Africa Thesis Award 2007

woman sieving flourThe Africa Thesis Award for 2007 has been won by Ms Janneke van Gog for her thesis entitled "Coming Back from the Bush: Gender, Youth and Reintegration in Northern Sierra Leone". The jury was delighted to be able to award Second Prize to Ms Anika May for her thesis "Teaching Peace − Transforming Conflict? Exploring Participants' Perceptions of the Impact of Informal Peace Education Training in Uganda". The third prize was awarded to Ms Friederike Mieth for her thesis "Defying the Decline of Pastoralism: Pokot Perceptions of Violence, Disarmament and Peacemaking in the Kenya/Uganda Border Region".

Full text of thesis 1st prize
Full text of thesis 2nd prize

First prize
The jury decided to give the award to Janneke van Gog for her thesis ‘Coming Back From The Bush: gender, youth and reintegration in northern Sierra Leone’.
The war which occurred in Sierra Leone during 10 years was characterised by egregious atrocities such as mass killings of civilians, tortures, sexual violence, abduction of children and women, forced marriages, recruitment of child soldiers.
The special court for Sierra Leone is investigating and trying the perpetrators of theses crimes, the Truth and Reconciliation commission of Sierra Leone is also playing an important role in restoring the wounded society.
Janneke chose to focus on the issue of reintegration of young women who had been forced to join one of the fighting factions during the war to become ‘’’wives’’ of the combatants.
What happened to these women called ‘’bush wives’’ at the end of the conflict? What is the meaning of reintegration for these women in the Sierra Leone from an anthropological perspective?
The author spent six months in the northern of Sierra Leone where she interviewed several women who were abducted and forced to get married to combatants from the rebel group, the RUF. Based on these interviews, she wrote a fascinating and very original study. The jury was impressed by the high quality of both her theoretical and empirical research.
This thesis is iconoclast and forces us to review our traditional schemes of thoughts.
First unlike most of the studies on gender in post conflict, it does not treat women as passive victims. On the contrary it shows us through a meticulous but never boring study that women have a voice, have ideas and strategies of how to continue to survive, how to build a new life after the war in Sierra Leone.
We are here far from the clichés where African women in the aftermath of wars are perceived as a category of victims awaiting for some sort of providential external assistance.
The thesis demonstrates how the social and cultural identity of these women as either daughter or wife influences their decision to return or not to their former community and how they constantly negotiate their social identities in the community to integrate into new networks (bonding and bridging).
We should, however, bear in mind that these women’s choices are made in a context of extreme poverty and whole destruction of the social fabric.
Second it also teaches us that post conflict policies developed by Ngos, international organisations, and national institutions are not always efficient because they fail to understand this dynamics and persist to impose what they think is right on their ‘’clients’’. For instance, most of these ‘’bush wives’’ were excluded from the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) program because it simply ignored the key social role they played within the rebel movement and how they negotiated this role.
The thesis made the demonstration that contrary to popular belief that women do reintegrate themselves and are not reintegrated by anyone else. The best way to assist them is to understand this and to listen to their voices. This requires humility and openness from all of those involved with Africa. Janneke undoubtedly has these qualities.

Janneke van Gog receiving the Africa Thesis Award 2007