The contours of African Peace and Security as a research field

African Peace and Security denotes a developing interdisciplinary research field that has the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) as its central reference point and specifically studies the role of African ROs therein, along with several other actors, including, for example, different self-identified ‘African’ and ‘non-African’ state actors, civil society organizations and think tanks. While drawing on and often relating to academic literature on UN peacekeeping and/or peacebuilding, scholars of African Peace and Security pursue a specific interest in African actors and African agency.

Despite offering valuable insights, large parts of the existing literature in that field can be described by three interrelated characteristics, which have come to limit a more in-depth understanding of African ROs in African peace and security dynamics - especially, however, during conflict interventions. First, due to a very practical orientation, much of this literature has been primarily descriptive and to some extent also prescriptive. Second, and closely related, while often based in conventional IR approaches, the overwhelming majority of this literature has remained largely disconnected from theoretical debates in IR and International Studies (cf. Tieku, Obi and Scorgie-Porter 2014,4; Tieku 2019b, 3), especially more recent innovative approaches. Third, many contributions treat African ROs either as unitary actors or as solely driven by their member states, all while overly focusing on military peacekeeping. The following considerations briefly reflect upon the contributions and limitations of existing research, in line with the empirical focus of this book, primarily focusing on literature dealing with ECOWAS and the AU.5

Practical orientation, descriptive and prescriptive literature

To date, large parts of the extensive body of literature on conflict interventions by African ROs are primarily descriptive. Many contributions provide information on the formal setup and mandate of African ROs in peace and security. Therefore, the institutional setup of the AU and the African Peace and Security Architecture, its legal and normative framework and its state of implementation, including some significant achievements as well as key problems, are well known (e.g., Engel and Porto 2010, 2014; Vines 2013; Bah et al. 2014; Makinda, Okumu and Mickler 2016; Dersso 2016a). The same applies to the ‘security architecture’ of ECOWAS (e.g., Bah 2005; Hartmann 2010; Bolaji 2011; Cowell 2011; Iwilade and Agbo 2012; Maiangwa 2016). In addition, an enormous amount of scholarly literature has dealt with the operationalization of the African Standby Force, and the different African or African-led peacekeeping missions (e.g., Tardy and Wyss 2014; de Coning, Gelot and Karlsrud 2016; Darkwa 2017; Onditi and Okoth 2017), as well as the missions of the ECOWAS Cease-fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) and its successor the ECOWAS Standby Force (ESF) (e.g., Adebajo 2002b; Kabia 2009; Obi 2009; Arthur 2010; Jaye 2016). In this, UN- AU and UN-RO relations in peacekeeping in Africa have also received much attention (e.g., Aning 2005; Boulden 2013; Williams and Boutellis 2014).

In addition, much of the descriptive literature has a very strong practical orientation, mostly concerned with ‘problem solving’. On the one hand this is due to the fact that contributions are either produced by ‘think tanks’ (among many more, e.g., ACCORD, ISS, K.AIPTC, DCAF, ECDPM, ICG, IPI),6 whose organizational mandates are primarily concerned with policy advice.7 On the other hand, many of the scholars that publish in academic journals or edited volumes hold ‘double identities’ as academic researchers and practitioners or consultants, working or having worked for (or with) one or several organizations that they write about. Therefore, their publications have often aimed to provide recommendations and policy advice, as well (e.g., Aning and Atuobi 2009; Cravinho 2009; Wane et al. 2010; Bah et al. 2014). Consequently, evaluations and assessments have often resulted in binary constructions such as ‘success’ or ‘failure’, ‘challenges’ and ‘potentials’. Moreover, many of these studies are implicitly or explicitly normative and prescriptive. While sometimes providing a lot of empirical details, these publications have been concerned more with what African ROs are not or are not doing (i.e., apparent ‘deficits’ and ‘dysfunctions’), as well as what African ROs should or should not be doing, and how to ‘fix’ them. They have given much less attention to what they actually do and how they do it.

In other words, this literature has reached its limits in explaining and theorizing how exactly different regional actors operate in (everyday) practice, especially beyond formal procedures and military peacekeeping, and how this translates into conflict intervention practices and specific outcomes of policy implementation, which are often mixed and sometimes surprising (e.g., cf. Engel 2017b). Moreover, how exactly African ROs interact with each other, as well as with other ROs or international actors, remains under-researched. In particular, how these relations actually play out in practice, and how they are continuously contested and renegotiated, is still insufficiently understood. Finally, despite pervasive spatial references, such as, for example, ‘state’, ‘region’ and ‘architecture’, these accounts hardly reflect on the role and relevance of space. Thereby, these contributions overlook how efforts by African ROs to manage peace and security in Africa are intimately connected to the construction, formatting and ordering of space.

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