Following structuralist approaches and a focus on local/rural actors to explain African trajectories, debates on conflict and fragility revive the role of national/urban elites. Who are they, how do they influence pertinent institutions and under what conditions do they (not) foster positive change?
Attempting to explain and remedy violent conflict and state fragility in Africa, scholars and policymakers have largely focused on structuralist explanations. Undeniably, institutions matter greatly; yet, it is also evident that the 'rules of the game' lack (explanatory) power in the absence of human agents who devise, implement, and adhere to them. Elites are critical in this process, largely due to their capacity to influence the kind and quality of institutions that define how power is allocated and exercised. While the 2000s witnessed —in the context of 'bottom-up approaches' and 'hybrid political orders'—an increasing focus on local and, hence, largely rural elites, recent debates have rediscovered the role of their national and, thus, more urban counterparts. Although the literature on 'elite settlements', 'elite bargains', and 'political settlements' is buoying, there is little consensus on how such coalitions are forged, why exactly they matter, and under what conditions they tend to be constructive. More fundamentally, there is significant conceptual ambiguity as regards the definition of terms such as 'elite', and methodological dubiety on how to measure the nature of such elites and their respective settlements. This panel provides a platform to share existing knowledge about and devise new areas of research as regards the question how elites shape and are shaped by institutions, and under what conditions elites forge coalitions that foster peace, stability, and development. The panel invites diverse input, ranging from methodological contributions and theoretical discussions of key concepts to the presentation of empirical case studies.