Promoting Research on Transregionalism and Conflict Resolution in Africa

By Ulf Engel

Ulf Engel (ed.) Africa’s Transregional Conflicts, Comparativ Vol 28, No 6 (2018).

The new special issue “Africa’s Transregional Conflicts” of the journal Comparativ. Zeitschrift für Globalgeschichte und vergleichende Gesellschaftsforschung (Journal for Global History and Comparative Research on Societies) addresses the scourge of transregional conflicts in many parts of the African continent and how a variety of often regionally-defined organisations have tried to address them. This volume has been important to me in three ways:

First, it is a small contribution to furthering the agenda of transregionalism developed at the Centre for Area Studies (CAS) at Leipzig University. A substantial contribution of which has been the Routledge Handbook on Transregional Studies, edited by Matthias Middell last year (which grew out of a research project funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, BMBF). In the introduction to the special issue of Comparativ, the changing nature of violent conflicts in Africa and the various ways to address them are described as conceptually embedded in debates on how entangled conflicts in Africa have been imagined in recent decades. This is related to the analysis of spatial semantics used in describing these conflicts, as also reflected in the debates of the Leipzig Collaborative Research Centre 1199 “Processes of Spatialization under the Global Condition”. Against this background, a transregional perspective is developed as a way to understand inter-subjectively shared notions of constructed “transregionness” among conflict interveners.

Second, the volume places the African continent in the centre stage. The aim was not to cover all transregional conflicts, but to focus on conceptually-informed, in-depth research of some pertinent conflict dynamics. Ever since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the subsequent disintegration of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Great Lakes region is considered to be the first transregional conflict constellation that has emerged in Africa after the end of the Cold War. The first article by Nickson Bondo Museka investigates these transregional dynamics of conflict in the Great Lakes region. The second article, by Katharina P. W. Döring, scrutinizes African-led regional and transregional interventions in the “currents in the shallows of Lake Chad”, i.e. the military campaign of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJNTF) fighting against Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin, and its effects in producing and reproducing the transregional character of security concerns as well as its response. The third article, by Jens Herpolsheimer, addresses the forming and ordering of transregional space in the Gulf of Guinea through the so-called Yaoundé process, which aimed to combat piracy in West Africa both “at sea” and “on land”. The fourth contribution, by Dawit Yohannes Wondemagegnehu and Fana Gebresenbet Erda, interrogates the more recent emergence of transregional conflict across the Red Sea, linking the Horn of Africa to the Arab peninsula and the Gulf region. All four examples shed new light on the particular nature of entanglements transcending established “regions”, both empirically and conceptually.

Third, and most importantly, this collective achievement is embedded in the long-term training of PhD candidates at Leipzig University and at our partner institute, the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia. Over the years of the collaboration, a group of now post-doctoral researchers have been nurtured, who have taken advantage of various opportunities to conduct significant empirical research at the seat of the African Union in Addis Ababa and the various Regional Economic Communities, such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS, Abuja) in West Africa, the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR, Bujumbura) and the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD, Djibouti) in the Horn. This research has emerged from teaching and training in which a number of colleagues from Leipzig and Addis have joined forces. Based on an initiative from our post-doctoral researchers, the two sites are now preparing for their first workshop on systematic post-doctorate training on how to  further academic careers, produce quality publications, and engage in international networking, as well as other tasks like doctoral supervision and fundraising. The workshop was planned to take place at IPSS from 31 March to 2 April this year, but has been postponed due to Covid-19.

African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo: Ulf Engel.

Ulf Engel (ed.) Africa’s Transregional Conflicts, special issue of Comparativ, Volume 28, No. 6 (2018), pp. 7-108 [published late in 2019].

Ulf Engel is Professor of “Politics in Africa” at the Institute of African Studies at Leipzig University (Germany). He is also Visiting Professor at the Institute for Peace and Security Studies at Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia) and Professor Extraordinary in the Department of Political Science at Stellenbosch University (South Africa). Since 2006, he has been advising the African Union’s Peace and Security Department on issues of early warning and conflict prevention.


Citation: Ulf Engel, Promoting Research on Transregionalism and Conflict Resolution in Africa, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 04.05.2020, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/23762.


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