Summary of Discussions
WORKSHOP ON NEW APPROACHES
June 10-12, 2002
Workshop in Political Theory and Policy
Evelyn Lwanga, Michael McGinnis, Esther
First Session, June 10, "An Introduction to Workshop Research and Its Implications for the Study of Governance in Africa" (Notes taken by Brent Never)
Comments by Michael McGinnis
Michael McGinnis gave an overview of the Workshop and the research activities of scholars affiliated with the Workshop (http://php.indiana.edu/~mcginnis/ws_afr2.ppt). Most important for the ensuing discussion, McGinnis highlighted the fact that self-governance has been a primary concern of Workshop scholars for nearly three decades. Whether their subject is urban police services, rural irrigation systems, fishery or forestry management, development, democratization, or dispute resolution, Workshop-affiliated scholars have amply documented the many advantages that polycentric systems of governance have over the standard conceptualization of states as unitary sovereigns. He noted that a distinctive aspect of Workshop research is its coupling of rigorous scientific inquiry, based on a common set of definitions to compare disparate cases, with practical policy advice.
The following discussion largely considered what we mean by the term "self-governance." Amos Sawyer, seconded by James Thomson, illustrated that the paradigm of "top-down" governance is firmly entrenched both in the political science field and in the minds of African elites. Many participants echoed the view that to break out of this paradigm, we must make a concerted effort to understand and appreciate the self-governing capabilities of individuals and local communities.
Kwesi Prah pointed out that we cannot conceive of where Africans are today without more carefully examining their history. The current problems of governance in many African countries provide an opportunity for fundamental re-examination of the structures and processes of governance. He emphasized that analysts should direct attention to the "elementary structures of society." Adebayo Adedeji articulated the goal of "sustainable people-centered democracy" that somehow must be fitted within the existing structures of national boundaries. He pointed to examples of indigenous governing institutions throughout Nigeria, especially ones not officially sanctioned by the central government. Samuel Obeng noted that traditional institutions continue to thrive because they provide a means for individuals to participate freely and equitably in their own governance. McGinnis argued that these examples of indigenous-or, more broadly, informal-institutions illustrate how the set of governance services typically clumped together under the "modern state" can be disentangled as a means towards fundamental redesign of the state and of governance in general.
Vincent Ostrom discussed the limitations that the state, as a static concept, has on the tougher questions of how humans seek to govern themselves. He discussed how understanding the dynamism of self-governing society helps scholars to understand the underlying tensions that permeate any community. As Sheldon Gellar illustrated, indigenous institutions tend to be dynamic in adapting to the changing local environment and are more likely to solve the problems that local people face. Perhaps the ultimate understanding that we reached throughout the discussion was that the "state" has largely become disconnected from the community over which it governs. If we simply try to change the institutional design of state institutions without connecting these changes to the underlying dynamic of society, any such reforms are doomed to failure.
Second Session, June 10, "Indigenous Institutions and Associational Life: Observations from the African Experience" (Notes taken by Oyebade Kunle Oyerinde)
Comments by Adebayo Adedeji
Adebayo Adedeji emphasized that indigenous institutions in Africa (including governance institutions, social organizations, and age-group associations) predate colonial and post-colonial Africa. Although, in some instances, indigenous governance institutions lack formal mechanisms of accountability, he noted examples in which those leaders who went beyond the limits of acceptable behavior were given "advice to die." Thus, accountability, sanctions and other values of governance that exist within the indigenous governance system have tremendous impact on public morality. For indigenous voluntary (social) organizations, their major objective is to defend the social interest of their members. They are self-reliant in resource generation. The current gap in development between the North and South in Nigeria arose from the fact that state institutions predominate in the former, while people hold sway largely in the latter. Age-group associations, which served as warriors in pre-colonial societies, now function as community-based organizations. These organizations engage in local service provision. While the expectation of a complete disappearance of the state may not be feasible in Africa, Adedeji made a case for the constitution of order in "ethnic-prone" political systems in Africa in such a way that elections and other political processes occurring under these constitutions will be "ethnic-proof."
Kwesi Prah made it clear that the relevance of indigenous institutions in Africa rests on giving them a fundamentally democratic character. This character must respect ethnicity and benefit from cultural diversity in Africa. Michael McGinnis felt that there is the need to establish constitutions that limit the cost of losing elections and that move governance/power away from the center to the local level. Samuel Obeng noted that without the state being "domesticated" or "nativized" (rather than continuing to be seen as a foreign imposition); there is no reason to expect improvement in citizen motivation for meaningful participation. He also pointed out that a culture of tolerance is just as important as constitutional limits on political processes.
James Thomson suggested that institutional/constitutional borrowings from the U.S. might be useful to Nigeria. For example, primary elections currently being handled by non-party organizations could also be replicated in Nigeria. Many local officials in the U.S. are selected by non-partisan elections, an arrangement that helps limit the influence of political leaders on practical policies at the ground level. In addition, Thomson noted that some public services might be contracted out to age-sets or other traditional forms of social organization. One of the major themes of the Workshop perspective is that good governance requires contributions from an array of types of organizations. Julia Duany pointed out that African women already play important economic, political, and social roles, and that these roles could be strengthened.
Several participants commented upon the problems raised by the artificiality of national boundaries as drawn by European colonialists and subsequently accepted by post-colonial leaders. How can we relate national governance to local cultures when these boundaries so often divide peoples with common cultures? Amos Sawyer argued that to reconstitute order in Africa, it is important to treat state institutions and other indigenous processes of democratization as complementary rather than competing. For example, if Yoruba institutions of local governance are to be revitalized both in Nigeria and elsewhere, these institutions must find a way to operate within the context of negotiated orders across national boundaries. Evelyn Lwanga noted that education of more leaders from the grassroots would brighten the prospects for a meaningful change of order in Africa.
Third Session, June 10, "When the Lions Will Have Their Own History: Subsidiarity and Democracy-Building in Sudanese Civilization" (Notes taken by Esther Mwangi)
Comments by Cheibane Coulibaly
Cheibane Coulibaly summarized the process of decentralization in Mali as an example of the broader issues facing Sudanese civilization in general. This process has not been a smooth one. He indicated that there were two ways in which resistance to government-imposed reforms were expressed. First, some villages refused to be part of the newly-formed communes. Secondly, in 1998, about 300 people in Mali died during a violent conflict over natural resources. After the state had placed these resources under the control of the new communes, the original owners tried to reclaim them. Following this conflict, the state was forced to recognize the legitimacy of resource boundaries set by the people. In addition to this, James Thomson noted that local people rejected the individual who had been appointed as the head of the state agency in charge of the decentralization program, just because he was from a lower caste.
Though Mali's decentralization program appeared to have worked in Bamako, its capital city, people in other parts of the country did not recognize the program but rather retained the Kafu system (based on transnational, pre-colonial, culture-based ties). While the state had accepted the people's demand for the Kafu system, candidates from the commune had to be sponsored by the political party. Independent candidates are not supported and therefore cannot win. This is just another way in which the state extends its control over the local. The state also undermined the legitimacy of popular representatives by insisting they collect back taxes prior to implementation of the decentralization program, which the people either ignored or openly rejected.
Sheldon Gellar indicated that a similar situation exists in Senegal where the local government does not correspond with cultural units, is distanced from the people, and does not have legitimacy. Senegal resisted independent candidates altogether; the elites do not want them because popular candidates will likely win. Such rules ensure that the party candidate wins. He expressed concern over the extent to which local community-based organizations are involved in the political process. He argued that units of local government should be established in a form that reinforces a community's solidarity.
According to Cheibane Coulibaly, the Kafu used to be defined on a territorial basis, but with the creation of villages and farming communities and increasing blood ties and alliances with other nomadic peoples, the boundaries have lost clarity. As a result, local communities are engaging in negotiations to define the boundaries of the Kafu. Coulibaly raised several questions of relevance to Mali's decentralization efforts. One had to do with the scaling up of the Kafu and the nature of intermediary institutions between the Kafu and local communities. Clearly, existing intermediary institutions put together by the state do not work very well. Another issue concerns the design of non-state institutions that span different states within the ECOWAS region. This is crucial particularly for the management of natural resources. In 1989, Senegal and Mauritania, for example, experienced intense conflict because the state introduced laws that did not draw upon local rules. In Mauritania, this new law brought new groups into the management of resources and conflict was inevitable. This leads to yet another problem-that of harmonizing natural resource laws and decentralization programs throughout the ECOWAS region.
The artificiality of local government areas extends beyond Nigeria to the entire ECOWAS region, as observed by Adebayo Adedeji. The early Nigerian constitution presupposed that local government units were the responsibility of State governments. The 1977 constitution shifted local government responsibility to the federal government and introduced uniform local government laws and structures throughout Nigeria, without providing a mechanism for the transfer and use of financial resources from the federal to local governments. This not only created unviable local government units across a heterogeneous country but also resulted in extensive corruption. In Nigeria, also, elections must be contested under party sponsorship; independent candidates are not allowed.
Adedeji stressed that we cannot have inter-country relationships without the state, unless you can form a corporate entity under the law, not through the civil society channel. He brought to attention the existence of OMV and CIELS institutions in Mali as possible channels. Coulibaly informed us that his organization is trying to push the state to create a more flexible framework for land registration that would give local rules a chance for use in the management of local resources. In this regard, they are exploring ways of creating an ECOWAS-wide umbrella farmer organization that draws upon Kafu-based farmer associations in the CIELS area. Such an umbrella organization may have greater leverage to press for the harmonization of national agricultural policies and legislation.
Kwesi Prah suggested that cross-border interstate relations without state involvement may be considered from the perspective of "people-to-people" institutions. He gave as an example contacts between the Turkana of northwest Kenya and the Karamojong of northeast Uganda. During a recent armed conflict, both national governments were either incapable of resolving it or reluctant to get involved. But the peoples themselves were able to resolve their differences independent of state intervention. Similar initiatives resolved inter-group conflicts over cattle rustling among the Basutu who live adjacent to each other in South Africa and Lesotho. Thus, there is a need to draw upon examples from other parts of Africa when considering ways in which cross-border communities can work together without involving the national governments directly.
Comparing examples from the U.S. and the Sudano-Sahelian region, Vincent Ostrom stressed that the state's imposition of uniform rules cannot work as people live in conditions of ecological diversity. To adapt to diversity, we have to adopt a variety of rules. We need institutional arrangements that are appropriate to ecological conditions. This is one reason why states can become an impediment to effective problem-solving. This tendency may also help explain the failure of the African state. We must come to terms with the fact that people need to develop different kinds of arrangements that go beyond the states into the lives of people. Perhaps emphasis could be shifted to "framework law" that allows local communities to adapt to local circumstances, rather than continuing to rely on uniform rules and regulations.
Robert Hawkins observed that the Kafu boundary dispute was a constitutional problem. Africa's crisis is constitutional, not political. The problem of decentralization in Mali is more than just a political problem, since it requires careful consideration of fundamental constitutional arrangements. Hawkins stressed that management is not equivalent to governance. In his view, the current crisis of governance is, at its heart, a constitutional crisis. Thus, it cannot be solved by simply changing management styles or procedures.
James Thomson noted that most governments in Africa do not support people-to-people discussions because they lack incentives to do so and that political leaders can rarely serve as an objective third party. Nigeria's oil crisis is a case in point.
Osita Afoaku mentioned that Mali's case is at the heart of Africa's dilemma in the issue of decentralization. Current governments will say that they want decentralization, but they act to insure that the structures that emerge are supportive of centralized government. But if decentralization was organized around the Kafu, then leadership at this level would be more loyal to the people than to the state. Thus, those decentralization reforms that are actually implemented tend to result in a re-centralization of power by the state. Sheldon Gellar expressed similar doubts about whether states are really ready to give up power. An important question regards the authority of federations and how we can scale up the Kafu. You need larger units to be able to exert effective pressure on the state. In summary, elites support decentralization only if it suits their own interests. He concluded that too many elites continue to see their fellow countrymen as "those that we administer" rather than as fellow citizens capable of self-governance.
Fourth Session, June 11, "State Tutelage and Self-Governance: Examples from Senegal" (Notes taken by Michael McGinnis)
Comments by Sheldon Geller
Sheldon Geller began by reviewing Tocqueville's concerns about how French administrators' attitude of tutelage or guardianship towards the people tended to undermine any potential for local initiative. People lost any "taste for local liberties" and became dependent on the state's tutelage. An especially difficult problem concerns the imposition of universal rules or regulations that cannot be adapted to fit local conditions.
Geller stressed that French colonial administrators applied this same attitude towards Senegal and their other colonies. Even more disturbingly, ruling elites in the post-colonial state tended to behave similarly. For example, the African socialism that guided post-colonial policies was very much driven by the tutelage of state administrators. Even the cooperatives that were set up were based on artificial boundaries set by the state rather than emerging naturally from existing patterns of interactions among local communities. More recently, international development agencies have implemented a similar attitude of guardianship towards local communities.
He pointed to four promising examples of self-governance that emerged in the 1980s, as Senegal implemented structural adjustment policies. First, village development associations in the Senegal River region became, in effect, self-governing river republics. Regular public meetings were held in which priorities were decided upon. In particular, mosques were built by local communities, as were schools, wells, vegetable gardens, and other public projects. A second set of examples emerged from a community typically seen as stateless. The third example concerns the unique status of the village of Touba. Originally established decades ago by Amadu Bomba, founder of an increasingly popular Sufi brotherhood, this village grew to become the second largest city in Senegal, with a current population of some 300,000 people. Yet this city has remained the private property of the family of this leader. To this day, sections of the city are governed by members of this family. Yet these leaders remain responsive to the needs of the people living there. Public services are readily available, even though the local governance remains "undemocratic," at least in the sense that few officials are selected via elections. The fourth example is a series of neighborhood sports and cultural associations that were originally established by young soccer fans. These associations later branched out into other public services. This example is particularly noteworthy for its lack of grounding in any indigenous traditions. He stressed that self-governance requires creative adaptation, and that we must not consider indigenous traditions to be unchangeable.
He concluded that self-governance emerged as soon as the state pulled back from its attitude of tutelage and allowed the peoples to organize themselves. In those areas in which state officials have been most directly involved, however, there is considerably less evidence of self-governance. He argued that international aid agencies should also shift their attention to providing space for community action rather than directing with such a heavy hand. To generate the dynamism of self-governance, it is only necessary for the state to lift its tutelage a little bit.
The status of Touba was discussed in more detail. Geller emphasized the importance of the attitude of tolerance towards other Sufi brotherhoods and on the secular nature of Islam in this part of the world. Charlotte Hess explored the long-term consequences of donor efforts to enhance the level of women's participation in community governance. Geller admitted that this change is definitely noticeable, although it varies widely by community, based on their own past traditions and on the choices of the peoples themselves.
Robert Hawkins reminded us that Tocqueville was concerned that a democratic people's taste for equality might overwhelm their taste for liberty (and self-governance). Geller detailed several sources of an egalitarian ethic, including the dire economic conditions faced by most Sengalese and the egalitarian thrust of Islam. He emphasized a book on "Democracy in Translation" in which it is demonstrated that, for people in Senegal, democracy tends to mean sharing the benefits and participation in governance rather than the regular holding of elections or rule by political parties. James Thomson noted that many communities in this region are quite capable of effective financing of public works projects because the people have such a clear and detailed understanding of the relative wealth of all members of their community. This makes it easy to arrive at an equitable distribution of the tax burden.
Amos Sawyer emphasized the point that people often prefer to be left out of partisan politics as they deal with their own local problems. These examples of self-governance in Senegal reinforce doubts about the appropriateness of the World Bank's emphasis on majoritarian elections as evidence of "good governance." Hawkins noted a similar problem in our perspective towards the recipients of assistance, both domestic and international. Instead of requiring recipients to demonstrate that they are victims of some injustice, we should be trying to encourage recipients to see themselves as citizens and as assets, rather than as victims.
Fifth Session, June 11, "The Place of African Languages in the Constitution of Order in Africa" (Notes taken by Evelyn Lwanga)
Comments by Kwesi Prah
Kwesi Prah began by confessing that African intellectuals are often prone to excessive borrowing of ideas from other political traditions. He reviewed a litany of failed ideologies in both of the crucial areas of development and democratization. He stressed the need for using indigenous culture as the basis of modernity and development of African societies. He focused on language as a fundamental source of the problems of development in Africa. He is concerned to see that so few scholars in African universities work in their own local languages rather than in European languages.
He argued that the distribution of African languages is typically presented in an unfair manner, as an unmanageable "Tower of Babel." He asserted that the linguistic variation found in Africa is not atypical, since similar claims of hundreds of languages could have been applied to other geographic areas in which multiple dialects developed over the years. What has been lacking in Africa has been the conscious selection and development of a few major languages as modes of communication across local communities. The resulting lack of communication is essential, for language fundamentally influences the way in which ideas are funneled into society and it empowers society, especially in the creation of democratic society. In Africa, there is a need to look at comparative cases such as Japan, Malaysia, and Arab countries where language has been used in mass education and empowerment. The use of colonial language has become the de facto power inhibiting the development of Africa. Prah gave an overview of the extensive body of activities undertaken by CASAS to bring order to African languages by identifying 12-15 core languages and developing a basis for their broader use as written languages.
Comments by Vincent Ostrom
Vincent Ostrom reviewed the historical experience of European languages, with particular attention to the effort of Dante to formulate the Italian language. Africans now face the challenge of crafting similarly successful languages. Ostrom stressed the fundamental importance of languages, especially regarding how people express themselves and how they get the urge to read and join the linguistic community. It is important that literacy in Africa today is opened up in regard to African languages.
It is also important to consider how authors articulate themselves. The development of Africa will only occur if literature is accessible to people. This is the main puzzle to solve and it is African scholars (and writers) who will have to solve it.
Several participants noted the peculiar circumstance that so many of Africa's finest writers make exclusive use of non-indigenous languages. A few counter-examples were discussed, and it was generally agreed that more such work needs to be encouraged. One important way to connect peoples separated by national boundaries would be to publish materials that can be read by many people. This is one of the top priorities of the CASAS program.
Daunting tradeoffs are inevitable in questions of language policy. On the one hand, there is a need to develop an African-based lingua franca; on the other hand, we cannot deprive African people access to widely-used languages such as English, which has become the lingua franca of the world. But it has not always been so. Adebayo Adedeji reminded us that one of the first decisions taken by the authors of the American constitution was to decide what language in which it should be written. There were many other languages in use in the American colonies, and English was selected as the common language of governance for that area.
To be effective as a tool of governance, language must be used and made accessible to all the people. It is especially important to have books and publications written "properly" in African languages; otherwise the local people will not read them. It is also important to provide useful literature at a lower cost. Newsletters and newspapers could help. People need to learn their own language first and then other languages. There is a major role for intellectuals to play in the development of literature in local languages. Another problem is that most literature now is tailored to young people and not old people.
Amos Sawyer stressed that central authorities can plan an important role in the process of ensuring that local languages are incorporated into the education system. Both intellectuals and political leaders need to coordinate on this fundamental problem. He reminded us that acting upon a commitment to self-governance does not preclude a role for the national government. Continued discussion of this issue of the proper role of government authorities in the establishment of languages was deferred to a later session. It is not easy to decide who has the authority to standardize a language.
Sixth Session, June 11, "Political Leadership, Public Entrepreneurship, and Institutional Reform: The Role of African Universities and Research Centers" (Notes Taken By Oyebade Kunle Oyerinde)
Comments by Cheibane Coulibaly
Cheibane Coulibaly noted that the potential contributions
of African universities and research centers, using CUMBU (Centre Universitaire
Mande Bukari, Mali) as a reference point, have been hampered by tensions
and hostility between university scholars and dictatorial governments,
separation between intellectuals and society/community, limited financial
capabilities by students, and lack of support from the government. These
limiting factors have heightened the brain drain crisis, which results
in a poorer quality of education in African
The dual aim of CUMBU is to form a new set of scholars with local and professional skills and to link CUMBU and its research activities to the local people. Long-standing relationships have been established with local literary centers in order to further literacy among rural populations. Coulibaly provided extensive details about the activities and plans of this organization. For example, students are expected to translate an important book into a local language as a requirement for receiving a degree.
Several participants expressed admiration for the aims and procedures established at CUMBU. Vincent Ostrom asked about the willingness of people to invest time in maintaining community centers, and Coulibaly assured him that communities are very interested in maintaining such centers. When the issue of religious ties to these centers came up, Coulibaly indicated that religion is primarily a private affair in Mali, and that in this country, at least, Islam has generally found a comfortable accommodation with the secular state. He also pointed out that a major project at the Center is to research the origins of Islam in Mali in hopes of understanding the sources of this tradition of tolerance and mutual accommodation.
Kwesi Prah made a case for cooperation and collaboration among other similar institutes in Africa and elsewhere since they are all working for these same goals. He pointed out that one major limiting factor in this direction is the problem of poor conceptualization. It is often difficult to express Western concepts of democracy and governance in terms that make sense to local peoples. Since they use a different language, they tend to come at issues of governance from a distinct frame of reference. Julia Duany, Kwesi Prah, and Sheldon Gellar shared the concern that mutual intelligibility might be hindered due to the problem of translation of Western political concepts that may not sound so appealing in the local language.
Commenting on publications, Robert Hawkins expressed anxiety about the expense of sending books and other published materials to Africa. Charlotte Hess encouraged the use of digital information as a way of getting around this problem. To this end, she suggested that local libraries in Africa build on local cultures, ideas, and values.
In response to Afoaku's question on assistance coming to CUMBU from the government, Coulibaly indicated CUMBU has not benefited from any assistance from the government.
Seventh Session, June 11, "Academic Institutions and the Challenge of Self-Governance: Research Agenda and Resource Possibilities (1st session)" (Notes by Esther Mwangi)
Kwesi Prah drew attention to the continued crisis in the Sudan, where the longest war in Africa (since 1956) has cost more than two million lives. This situation is even more critical with the recent discovery of large quantities of oil and with Senator Danforth's recent mission report. Prah noted that while ultimate responsibility for resolving African conflicts lies with the African peoples themselves, there is a role for the United States in the Sudan conflict. For example, the United States had been pressuring the Northern government to grant self-determination to Africans in southern Sudan, until the recent discovery of oil.
Vincent Ostrom mentioned that the Workshop has had a longstanding interest in the Sudan. Julia and Wal Duany, and others, have been working on this problem and have met with the National Security Council. Ostrom expressed hope that more attention be given to the possible contributions of local traditions of conflict resolution among the peoples of Africa. For example, he noted that age-set associations have long protected local communities from attack.
Amos Sawyer said questions of conflict and conflict resolution have become a major concern at the Workshop. He identified a need to further advance our understanding of conflict. He singled out Adebayo Adedeji's book on conflict, its causes and management in Africa, as path-breaking. He also cited recent work by scholars in the Netherlands. He argued that, while there are strong moral issues at stake in the Sudan, it is important as well to understand conflict on its own terms, as this may help us get a better sense of possible remedies. Academic scholarship is essential in informing policy against temporary, quick fix solutions. Sawyer added that it is within individuals' reach to take the initiative to capture peoples' hearts.
Robert Hawkins noted that recent reports from Britain imply that most conflicts are caused by pathologies of the state, such as constitutional failure. He fears that the whole apparatus created to deal with conflict is faulty. In Rwanda, for example, as soon as the fighting stopped, the feeders (i.e., humanitarian agencies) moved in. There seemed to be no concern with a constitutional solution to stop the problems from recurring. He is deeply concerned that so few policymakers are interested in finding long-term solutions.
Michael McGinnis reiterated that institutional analysis is important in articulating a vision that might catch the attention of policy makers in the State or Defense departments of the United States. In conflict situations, these departments have their own interests to pursue, especially to create stability and thereby support U.S. business abroad. Too often the U.S. tries to pick a "winner" out of the contending factions, even if this political entity is not well-supported by the local communities. The U.S. can make contributions to the resolution of conflict, but ultimately the responsibility lies with the people on the ground to organize appropriate and adequate representation. McGinnis advocated a more hands-off approach by the U.S., focused on providing conditions for people to work out their own solutions.
Osita Afoaku mentioned that we tend to assume that the problem of U.S. involvement in Africa is due to the quality of information available to those in the foreign office. But U.S. foreign policy must be looked at from the standpoint of the interests and subcultures of U.S. policymakers. Unfortunately, U.S. national interest may not coincide with local interests. It is important to realize that there are two environments in which the process of democracy and polycentric governance take place-within Africa and at the global level. We need to understand linkages between the local and the global in order to arm ourselves with knowledge that would be useful in our negotiations.
Julia Duany acknowledged that Africans create conflict in Africa and that solutions should, logically, come from within Africa. Still, she observed that their efforts in lobbying the U.S. government resulted in a 1993 agreement between SPLA/M and the Sudan government to take back resolution efforts to the African people. Although this proposal was endorsed by President Moi, chair of IGADD, the wider African community did not support Moi's efforts. Overall, the African people have neglected the problem of southern Sudan. The United Nations, given its policy to not embarrass member states, also failed to address the problem. She concluded that we need to use a people-centered approach to this conflict, in order to mobilize more effective concern.
Robert Hawkins noted that U.S. foreign policy will get dragged into these conflicts. Nonetheless, our greatest strength as scholars is to begin to use our framework that we have developed here at the Workshop to understand the causes of and solutions to conflicts. We need to study and understand successful indigenous cultures and to offer remedies. Representatives from these cultures must be brought to the table during negotiations, not just state elites.
Adebayo Adedeji admitted that it is not easy for African countries to take the initiative on the conflict in Sudan. Unless a member state other than the Sudan raises the issue at OAU forums, it will not be debated. Yet if another country took it up, it would be accused of meddling in another country's internal affairs! He suggested that the Workshop, given its longstanding concern with and expertise in the Sudan might put together a position paper with clear policy alternatives and circulate it to relevant parties. This will maintain the Workshop's integrity as a center of objectivity and policy analysis. However, Vincent Ostrom expressed deep skepticism about offering anything that would be labeled as the Workshop's recommendation. That is simply beyond our capabilities as a research institute.
Sheldon Gellar raised the question of how to deal with African academic institutions that are under state tutelage. Is there a way of influencing how scholarship is done to incorporate some of our methods? What kind of incentives can we give to scholars to incorporate some of the real issues? How do we spread knowledge in our approach? Who do we work with in Africa: universities, think tanks?
Michael McGinnis suggested that establishing a network of interacting institutions with similar goals, as with current Workshop efforts under the IFRI research program, would be a likely goal. Amy Poteete, IFRI's program coordinator, described the IFRI research strategy as being focused on developing common research instruments to be used by local and international scholars and practitioners. IFRI also maintains an international database that is housed in Indiana as well as databases in collaborating research centers of participating institutions. Participating researchers and institutions have access both to their own database and to the international database. While IFRI initially recruited collaborators with similar interests, membership is open and is based on commonality of interest.
Michael McGinnis clarified that one goal of this meeting was to explore the possibility of a similar effort in conflict resolution. However, any network of collaborating institutions on conflict and governance in Africa would not be organized exactly as the IFRI research program, in which the Workshop itself played the major role in defining the IFRI research agenda. Instead, the plan with regard to Africa is to begin to exploit and build upon synergies between the Workshop and the institutions represented by the participants as a way towards creating a network of collaborating institutions on conflict in Africa.
Kwesi Prah noted some of the preliminary discussions he and Charlotte Hess had on information, databases, and the setting up of a computer center. He also mentioned these resources as desirable for the joint training of language students.
Sheldon Gellar suggested a need to expand networks at different levels beyond working with established academic and policy research institutions. It would be useful as well to work with grassroots programs that try to bring people together. The ENDA program, for instance, is a grassroots effort that looks at popular culture and ecological environments. There is an immense need to translate what is on the ground and what people care about, to give them incentives to analyze and solve their problems as we learn together.
Charlotte Hess stressed the need to work closely with established institutions of higher education in the realm of information delivery and storage. Many librarians in developing countries, for example, continue to pursue ways of thinking and doing that spiral off the status quo despite new ways offered by advances in information technology. Useful books are, for example, locked up and inaccessible to students. There is a need to also let universities know about independent initiatives that are not necessarily published. One way of doing this is by creating a database of citations that can be more accessible.
Vincent Ostrom asserted that the twentieth century has experienced the largest numbers of failures in governance. While Leninist theories of revolution were important, they focused largely on how to turn people into combatants; on preparing conditions for warfare. Russia perfected this system, but failed in the long run. This failure affected not only Russia but also Eastern Europe, China, and some African countries. At the end of World War II, the colonial powers realized that empire building in a world that had undergone two disruptive wars was not possible and that there might be an opportunity for movement towards a free world. The world in the twentieth century has had massive failure in dealing with institutions of governance. The American failure with the Articles of Confederation, for example, led to diagnostic assessments. Similarly, we need to find out why in the twentieth century we have had such pervasive failures around the world. We made major achievements in the seventeenth, eighteen, and part of the nineteenth centuries, but got trapped in the twentieth.
Ostrom observed that we are faced with a challenge of using theoretical discourse in making diagnostics of what went wrong and in creating conjectures as to how the problem can be solved. He noted that African states have been an impediment to the African people to move forward. We must draw upon the experiences of mankind. We need to develop analytic and diagnostic capability. We have a challenge of establishing patterns of collegiality where we learn from each other in a community of scholars, together with graduate students and visiting scholars who are engaged in the same problems as we are, and engaging with other disciplines.
He acknowledged that we as individuals can accomplish relatively little in a lifetime. How can we begin to build on what we have, little by little? What can we do in our own little way to be helpful to what each of you are doing in your own little way? Can we look upon community centers as centers for development and learning? What Coulibaly is doing creates a new vision for scholarship not only in Mali but also in Africa and elsewhere.
He concluded that he was extremely encouraged by this meeting. He noted that we are developing a shared community of understanding of what it means to be a human being related to humanity, the development of which is through enlightenment. If we can develop shared communities of understanding, then that can be the foundation for the development of order in human societies. He reiterated that each participant does work that is as important as what is done at the Workshop and that we need to collaborate so we can educate each other.
Eighth Session, June 12, "Understanding and Resolving Conflicts among the Peoples in Africa" (Notes taken by Evelyn Lwanga)
Comments by Adebayo Adedeji
Adebayo Adedeji admitted that conflict is widespread in Africa, but he stressed that it is not unique to Africa. It is, however, important to note that conflict in Africa is different in different countries, hence the need to carry out comparative analyses of conflict. Adedeji provided an overview of a series of paired comparisons of African conflicts conducted by himself and his colleagues that resulted in a book titled Comprehending and Mastering African Conflict.
Adedeji acknowledged that the international community is willing to provide emergency assistance, but also expressed concern that donors are not so willing to go to the base of the problem. At the same time, there are many cases of neighboring countries that are not so "neighborly," since they interfere in purely domestic conflicts. Some types of conflicts are larger than can be solved at community level, but if communities were equipped to solve minor conflicts then fewer would escalate out of control. This would be not only a cheaper but also an easier method of resolving conflict. He stressed the need for greater democratization and effectiveness of governance, especially with respect to local, national, and Subregional mechanisms for mitigating and transforming conflicts.
We need to increase national capacity at university levels. Academic scholars can play a proactive role in conflict management. At the regional level, there is a need to have a conflict monitoring mechanism. Media can play a major role here. He also suggested that the Workshop might have a future role in this conflict monitoring process.
Comments by Amos Sawyer
Amos Sawyer argued that the lack of a tradition of open and public discussion of contentious political issues within African countries has greatly contributed to the frequency and intensity of violent conflicts. We need to deepen our understanding of the root causes of conflict are how conflict changes over time. In sum, we need a diagnostic, scientific-oriented understanding of the dynamics of conflict. Contemporary conflicts are even more complex, sometimes involving several countries. He pointed in particular to the regional conflict system that has enveloped several countries in West Africa.
Violent conflict requires the mobilization of resources to keep it going. At the same time, some people have an interest in keeping the conflict going. Effective mechanisms of conflict resolution need to operate in nested institutions. Unfortunately, there may be little communication between institutions at different levels. For example, regional conflict resolution mechanisms (such as in ECOWAS) rarely involve the participation of local elders, yet their input may be essential to the management of locally-based conflicts. Since national government is itself often a party to the conflict, it cannot be expected to serve as a neutral arbitrator. Conflict may involve people and yet not be of their own making. Once started, the original cause may not be the driving force.
Participants noted that many African conflicts are mislabeled as ethnic conflicts. Too often, elites feed on ethnic diversity and use it to maintain themselves in power. Many factors contribute to conflict. For example, donor insistence on democratic elections may, in some cases, fuel intense ethnic mobilization. There was widespread agreement on the point that elections per se (and as organized in Western democracies) cannot be the exclusive basis for the effective resolution of conflict in Africa.
Many times it is easier to sustain conflict than resolve it. Michael McGinnis reviewed the many sources of funding for rebellions, including foreign aid and participation in illegal trade. Shutting off any one of these channels of funding is not sufficient, since opportunistic leaders will capitalize on any remaining source. Someone mentioned that warlordism can be considered to be a form of addiction, in the sense that once an individual has become used to that mode of making a living, it is very difficult to readjust to more productive, peaceful endeavors. However, Adedeji pointed out that many people have already exited from the conflict system and now pursue more productive careers. This is not an impossible transition for individuals to make.
Elinor Ostrom noted that some observers fear that international intervention, although intended to resolve the conflict or alleviate people's suffering, may instead provide enough resources to prolong the war. This has become a major source of concern to humanitarian aid agencies, and there is a growing understanding that it takes more than episodic intervention from outside to solve these problems.
A serious problem is that so many youth are enmeshed in violence. When conflict ceases they do not know what to do. Retraining people from the army is a difficult challenge. Julia Duany drew attention to the ways in which easy access to sophisticated weapons has fueled wars throughout Africa. She encouraged efforts to end universal access to arms. But McGinnis cautioned that controlling the arms trade is a particularly difficult issue for the international community, and that we cannot realistically expect trade in small arms to be curtailed. Still, it is encouraging that some countries have managed to avoid violent conflicts. Mali, Benin, and Mozambique are good examples.
Kwesi Prah reiterated a theme he introduced earlier, stressing that the elementary structures (or atoms) of society need to be democratic in nature. Only with such a solid base can more extensive systems of peaceful conflict resolution be established and maintained.
Ninth Session, June 12, "Academic Institutions and the Challenge of Self-Governance: Research Agenda and Resource Possibilities (2nd session)" (Notes by Esther Mwangi)
Elinor Ostrom noted that in order to study conflict we also need to look at some cases of success, in which the dispute did not result in violence. However, we need to guard against looking for the perfect solution. Instead, we should study situations in which people have found ways of using conflict productively. Researchers should be able to identify the principles behind those systems of nonviolent conflict resolution that have been most successful over the years.
Michael McGinnis noted that an effective system of governance must include multiple mechanisms for dispute resolution. Our discussions have identified a need to focus on local indigenous systems and adaptations through which local peoples manage their conflicts and conflicts with neighbors. Each of the visiting colleagues is tackling the issue of conflict through their long-standing research and training programs. While there are commonalities in trying to understand better conflict resolution practices in Africa, we need to do this systematically to get a fuller understanding, over the long term, of how we can have successful self-governing communities.
Robert Hawkins outlined a range of possible activities. First, there is a need to document capacities for self-governance: what are they, how do they work? The problem is that these capacities are not clearly visible at the level of the international community. Second, we need to study processes of enabling these capacities. Third, because a key problem in Africa is that those new states did not go through the constitutional building process, donors should encourage constitutional discussions, especially in high conflict areas.
Vincent Ostrom observed that a procedure that arose from English law, equity jurisprudence, is frequently overlooked in discussions. Even if we do not know the exact character of a problem, or who all is involved in this process, we can call on a specialist to make a report on the scope of the issue at hand. Then equity jurisprudence proceeds by a process of bargaining in this court and arriving at a resolution that incorporates all relevant interests. This is an example of constitutional decision-making in which communities arrive at a common understanding of the nature of the problems they jointly face.
Elinor Ostrom noted that there are other more informal ways of getting to such a common understanding. She asked if the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa could be considered to be another way of getting to a common understanding. She further noted that in any collaborative project we would need to focus on particular topics. What mechanisms would enable us to adapt a common program? If we were to be linked, how do we enhance all of our capabilities by engaging in self-governance among ourselves? How do we get synergy in our activities?
Evelyn Lwanga observed that networking to learn from each other will avoid duplication and provide the basis for more synergy. Adedeji noted that in order to influence policy making in Africa the best way would be to present your work to policy makers at a workshop. They may not apply it, but could not claim ignorance of its existence. Also, they would have somewhere to turn in case they needed it later. Hawkins suggested that to extend the reach of Dele Ayo's book, we could organize a small workshop around it in Nigeria and invite scholars to discuss the book. Obeng suggested that the core ideas could be presented on a radio station and have people react to it. E. Ostrom observed that in Romania, the media was used to publicize initiatives-people talked about their successes and failures on television. Dele Ayo's work shows how some villages were successful. Villagers can also be brought to the workshop and get them to talk about their experiences and get the media to give them visibility. Julia Duany noted that working through workshops and encouraging groups to share information has proved effective in her work among women in the Sudan.
Amos Sawyer summarized several themes that emerged from
our discussions and how we might build further on this foundation. He
identified a common, overarching concern in the constitution of order
in Africa. We need a deeper understanding of how peoples of Africa govern
themselves; a deeper understanding of indigenous, traditional, local patterns
of governance. Several areas where we would need deeper understanding
Our strategies include research, networking, capacity
building; all are mutually reinforcing. Our mechanisms include organizing
workshops, conferences, publications, exchanges, library materials, etc.,
for students. We have natural partners in the African Studies Program,
the several African institutions represented here, with the Workshop serving
as a nucleus. We have identified specific topics, for example:
Osita Afoaku drew attention to the concern over ways in which Africans have over time dealt with the issue of citizenship. The Banyamulenge, for example, are Tutsi that migrated into Eastern Congo; their citizenship is under increased contestation, especially after the collapse of the Mobutu regime. E. Ostrom mentioned that closely related to the notion of citizenship is the notion of property and of family, all three of which have implications for self-organizing abilities.
Samuel Obeng finds the notion of citizenship intriguing and the study of traditional (or linguistic) jurisprudence, in particular, as potentially useful in conflict resolution. This is also an excellent way of bridging the disciplinary divide as it brings together political scientists and linguists. John Hanson also underscored the importance of religion as a basis of conflict. He emphasized that global connections in religion deserve further exploration.
Obeng also expressed some concern that African students who come to the U.S. for graduate study tend to do field research in their home communities, and that we need to encourage students to study other groups as well. Esther Mwangi discussed her own dissertation research project, in which she is explicitly focusing on peoples in other countries. All participants agreed that work along these lines should be encouraged, both in the U.S. and in Africa.
E. Ostrom indicated that we have begun a research agenda that we can work through and that the proceedings of this meeting will be summarized and a draft circulated for comments and suggestions. She also highlighted a few practical issues: whether to begin fundraising consultations immediately and a possible name for this grouping.
Participants agreed to work together and that an executive committee is needed with Amos Sawyer as the point person. There was tentative agreement on a name: Consortium of Centers on the Constitution of Order in Africa (CCCOA). (Other variants were discussed and the final decision left open.) Dele Ayo's book is anticipated to be ready by September 2002. Elinor Ostrom suggested that in addition to holding a workshop on Dele Ayo's book in Nigeria, we need to hold one at Indiana University as well. Adedeji mentioned that a Nigerian published version of the book could be ready in three to four months. The forward of this book will comprise Vincent Ostrom's reflection on Ayo's work; it will also include a reference to the proceedings of this meeting. Prah suggested that an executive summary be written in Yoruba, the language of the community from which the study was drawn. Gellar suggested this translation be done in Africa.
E. Ostrom suggested that we immediately set up a list-serve for communication amongst all. McGinnis noted that we need a mission statement, which might also indicate that work has begun with the publication of Dele Ayo's work and that the program is pan-African in nature. Prah observed the absence of East African institutions and suggested a need to include participants from that region. Sawyer said that membership to the Consortium should be open to institutions and to individuals interested in similar issues. Further details of the Consortium's structure and procedures were left to be worked out after the conference ends.
Adebayo Adedeji, Executive Director, African Centre for
Development and Strategic Studies (ACDESS), Nigeria
Notes for each session were taken by Evelyn Lwanga, Michael McGinnis, Esther Mwangi, Brent Never, and Oyerinde Kunle Oyebade; subsequent revisions were made by Michael McGinnis and Amos Sawyer.