How can we promote inclusive, equitable, and peaceful societies?

From the Grassroots to the Treetop: Addressing Fragility through a Shift from Traditional Authorities to Elite Settlements?


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Dominik Balthasar, swisspeace, Switzerland


At the turn of the millennium, the prevailing image of Africa was one of a continent struck by ‘vicious circles’ of conflict and violence. Even though past years witnessed the emergence of an ‘Africa rising’ narrative, indexes on African states paint a perturbing picture of the continent, which is allegedly home to 30 out of a total of 49 fragile states in the world. Yet, painting Africa in such broad strokes glosses over the fact that important variations exist. Thus, the real puzzle is not necessarily why so many countries have succumbed to (civil) war, but why and how numerous states have managed to either escape, contain, or recover from instances of large-scale violence.

This panel seeks to shed more light on this question by inviting contributions from a range of different theoretical, methodological, and geographical backgrounds. While, to date, scholars and policymakers have largely focused on structuralist explanations that put institutions at center stage, actor-oriented approaches to explaining the (non-)occurrence of violent conflict and divergent state trajectories have increasingly added to the debate. Undeniably, institutions continue to matter greatly; but 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.

Subsequent to an era in which the agency of the ‘grassroots’ and aspects of ‘bottom-up’ governance has been emphasized, scholars and policymakers have started to increasingly look into the role of national elites in shaping development outcomes. 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 constitutive of peace and stability.

This panel provides a platform to share existing knowledge about and devise new areas of research as regards questions of conflict and fragility – and their avoidance.