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Governance, pluralism and conflict resolution

Project initiatives

Project leadership

If you wish to contribute to this thematic project, please contact M. Assane Mbaye : assane@afrique-gouvernance.net

I. Issue

African States often lack the legitimacy they need to firmly establish institutions and anchor the State in society. One of the main causes of this situation is a misguided attempt to make a unified political, institutional, normative and social organisation a condition for building the national identity—to the detriment of the multiple identities that have been part of African societies for centuries. Another cause is States’ inability to meet the material and immaterial needs of their populations satisfactorily. Yet States need to be seen as legitimate power holders with legitimate modes of governance, i.e., they need, first of all, to be recognised by African populations. They also need to anchor all processes, norms and means of organising and sharing power and regulating public affairs in the realities of these societies. The appearance and aggravation of most of the conflicts plaguing the continent today can be attributed, in part, to the unsuitable means used to set up institutions and regulate power.

Consequently, this project is part of the Alliance’s overall goal of reconnecting the State and African societies by reconciling unity and diversity and promoting the principles of rootedness and pluralism. The initial hypothesis is that pluralism should be the cornerstone of the organisation of public life and of the regulation of power in Africa. Various aspects of pluralism are involved, including normative and institutional pluralism. This principle is tested at various levels of governance–in particular on the local level–and in various fields such as constitutions, decentralisation, delivery of justice, production of law, land rights, etc.

II. Achievements

As part of the strategic plan for 2006-2010, three initiatives have been implemented for this project.

  • The first initiative involves ‘The coexistence of legitimacies: institutional inclusiveness and judicial pluralism’ . Thanks to this initiative, nearly 400 experiences were collected in five countries (Mali, Togo, Benin, Burkina-Faso and Senegal) and a regional proposals booklet entitled “For a new institutional engineering that codifies multiple legitimacies, Proposals for rebuilding the State” was published in 2010. In the booklet, the Alliance explains its vision of the identity of the Nation-State in Africa: a community of citizens yet also a community of peoples; a State necessarily touched by socially diverse groups that have always rebelled against the borders of postcolonial States. This diversity dictates that pluralism be the organising principle in the search for unity, and pluralism is particularly well-developed and important on the local level. The programme to rebuild the African State is built around three major proposals: accept pluralism and translate it into a new engineering of local institutions that reflects the diversity of powers and their foundations; accept pluralism and let the diversity of local territories and powers be reflected in a reconstructed constitutionalism and, finally, put pluralism to work in the organisation of law and justice by creating bridges between the State normative order and extra-State normative orders, in particular, and by way of example, by accepting social mediation as an official system for resolving conflicts.

  • The second initiative in this project focuses on ‘Pathways of governance in Africa’. This initiative, carried out in partnership with the Institute for research and debate on governance (IRG), consists in organising a series of regional meetings on the issue of legitimacy of power in Africa. Each phase in the Pathways initiative includes an analysis of the various sources of legitimacy of power, application of the diverse sources of legitimacy to the specific field of land rights and an analysis of and proposals for anchoring constitutionalism in Africa. Regional meetings were held and their results published: Bamako in January 2007  ‘Between tradition and modernity, what governance project for Africa?’ and Lomé in June 2008 for West Africa; Polokwané in June 2008 for southern Africa ‘Debate and proposals on governance in Africa, perspectives for southern Africa’, Arusha in November 2009 for East Africa; Yaoundé in November 2010 for central Africa. ‘Pathways of governance in Africa’ is enriched with contributions comparing Africa with other regions of the world (Lima Colloquium for Andean America in February 2009).

  • The third initiative in this project touches on the issue of conflict resolution. Since May 2007, the Alliance has undertaken a process to capitalise on the experiences of various actors in West Africa and produce a mass of information to better understand the dynamics of conflicts, the reasoning and motives of the actors involved, local mechanisms for managing and resolving conflicts and peace management strategies. REFMAP (Mano River Women’s Peace Network) was the pilot project for capitalisation. It is, in fact, a joint peace initiative of women in the Mano River region (Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone) who, through their women’s organisations, decided to create a new platform for action to encourage social and political stability in the region. REFMAP has played a major role in managing and resolving conflicts in the Mano River basin (armed conflicts in Liberia and Sierra-Leone in the 1990’s, and repercussions in other countries in the region, particularly Guinea and, to some extent, Côte d’Ivoire). A document on capitalisation based on REFMAP’s experiences and enriched with other experiences from the sub-region (in particular those related to conflicts in northern Mali and Guinea-Bissau) presents the results of this initiative (December 2010).

III. Perspectives

The strategic plan for 2011-2016 provides for consolidation and further work on this theme-based project. Efforts will include:

  • implementing a new initiative on the land issue. Despite–or perhaps because of–attempts to unify systems, not one State has found a way to resolve conflicts between the various norms, authorities and mechanisms for resolving disputes in this area. But land issues, because of their impact on economic development, access to resources and housing and social peace, are of such importance that a solution absolutely must be found. The challenge is to design a transition to a definitive compromise between customary law and modern law, between State justice and social mediation, and to set up the institutional organisation of land management.

  • continuing and finalising the Pathways of Governance in Africa initiative with the organisation of the regional meeting for North Africa (Egypt in 2011) and a final meeting in Addis-Ababa at which the results of the initiative will be presented, along with proposals on constitutions and anchoring constitutionalism in Africa;

  • intensifying capitalisation of experiences in conflict resolution, and designing proposals for national, regional and Africa-wide institutions so that institutional mechanisms can be enriched with the practices of social actors.

View the document Project sheet on the creation of an inter-African research group on modes of governance in Africa