A spatial approach to African Peace and Security


Despite a vast body of academic literature on African Peace and Security,1 dealing with responses by African regional organizations (ROs) to most violent conflicts on the African continent empirically and to a lesser extent from a theoretical perspective (see Chapter 1), the understanding of their ‘internal’ modes of operation is still very limited in several regards. As pointed out in the previous chapter, problems relate in particular to explaining, conceptualizing and theorizing complexity. Here, complexity refers especially to the multiple, varied and changing interrelated constellations of actors, interests, agendas and political projects, cooperating or competing around various issues that relate to African peace and security dynamics. More recently, these aspects have received increasing scholarly attention, including burgeoning efforts to conceptualize and theorize them creatively (see below). However, complexity also refers to a multiplicity of practices employed by different actors, many of which have received little or no attention so far. Finally, complexity also refers to a multiplicity of interconnected spatial dimensions of conflict situations and regional responses to them. To date, despite pervasive spatial references, literature on African Peace and Security has largely ignored ‘space’2 as an analytical category and an empirical dimension.

To be fair, the neglect of explicit attention to space is a more general one, until fairly recently extending to most of the humanities and social sciences. On the one hand, spatial terminology is often used inconsiderately, going along with unreflective imaginations of space (cf. Massey 2005, 17). Mostly, ‘time’ is prioritized over ‘space’, opposing the two, with the former being considered as dynamic, open and moving, whereas the latter is considered to be static, closed and immobile (Massey 2005,17-19, Part Two). Consequently, space appears as given, being merely the background against which things happen, itself unchanging and without any influence (Shields 2013, 15, 97-8). Against this backdrop, critical geographers such as Doreen Massey have deplored such “unhelpful associations” as a “failure (deliberate or not) of spatial imagination” (Massey 2005, 61). Not only do they prevent us from recognizing space as being as “equally lively and challenging” as time (Massey

2005, 14), and deeply embedded in our everyday lives. They also “hinder a full recognition of the challenge posed by practical socio-political space” (Massey 2005, 61) and are, thus, inadequate to face up to these challenges (Massey 2005, 8; see also Shields 2013, 15, 18).

Therefore, in this chapter, 1 introduce a spatial approach to study African ROs and specifically their role and practices regarding African Peace and Security, in order to address some of the gaps in the existing literature. I argue that applying a spatial approach, first, allows giving direct attention to space as an empirical dimension of conflict interventions. What is more, as a theory-oriented approach, it also allows us to make sense of how space, on the one hand, influences perceptions and framings of conflict situations (i.e., spatial imaginations) and, on the other, guides interventions and is actively made (i.e., constructed, formatted and ordered) during interventions - by different actors, at different sites, using different spatializing practices. Second, in the process, a spatial approach is also apt to capture and make sense of complex processes of conflict interventions by African ROs (and others) more generally, involving multiple, entangled actors, practices, interests and agendas (see below).

In this, the spatial approach proposed in this chapter draws from and builds on existing innovative approaches that have emerged in the partly overlapping academic fields of International Relations (IR), International Studies and Global Studies, which I outline in the section “Rethinking actors, practices and entanglements” in this chapter. In addition, it takes its key inspiration from Critical Geography, elaborated on in the section “The concept of ‘space’ in Critical Geography”. Finally, the section “Towards a spatial approach to study African peace and security” outlines the spatial approach in more detail and explains how it changes the perspective on African ROs and African peace and security dynamics, complementing existing research and approaches.

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