Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg


Dr. Andrea Behrends

phone: 0345 55 24196

Ethnologie, MLU
06099 Halle (Saale)

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The Sub-Sahara Connection

Ethnologists study conflict management in Africa


Wars, crises and ethnic differences are a sad part of daily life in many regions of the world. Often international organisations and nations try to intervene. But how successful are these conflict resolution strategies really? Since October 2006, ethnologists from Halle have been searching for answers to this question. The VolkswagenStiftung has provided 500,000 euros as part of the funding initiative “Knowledge for Tomorrow – Cooperative Research Projects in Sub-Saharan Africa”.

Dr. Andrea Behrends and Tinashe Pfigu. Foto: Kees van der Waal

Dr. Andrea Behrends and Tinashe Pfigu. Foto: Kees van der Waal

Dr. Andrea Behrends and Tinashe Pfigu. Foto: Kees van der Waal

The title of the project is “Travelling Models in Conflict Management. A Comparative Research and Network Building Project in Six African Countries (Chad, Ethiopia, Liberia, Sierra Leone; South Africa, and Sudan)." Halle scientists Dr. Richard Rottenburg and Dr. Andrea Behrends from the Seminar for Ethnology at the MLU came up with the idea for the study along with researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle. “The money basically just flowed through the MLU,” explains project coordinator Andrea Behrends. The financing is directed at the African partners in participating regions.  In addition to the strategies being studied, the funding is also meant to establish and strengthen science in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The task of the German scientists is primarily to support the work. They guide the researchers, help to set up inner-African networks and provide money to buy new equipment. “We hope this work will enable us to educate and establish new resources in Africa,” says Behrends.

It was the PhD students in the African countries themselves that chose the model to study for each project. Under the motto “A model takes a trip”, the ethnologists from Halle are looking at what happens with international conflict management strategies locally. How are they received and translated by the local people?

The models often vary from country to country. In South Africa, a PhD student examined so-called “Community Policing”. Here the police try to convince people in the communities to help them in lowering crime rates. In Sudan the concept is “Power Sharing” which primarily involves sharing power on a national level to make the transition from civil war to peace possible. All of the models being looked at share the fact that they are brought into the country from outside organisations or the state. “We are interested in local results,” explains Andreas Behrends. “What were the intentions on the part of the initiator and what are the reactions to these models and how are they used on the receiving end?”

After studying this matter for four years, scientists are coming to the conclusion that the effects of all of the models are different than what was intended. Researchers believe the reasons lie in the often different intentions or institutionalisation of the conflict management strategy. “For example, if the World Bank says in Chad, we will make laws that will distribute oil profits equally, then the state of Chad says, ‘Okay, we’ll pass a law to enable this.’ But citizens and the state in Chad handle laws differently than we do. Laws are often not obeyed,” adds the ethnologist. The result is that the model does not always bring about the peace as it intended to do.  Scientists in all six countries studied found similar problems with implementing such strategies.  In Sierra Leone they are trying to promote democratisation, women’s rights and freedom of speech. The research found that women’s rights in Sierra Leone are well established. But no one demands these because they are institutionalised in various ways. “Local understanding is linked to the conditions there and is therefore inevitably different,” the scientist discovers. The VolkswagenStiftung will provide the project with another 250,000 euros which will extend it until May 2011. “By then the PhD students will be finished with their work and will have the opportunity to initialise their own projects and further expand the African network,” Behrends hopes. The last project activity will be an international conference at the beginning of March 2011 in Khartum, Sudan. This will be open to anyone interested and should help make the findings of the study known to the international scientific community.