Constellations of governance
This research theme involves several projects.
Governance, a term that emerged in the late 1980s, is an object of both scholarly study and policy approaches, and is usually understood as the system of political management and regarded as a public good. In Africa, governance in this sense has remained deeply problematic despite the economic dynamism and growth seen in various countries over the last few decades. In the light of the continued challenges surrounding governance and uncertain donor-country policies towards Africa (with major shifts in the aid sector) there are signs of a rethinking of the scope and role of the state in Africa and also reinterpretations of the history of Africa’s late-colonial and early post-colonial states in mainstream social-science discourse and among policy makers.
ASCL research will study these dynamics to observe and understand public debates on politics, representation and governance that have led to new political experiments, hesitant democratic reforms but also movements of authoritarian rule and outbreaks of conflict. In addition to the persistence of socio-political and ethno-regional fault lines in many African societies, scholarly attention is required to understand the effects of processes of the ‘rolling back’ of the state following liberalization policies and the World Bank-inspired Structural Adjustment programmes since the 1980s. These have contributed to what have become known as weak or fragile states on the one hand, and the proliferation of non-state governance arrangements and public-private arrangements on the other. Relations between central/federal and local-level state bureaucracies and power holders have changed dramatically in some cases and the relationship between modern or formal (pseudo-) state agencies and traditional, indigenous or informal ones have also shifted.
The weakening of centralist, authoritarian state regimes has propelled regional, non-political or neo-traditional actors to the fore, for example ethno-regional movements, criminal groups, organizations based on religion and youth groups. These new actors and forms of conflict have generated scholarly interest in emergent socio-political and institutional dynamics beyond the state.
Rethinking the role of the state also follows on from the increased interest in the preconditions for a strong state and the ‘developmental dictatorship’ concepts behind such metaphors as ‘dragon’, ‘tiger’ and ‘samba’ that refer to the emerging economies in Asia and Latin America. It also questions the role of the military and joint military, economic and legal arrangements between African states and others at the sub-regional, regional and continental level. This includes the African Union and other geopolitical actors.
Understanding politics in Africa involves studying the complex constellations of governance and uncovering the (local and global) powers behind ‘governance-in-action’. In this context, the focus of the ASCL’s research will be on participatory reassessments of Africa’s own post-independence histories, the relevance of classical periodization (the ‘colonial’ and ‘post-colonial’ eras), current aspirations for governance and politics among the various actors (state, business, political and religious groups and individuals) and issues related to security and the rule of law. This is an ideal upheld by many Africans and is prominent in the current Dutch government’s policies towards Africa too.
This research theme involves the following projects:
Connecting in times of duress: understanding communication and conflict in Middle Africa’s mobile margins
Developmental dilemmas and political culture in Ethiopia and the Horn: local refractions of state policies
Evolving relations between religion and politics in the Horn of Africa: media use and public identity discourse of religious communities/elites in Northeast Africa
From the land of ‘milk and honey’ to ‘permanent famine’: a socio-political history of Western Zambia 1940-1972
Society, labour, technology and consumption: the establishment of colonial rule in Northern Rhodesia, 1890-1924.
The enduring legacy of German colonial rule and the League of Nations mandate in the borderlands of contemporary Africa
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