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Plural Security Insights at ECAS 2017


By Tessa Diphoorn

In June, scholars from across the world came together in Basel to discuss and share their research experiences on the African continent. As an interdisciplinary and regional endeavour, the European Conference on African Studies (ECAS) 2017 comprised diverse panels, insightful keynote lectures, captivating documentaries, and numerous networking opportunities. Plural Security Insights organised a panel, entitled Security in the city: Experiences of security pluralism in urban Africa, with the aim of exploring how urbanization, and particularly informal urbanization, relates to the provision and governance of security. Scholars were encouraged to analyse the complex intersections between state-authorized and non-state-authorized actors and the varied terrains on which security pluralism is constructed and instantiated.

The first speaker of the panel was Alice Hills, Professor of Conflict Studies at Durham University. Her paper, “Making Mogadishu Safe,” discussed how Mogadishu offers a laboratory in which to explore security pluralism in an urban environment. Unlike most analyses of Somali security governance which focus on either high-level developments involving the international community’s plans for Somalia’s stabilisation or on informal policing actors such as clan militia, her approach identified several points at which they interface.

The second paper, “Policing Urban Rwanda: Roles and Responsibilities,” was presented by Hugh Lamarque, a research fellow at the Centre of Urban Studies in Edinburgh. In his lively presentation, Hugh analysed several criminal incidents to emphasize the breadth of actors and the extent of intra-communal monitoring and self-policing that takes place in Rwandan cities and the ability of state representatives to coordinate local actors in the maintenance of public order.

Clara Neupert-Wentz, a research fellow from the University of Konstanz, discussed the diverse roles of traditional governance in Africa in the third paper of the panel titled “Security in Spaces with Multiple Authorities: Traditional Governance and the State”. Based on largely quantitative data, the paper suggests that traditional governance can have an important effect on internal security, albeit contingent on the relationship to the state.

The panel ended with a paper on Angola, presented by Antonio Frank and Akinyinka Akinyoade, two researchers from the African Studies Centre in Leiden. In their paper, they presented their upcoming research that will analyse the relationship between Angola’s national police and non-state security providers.

Combined, this panel reaffirmed the pluralised nature of security, the diverse roles that various state and non-state actors play in providing security, and the different ways in which they interact. The diverse localities and disciplinary backgrounds of the presenters further emphasize the assortment of security provision across the African continent and highlight that more research on urban security in Africa remains to be relevant and welcome.

Dr Tessa Diphoorn is Assistant Professor at the Department of Cultural Anthropology at Utrecht University. She recently started on a new NWO-funded (Veni) research project, “Policing the Police in Kenya: Analysing state authority from within.”

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