The Politics of Peacemaking in Africa: Non-State Actors’ Role in the Liberian Civil War. By Babatunde Tolu Afolabi

The Politics of Peacemaking in Africa: Non-State Actors’ Role in the Liberian Civil War. By... This book critically deconstructs the paradigm of civil society involvement in peacemaking as a panacea to conflict by interrogating the impact of civil society involvement in Liberia’s civil war, focusing on religious actors and the Liberian diaspora. Drawing on fieldwork in Liberia and the United States of America (USA), the author historicises and analyses in rich, nuanced detail the concepts of civil society and diaspora, how they have unfolded since Liberia’s ‘birth’, and, importantly, how they at once confront and conform to popular representations of both constructs. The choice of Liberia is instructive. It has things in common politically with other post-colonial African states, including neopatrimonial access to power and benefits, rentierism, and politicised ethnicity (pp. 171–2). However, Liberia is unique to the extent that its settler-indigene dynamic, a significant factor in its brutal civil war, was informed by inward migrations of Blacks from the USA and neighbouring Guinea, as well as mass emigrations of assorted Liberians to these and other spaces. The six phases and patterns of migration that Afolabi identifies offer a holistic historical view of migration. Contrary to popular narratives, they also enable insights into migrant communities as potential forces for peace and how the fact of migration helps to shape social structures and relations over time and in different contexts. The book troubles hegemonic notions of civil society and diaspora, illustrating that single narratives do no justice to their multiple epistemologies and miscellaneous compositions. Accompanying this conceptual discussion are practical examples of how both groups can be ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and selfless and self-seeking. For instance, the Church, comprising what are termed in the book as mainline denominations was once complicit with the authoritarian state that presided over human rights abuses and the Liberian diaspora provided financial support for warring groups. Yet both organisations came to play important roles in mediating the end to the civil war. As diverse as the two groups are, their contributions to, and impacts on, peacemaking were enabled by several factors. They both had leverage or capital, spiritual for religious actors and economic for diaspora groups, with which they influenced parties to the conflict but also mobilised powerful actors like Sant’ Egidio, a reclusive Catholic order. Both non-state actors also established some level of integrity and trust that legitimised their involvement. Their commitment was determined by the fact that they each (in)vested in the outcomes of the peace processes and each group had varying levels of activism experience confronting state excesses. The snapshot of women’s peacemaking adopts a perspective that allows observers to see the full spectrum of their involvement—one that brings into view not only the groundwork that was laid by the Liberian Women’s Initiative, which understandably felt cheated by the Nobel Prize recognition of Leymah Gbowee and her Mass Action for Peace, but also the interactions between and among different civil society actors. This (re)telling also underlines the woman–religion nexus, notably the support for women’s activism from the Interfaith Mediation Committee and the Interreligious Council of Liberia, which is not detailed in existing accounts of how the war ended. The remark that Liberian women have ‘grown silent on state matters’ has to be read in the less wrought, lower stakes’ post-war political moment that represented the tenure of Africa’s first elected female president—one in which women appeared to turn their attention to more practical needs like fighting rape that may make their mobilisations less publicly visible (Medie 2013). It also speaks to a need for further research on the post-conflict lifecycles of women’s social movements that are galvanised by political violence and the factors that influence their trajectories. Perceptions of President Sirleaf as more politician than woman reflect the misconception that female is synonymous with feminist (a term that she has expressly disassociated herself from (Hirsch 2017)) and explain why a woman’s accession to a country’s highest political office is not a magic pill for gender equity (Ahikire, Musiimenta and Mwiine 2014; Pailey 2017). On the whole, the periods that follow crisis constitute both a challenge and an opportunity. Women have a chance to consolidate their often newfound political experience and leverage. However, this can be difficult in spaces where war and politics are largely seen as the preserve of men with women expected to retreat into traditional feminine roles and berated when they do not. Given the transnationality of Liberian women’s peace activism, some insight into the gendered dynamics of the Liberian diaspora would have been useful. Afolabi evokes a longstanding debate about the modalities of civil society engagement with states when he alludes (p. 21) that civil society does not know when to stop confronting and start cooperating with governments. Yet proponents of this idea forget that when dealing with unresponsive or even repressive governments, it is unorthodox or ‘uncivil’ approaches like those used by the Mass Action for Peace that tend to gain attention and get things done (Zuern 2014: 286–287). Against the background of intractable conflicts in some African states and debates about the effectiveness of militarised and humanitarian interventions by foreign states and non-state actors, this book casts a timely limelight on civil societies as alternatives. It demonstrates that civil society and diasporic involvement in peace processes is more complex than simplistic binary perceptions of their negative or positive role(s), some of which the author discusses. We see how remittances contributed to conflict economies simultaneously through the support of warring factions (pp. 166–71) and humanitarian assistance in Liberia and other parts of its diaspora. This is juxtaposed with the diaspora’s dual role as participant and supporter of conflict and as peacemaker—a division that was not always clear. The book further complicates understandings of migration in Africa by showing that migrant groups and, by extension, diaspora communities are heterogenous, comprising different gender, social, cultural, economic and ideological groups. In unveiling the multiple factions within the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas, Afolabi reveals how diaspora social movements can be vulnerable to hijack by competing interests. Finally, the book mirrors how multidirectional movements of people across countries, political spaces and times correspond to and enable social, political and economic mobilities that translate to a place at the peacemaking table or a position in government, both of which can be used to advance either group or individual interests. Liberia’s complex diversity speaks clearly through the extensive use of quotes from interviews with persons and organisations representing religious and diaspora groups—a refreshing change from the abundance of outsider accounts of Liberia’s history and war. A compelling argument for greater and intentional practical and policy involvement of non-state actors in peacemaking, this book is an invaluable resource and is recommended for scholars of civil society, peace and security, and makers of policy both in and outside Africa. References Ahikire J. , Musiimenta P. , Mwiine A. A. ( 2014 ) ‘Making a Difference: Embracing the Challenge of Women’s Substantive Engagement in Political Leadership in Uganda’ , Feminist Africa , 19 : 23 – 42 . Hirsch A. ( 2017 ), ‘Can Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Save Liberia?’ The Guardian <https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/jul/23/can-president-ellen-johnson-sirleaf-save-liberia> accessed 7 Feb 2018. Medie P. A. ( 2013 ) ‘Fighting Gender-Based Violence: The Women’s Movement and the Enforcement of Rape Law in Liberia’ , African Affairs , 112 / 448 : 377 – 97 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Pailey R. N. ( 2017 ), ‘Why Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is No Feminist Icon’, Mail & Guardian <https://mg.co.za/article/2017–09-14-why-liberian-president-ellen-johnson-sirleaf-is-no-feminist-icon> accessed 7 Feb 2018. Zuern E. ( 2014 ) ‘Popular Organizations in South Africa: from Civics to Service Delivery Protests’. in Obadare E (ed.) The Handbook of Civil Society in Africa , pp. 275 – 91 . New York : Springer . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Migration Studies Oxford University Press

The Politics of Peacemaking in Africa: Non-State Actors’ Role in the Liberian Civil War. By Babatunde Tolu Afolabi

Migration Studies , Volume Advance Article – Mar 14, 2018

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© The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com
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Abstract

This book critically deconstructs the paradigm of civil society involvement in peacemaking as a panacea to conflict by interrogating the impact of civil society involvement in Liberia’s civil war, focusing on religious actors and the Liberian diaspora. Drawing on fieldwork in Liberia and the United States of America (USA), the author historicises and analyses in rich, nuanced detail the concepts of civil society and diaspora, how they have unfolded since Liberia’s ‘birth’, and, importantly, how they at once confront and conform to popular representations of both constructs. The choice of Liberia is instructive. It has things in common politically with other post-colonial African states, including neopatrimonial access to power and benefits, rentierism, and politicised ethnicity (pp. 171–2). However, Liberia is unique to the extent that its settler-indigene dynamic, a significant factor in its brutal civil war, was informed by inward migrations of Blacks from the USA and neighbouring Guinea, as well as mass emigrations of assorted Liberians to these and other spaces. The six phases and patterns of migration that Afolabi identifies offer a holistic historical view of migration. Contrary to popular narratives, they also enable insights into migrant communities as potential forces for peace and how the fact of migration helps to shape social structures and relations over time and in different contexts. The book troubles hegemonic notions of civil society and diaspora, illustrating that single narratives do no justice to their multiple epistemologies and miscellaneous compositions. Accompanying this conceptual discussion are practical examples of how both groups can be ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and selfless and self-seeking. For instance, the Church, comprising what are termed in the book as mainline denominations was once complicit with the authoritarian state that presided over human rights abuses and the Liberian diaspora provided financial support for warring groups. Yet both organisations came to play important roles in mediating the end to the civil war. As diverse as the two groups are, their contributions to, and impacts on, peacemaking were enabled by several factors. They both had leverage or capital, spiritual for religious actors and economic for diaspora groups, with which they influenced parties to the conflict but also mobilised powerful actors like Sant’ Egidio, a reclusive Catholic order. Both non-state actors also established some level of integrity and trust that legitimised their involvement. Their commitment was determined by the fact that they each (in)vested in the outcomes of the peace processes and each group had varying levels of activism experience confronting state excesses. The snapshot of women’s peacemaking adopts a perspective that allows observers to see the full spectrum of their involvement—one that brings into view not only the groundwork that was laid by the Liberian Women’s Initiative, which understandably felt cheated by the Nobel Prize recognition of Leymah Gbowee and her Mass Action for Peace, but also the interactions between and among different civil society actors. This (re)telling also underlines the woman–religion nexus, notably the support for women’s activism from the Interfaith Mediation Committee and the Interreligious Council of Liberia, which is not detailed in existing accounts of how the war ended. The remark that Liberian women have ‘grown silent on state matters’ has to be read in the less wrought, lower stakes’ post-war political moment that represented the tenure of Africa’s first elected female president—one in which women appeared to turn their attention to more practical needs like fighting rape that may make their mobilisations less publicly visible (Medie 2013). It also speaks to a need for further research on the post-conflict lifecycles of women’s social movements that are galvanised by political violence and the factors that influence their trajectories. Perceptions of President Sirleaf as more politician than woman reflect the misconception that female is synonymous with feminist (a term that she has expressly disassociated herself from (Hirsch 2017)) and explain why a woman’s accession to a country’s highest political office is not a magic pill for gender equity (Ahikire, Musiimenta and Mwiine 2014; Pailey 2017). On the whole, the periods that follow crisis constitute both a challenge and an opportunity. Women have a chance to consolidate their often newfound political experience and leverage. However, this can be difficult in spaces where war and politics are largely seen as the preserve of men with women expected to retreat into traditional feminine roles and berated when they do not. Given the transnationality of Liberian women’s peace activism, some insight into the gendered dynamics of the Liberian diaspora would have been useful. Afolabi evokes a longstanding debate about the modalities of civil society engagement with states when he alludes (p. 21) that civil society does not know when to stop confronting and start cooperating with governments. Yet proponents of this idea forget that when dealing with unresponsive or even repressive governments, it is unorthodox or ‘uncivil’ approaches like those used by the Mass Action for Peace that tend to gain attention and get things done (Zuern 2014: 286–287). Against the background of intractable conflicts in some African states and debates about the effectiveness of militarised and humanitarian interventions by foreign states and non-state actors, this book casts a timely limelight on civil societies as alternatives. It demonstrates that civil society and diasporic involvement in peace processes is more complex than simplistic binary perceptions of their negative or positive role(s), some of which the author discusses. We see how remittances contributed to conflict economies simultaneously through the support of warring factions (pp. 166–71) and humanitarian assistance in Liberia and other parts of its diaspora. This is juxtaposed with the diaspora’s dual role as participant and supporter of conflict and as peacemaker—a division that was not always clear. The book further complicates understandings of migration in Africa by showing that migrant groups and, by extension, diaspora communities are heterogenous, comprising different gender, social, cultural, economic and ideological groups. In unveiling the multiple factions within the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas, Afolabi reveals how diaspora social movements can be vulnerable to hijack by competing interests. Finally, the book mirrors how multidirectional movements of people across countries, political spaces and times correspond to and enable social, political and economic mobilities that translate to a place at the peacemaking table or a position in government, both of which can be used to advance either group or individual interests. Liberia’s complex diversity speaks clearly through the extensive use of quotes from interviews with persons and organisations representing religious and diaspora groups—a refreshing change from the abundance of outsider accounts of Liberia’s history and war. A compelling argument for greater and intentional practical and policy involvement of non-state actors in peacemaking, this book is an invaluable resource and is recommended for scholars of civil society, peace and security, and makers of policy both in and outside Africa. References Ahikire J. , Musiimenta P. , Mwiine A. A. ( 2014 ) ‘Making a Difference: Embracing the Challenge of Women’s Substantive Engagement in Political Leadership in Uganda’ , Feminist Africa , 19 : 23 – 42 . Hirsch A. ( 2017 ), ‘Can Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Save Liberia?’ The Guardian <https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/jul/23/can-president-ellen-johnson-sirleaf-save-liberia> accessed 7 Feb 2018. Medie P. A. ( 2013 ) ‘Fighting Gender-Based Violence: The Women’s Movement and the Enforcement of Rape Law in Liberia’ , African Affairs , 112 / 448 : 377 – 97 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Pailey R. N. ( 2017 ), ‘Why Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is No Feminist Icon’, Mail & Guardian <https://mg.co.za/article/2017–09-14-why-liberian-president-ellen-johnson-sirleaf-is-no-feminist-icon> accessed 7 Feb 2018. Zuern E. ( 2014 ) ‘Popular Organizations in South Africa: from Civics to Service Delivery Protests’. in Obadare E (ed.) The Handbook of Civil Society in Africa , pp. 275 – 91 . New York : Springer . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

Journal

Migration StudiesOxford University Press

Published: Mar 14, 2018

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