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Beyond Criminal Justice: Toward a New Paradigm for Political Settlement in Africa

Mass violence in contemporary Africa typically occurs in cycles. Months or years after one wave of violence is brought to an end, another wave overtakes it. Peace agreements are swept away and yesterday's victims emerge as today's perpetrators. Research explains these cycles of violence by pointing to state and institutional weaknesses as perpetuating the violence. More precisely, the state and its institutions tend to fail to uphold the political settlement and promote broad-based public support for it. As a result, development agencies have invested billions of dollars into state-building enterprises based on the logic that a stronger state would be better positioned to escape the conflict trap. This project challenges this dominant perspective by arguing that it is not the state's weakness that has led to repeated cycles of mass violence in Africa, but rather that the very nature of the state-society relationship is to blame. Put simply, the answer lies in understanding how these cycles of violence are intertwined with how the modern African state has used ethnic politics to shape and divide society. The project also aims to determine the ways in which political settlements can provide a foundation for sustainable peace, or further polarize communities and set the stage for resumed conflict based on levels of inclusiveness. Its objectives include: -to generate knowledge about political settlements that follow or precede episodes of mass violence; -to expand options and expertise available to those negotiating political settlements and to the policy community; -to develop a new generation of scholars who can actively participate in and guide African-initiated peace and justice processes; and, -to enable Makerere Institute of Social Research in Kampala, Uganda, to establish itself at the center of academic and policy debates on peace-building and state-building issues. The research team will conduct a comparative analysis of six cases: Uganda, Mozambique, Kenya (the Rift Valley), South Sudan (Darfur), Rwanda, and Burundi. They will demonstrate how divergent approaches to establishing a framework for peace can promote or break cycles of violence. In each case, researchers will test the hypothesis that political settlements that promote more inclusive political and social reform processes among communities of survivors provide the foundation for more durable and sustainable peace.

Project ID
Project Status
End Date
24 months
IDRC Officer
Ramata Thioune
Total Funding
CA$ 396,143.00
South Sudan
Governance and Justice
Governance and Justice
Institution Country
Project Leader
Prof. Mahmood Mamdani
Makerere University



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