The discipline of Conflict and Peace studies has been pushing towards an increasingly holistic approach. This holism manifests itself not just in bringing together a multitude of disciplines to work in conflict but also in an attempt to map it as a complex multi-scale phenomenon affecting actors from micro to macro levels. The exploration of how the different geographical levels can complement each other in understanding the dynamics of conflict in sub-Saharan
Assembling different levels of analysis
Looking at conflict in different geographical levels is, first of all, an exercise of conceptualizing and pinpointing in space key events, making reality a little more understandable. It is important to note that the geographical dimensions a multi-level analysis looks at (such as national, regional and global) do not have stationary “borders”. These are not materially bordered spaces but essentially socially constructed places with different narratives, values and hierarchies assigned to them (Jessop 2005:226). When authors deal with regional and national understandings in their work it is in their interest to make clear how they understand their scale. Is the national level the same thing as the level of the bordered state or does it match the homeland of a stateless nation? Does the regional approach involve the formal relations of a group of territorially well defined states or does it look at the messy transnational processes occurring at fluid sections of a given region?
If one accepts Massey’s (1993:146) observation that it is not just space that is socially constructed but also the case that “the social is spatially constructed”, how conflict theory goes on about its geographical dimensions becomes particularly important. Because space is relational (Marston 2000: 221), placing over-emphasis on one of the geographical dimensions of the relation and neglecting the others can, not just provide an incomplete picture of the causal mechanisms of behaviour, but lead to erroneous assumptions over the very social reality it analyses. Over-focusing on the geographical space of a city like Monrovia or Bissau, concluding that Liberia’s and Guinea-Bissau’s violence is endemic and their lifestyle “wild west-alike”, can neglect rural regions of the geographical unit of the countries that in fact hold an entirely different set of dynamics. Similarly, over-stressing the “’nation-state’ as the primary transhistorical and geographical form” (Marston 2000: 225) can impede a correct understanding of how conflicts actually play out on the ground and the practical resilience of the geographical unit itself.
Problems are not over after delimiting the proposed geographical unit of analysis of a conflict. Being able to use different spatial scales that specifically suit the case that is being studied is also critical. If, for example, you aimed at looking at the conflict in
Making sense of the micro-politics of conflict
The importance of using different geographical levels in the analysis of conflict is noticeable even when analysing individual behaviour and in the analysis of what are seen as the micro foundations of conflict. The work of Jeremy Weinstein (2005:600) looking at the “game in which rebel leaders must simultaneously overcome collective action problems and address informational asymmetries” is illustrative. It makes evident how the ability and methods of recruitment by the different factions is important in influencing the individual decisions to adhere. In fact, the reward system for recruits, frequently based on promises of future benefits is underpinned by a greater strategy operating at a level that goes beyond the personal and local one. Although rewarding recruits with material payoffs working in short-term dynamics is important, it is also often the case that rebel groups complement this with political promises of being part of a future in which they are on the winning side. These future promises can, for example, encompass a national or regional scale strategy, be it taking over a capital or other regional and local structures. These can subsequently be redistributed to those who proved themselves individually trustworthy in the collective action processes of the rebel group.
The picture coming out of recent analysis of the individual incentives for recruitment used by rebel groups such as the National Resistance Army in Uganda is that, besides ideological and ethnic identifications being important, geographical proximity to lootable goods can also be significant in determining the recruitment methods of rebel groups (Gates 2002:113;Weinstein 2005:608). This goes to show how, what is the personal individual decision of deciding to get involved in a rebel group, can be influenced by the geography of a place that is better analysed not at the micro-level but at a regional and national dimension.
Individual sub-Saharan African leaders, patrons and bosses are also pivotal in the need for a link between the different levels of analysis when researching conflict. Understanding their background and personalities helps understand their policy decisions and how they navigate through international, national, regional and local terrains. What Taylor (2005:162) describes as “solidarity amongst corrupt big men” becomes particularly relevant if one wishes to fully understand for example the participation of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe or Dos Santo’s Angola in the conflict in Kabila’s DRC. For instance in the case of
The case of ‘peacebuilding from below’ is also illustrative of how national and regional level purposes are dependant on processes occurring at the local and micro levels. There have been calls for peacebuilding to move from top-down prescriptive approaches to elicitive ones whereby the training of individuals and groups focuses on long-term empowerment of the local population instead of “quick-fixes”. The effectiveness of these “quick-fixes” has been questioned for being dominated by solutions created and implemented by actors that are external to the conflict and for being very limited in their time span (Ramsbotham et al 2005: 220). These worries demonstrate how the wider efforts of building peace in a country or a region are connected to the “nitty gritty” intricacies of local peacebuilding with its different models and approaches.
Regional level – A key mezzo level
The regional level of analysis represents, perhaps, one of the most flexible and useful geographical frameworks for analysing conflict in sub-Saharan
As mentioned, the very definition of what constitutes the region is debatable. In addition, what has been termed “new regionalism approach” has brought about a powerful set of conceptual tools by delimiting the differences between regionalism and regionalisation. While regionalism refers to “often formal projects with particular plans and strategies and that often lead to institutional arrangements”, regionalisation looks at the “processes that result in forms of cooperation, integration, connectivity and convergence within a particular cross-national territorial area” (
Regional powerhouses in Africa like
Striving towards complex-systems understandings
The global level, with its notorious forces of globalisation, by setting up the architecture of the international economic system and mode of production is also highly influential in the environment in which actors participating in conflict operate. This global level plays a role in setting up opportunities both for the perpetuation of conflict and for its solution. Its asymmetries cause a varied impact “upon different spatial entities” (
The importance of a dialogue and integration of different geographical levels of analysis comes from the growing literature on complex-systems, in particular of its role in peacebuilding approaches to war-torn societies. The notion that it is necessary for actors taking part in peacebuilding to tackle conflicts as complex systems has been recently advanced by authors such as Cedric de Coning (2004) and in reports such as NEPAD’s African Post-Conflict Reconstruction Policy Framework (2005:17). This approach is characterised by looking at the elements involved in the processes of peacebuilding as “interdependent in that no single agency can achieve the goal of the peacebuilding operation” (de Coning 2004:43). It attributes particular importance to the need for coordination between agencies involved in peacebuilding that are operating in an environment of a “multidimensional nature” (2004:45). The UN together with Non Governmental Organisations and local and regional organisations are seen as participants in efforts of peacebuilding without a satisfactorily integrated framework. It is the multi-scale origin of conflict, of actors perpetuating it and of those involved in peacebuilding that makes complex peacebuilding complex. (2004: 45) Acknowledging this reality and the need for a complex-systems approach to peacebuilding in
At the end of the day, striking an adequate balance between the influence of different scales towards understanding conflict in sub-Saharan
Micro, mezzo and macro analysis of conflict in