groups Network integrating HEGOA- Institute of Development and International Cooperation Studies (University of the Basque Country, Spain), GEA – African Studies Group (Autonoma University of Madrid, Spain) and the NEP – Peace Studies Center (University of Coimbra, Portugal).