Ideology and Armed Struggle in Contemporary Africa 
Zoe Marks (Harvard University)
Kai Thaler (Harvard University)
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Start time:
30 June, 2017 at 16:00 (UTC+0)
Session slots:

Short Abstract:

Since the end of the Cold War and post-colonial liberation, ideas and ideology have taken a back seat in studies of armed struggle in Africa. This panel aims to re-examine armed groups' diverse ideologies to better understand the central role they play in shaping conflict on the continent.

Long Abstract

During the Cold War and liberation period, the ideological frames of nationalism and Marxism-Leninism dominated the discourse of armed groups and those who studied them. Yet, attention to ideology fell along with the Berlin Wall as, throughout the 1990s, armed actors in Africa were presented as predatory and primarily seeking economic gain. This panel returns our attention to the strong role played by ideology in the formation, policies, and practices of many African armed groups. Through comparative studies and examinations of individual cases, we aim to improve our understanding of how African armed groups develop ideologies and translate them into practice over the course of conflict and in its aftermath.

Diverse political and ideational beliefs affecting armed conflict include religion, ethnic/national identity, distributive justice, and claims to land and the state, which may exist in isolation or combination. Armed groups may seek to effect changes at levels ranging from the local and regional to the national or international, and in different areas of social, political, or economic life. How do globalization and urbanization shift the ideological frames employed by armed groups to justify their struggle and mobilize support? Islamist groups attract attention in the West, but how do differing interpretations of religious doctrine affect their goals and tactics, and vice versa? What role do gender, social status, and other demographic or political characteristics play in influencing ideological rhetoric or practice? This panel invites papers exploring the range and mechanics of ideologies in contemporary African urban and rural conflict environments.

Accepted papers: