Research Projects

Research Projects by African Leadership Centre

Youth, Peace and Security

The purpose of this research cluster is to develop a knowledge base from which to draw strategies for countering the narratives that sustain conflict and violence among young people in Africa. This work is especially pertinent as it draws on the intellectual contributions of young African scholars that are central to the work of the ALC. The intersections of youth bulge; socio-economic and political exclusion; and violent or simmering conflict can thus present major challenges to security and development. This has in turn led to the exclusion of large populations of young people from mainstream life and their resultant relegation to the margins of society where other narratives and alternative governance systems prevail. This research cluster aims to shed light on these issues and to proffer policy solutions  through an examination of youth exclusion and vulnerability in spaces ‘at the edge’ that can be susceptible to conflicts that risk transmuting into violence. It builds on existing research at the ALC on youth vulnerability and exclusion in Africa; and youth, militancy and violent extremism in Africa.


New Narratives of Peace and Statebuilding


The overarching aim of this research is to contribute to a reframing of the narratives that surround peacebuilding processes in Africa. Contemporary narratives underpinning the making of Africa’s states and the process of ensuring their viability are inadequately understood in academia and in the world of policy and practice. The potential or actual outbreak of intractable conflicts, which sometimes threatens the very survival of African states and the efforts to reconcile affected societies and set them back on the course of state building are rarely constructed as part of a continuum. This research project aims to capture and document these narratives and in so doing it interrogates common and established understanding of statebuilding and peacebuilding processes in Africa.

Research Objectives:

This research will be guided by four key objectives:

  • To draw new and comparable insights about the trajectory of countries that have pursued their statebuilding conversations in part through violent conflict.
  • To develop conceptual grounding of peacebuilding and statebuilding in Africa.
  • To draw lessons for peacebuilding processes in countries undergoing violent conflict in the course of statebuilding; and in particular for actors seeking to intervene in those contexts.
  • To deepen the knowledge of next generation academics and researchers on this subject – through participation in this research and development of curriculum for the study of peace and statebuilding processes in Africa.


 Outliers in Peacebuilding

This project builds knowledge on non-mainstream approaches to peacebuilding. There are a number of issues that mainstream peace building literature and policy practices do not cover. Even when they try to cover these issues, they do so only in particular ways. Themes such as gender, reconciliation, translation, peace education and leadership are some of the issues that are not adequately addressed by the mainstream peace building literature and hence they are outliers in peace building. However, the fact that they are outliers in peace building does not necessarily mean that they are of little relevance for building peace in conflict-affected societies.

Through the research undertaken by ALC Fellows, staff and associates, this project conducts a deeper interrogation of these issues. In particular, we interrogate non-state armed conflicts in Africa, which are not on the radar of mainstream peacebuilding processes – an area in which ALC Fellows are already undertaking original investigative work.

Two key questions occupy our attention in this area of work:

  • What models of peacebuilding are evident in the responses to non-state armed conflicts? To what extent is the dominant model of peacebuilding effective in these contexts?
  • How are outlier issues addressed in non-state armed conflict?


 Peacebuilding operational and policy spaces in Africa

In this project, researchers undertake extensive case study analysis examining a range of peacebuilding interventions in Africa, the policies that shape these responses as well as the role and impact of a range of actors. There is consensus among analysts and practitioners alike that we need to know more about what works and what does not work on the ground. By dedicating attention to the study of policy environments as well as theatres of operation, this research seeks to document lessons of experience in current peacebuilding interventions in Africa. This includes a range of contexts in which there are structured responses as well as less structured responses to armed conflicts involving state and non-state actors. We will transfer lessons from on-going research at the ALC on peace- and state building as well as from the Mapping Study of Peacebuilding and Security in Africa. The knowledge gained from Leading Peacebuilders’ reflections as well as from research by mid-to senior level policy practitioners Fellowships at the ALC (described under Research Uptake) also offer valuable insights to this project.


 The Political Economy of Peacebuilding in Africa

This project proposes a different and new lens through which to consider developmental transformation in post-conflict societies: developmental post-conflict reconstruction. It does so by examining peacebuilding, post-conflict reconstruction and developmental statehood with particular focus on the interaction between the state and the private sector in addressing economic development in the aftermath of conflict. This is novel as despite widely acclaimed developmental success alongside security challenges in the developmental states of East Asia, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan over three decades from the 1960s (1930s for Japan) there is limited analysis of transferable lessons to the Global South (example: Barbara, 2008). It is also timely as the proposed post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals suggest a stronger role for industrialization in developmental pursuits, which is very much in line with the Developmental State Paradigm (DSP).

This research strand builds on the Outliers in Peacebuilding research theme, by utilising a non-mainstream examination of peacebuilding as a lens through which to interrogate dominant contemporary approaches such as liberal peacebuilding. It also contributes to the Peacebuilding operational and policy spaces in Africa research theme with reflection on contemporary reconstruction experiences that draw on liberal peacebuilding through structured interventions.

This project responds to four distinct research questions:

  1.  How significant are state-private sector interactions to historical and contemporary understandings of post-conflict reconstruction in Africa?
  2. What is the developmental legacy of post-conflict reconstruction in conceptual and policy terms in Africa?
  3. How significant is the ‘centrality’ of structural transformation of the economy to post-conflict reconstruction across time?
  4. What has influenced the choice and utility of post-conflict reconstruction and developmental policy frameworks and how have these impacted on developmental processes and outcomes?

The project proceeds with two identifiable approaches to post-conflict reconstruction in Africa. The first one draws on the conceptual framing and analysis of empirical experiences of reconstruction in post-colonial/post-independence Africa within the context of a strong role for the state in development and dominance of development planning as a policy tool as with the Biafran war (Second National Development Plan 1970-1975). We also analyse efforts towards developmental transformation through development planning in the aftermath of the Mau Mau uprisings in Kenya (First National Development Plan 1965/66-1969/70- revised). There was emphasis on a strong role for the state alongside engagement with the private sector (with vibrant participation from foreign capital) as part of a wider development planning process.

The second one draws on empirical experiences in the post-structural adjustment period within the context of mainstream arguments for the reduced role for the state in development in the early responses to the present-day conflicts in the Niger Delta (2009), Boko Haram- affected North Eastern Nigeria (2014-) and Post-Election violence in Kenya (2007). This second approach is most clearly identifiable as reconstruction within the liberal peacebuilding framework as exemplified by the mandate of the UN Peacebuilding Commission (Olonisakin and Ikpe, 2012). These approaches are emblematic of Moore’s (2007:12) suggestion that post-conflict reconstruction is caught ‘in tensions between neoliberal and more interventionist visions of development in general.’ This project investigates the implications of these tensions on the conceptual development and practice of post-conflict reconstruction. In doing so it contributes to providing new guidance to policy and practice where current approaches fall short.


Leadership and Society

In developing societies, particularly those experiencing high levels of insecurity, research and policy have focused on governance deficits not least the challenges of systems and weaknesses of institutions. This cluster examines the interaction between leadership and institutions, not least through the state, and how this impacts on security and development outcomes. While the importance of leadership is sometimes emphasised by analysts, its essential role in building and maintaining institutions to ensure development and security is often taken for granted. It is often assumed that a strong institution will promote good leaders experience across developing societies suggests that this is not the natural order of things. This research cluster also engages the phenomenon of leadership – both conceptually and operationally – conducts in-depth analyses of a range of situations in developing societies to see how leadership processes and decisions have shaped the outcomes for these societies.


 Resilience Innovation

Three core sets of questions occupy our attention in this research project. First, what does resilience mean in African societies and states? Is resilience what we think it means in those places? What separates the notion of resilience in the African context from other contexts? Second, in what realms can we find evidence of the most robust structures and instruments of resilience to destructive conflict, violence and large-scale insecurity including disasters? Are the most prominent places the most robust sources of resilience? Third, through what mechanisms and processes can we develop, transfer and scale up ideas and methods that offer solutions that make societies more resilient to destructive conflict, violence and disaster?

In seeking to address these questions this programme focuses on “society” rather than the “state” as an entry point from which to study interventions and approaches that work or fail to build resilience in societies and states affected by conflict, violence, and large scale insecurity including disaster. To be sure, it recognizes the important role of the state. But we contend that in the process of solution seeking there is the tendency to relegate to the background, ideas and interventions outside the view of the state, which provide some evidence of success. More so, many African societies demonstrate a fine measure of resilience when compared to the state. As such, there is potential to upscale some of the experiences for application at the level of the state.

Please see below for the most recent work done by ALC fellows, alumni and staff.

No. 1: Resilience Innovation: Studying resilience to violence and insecurity in Africa
By 'Funmi Olonisakin, Godwin Murunga, Alfred Muteru, Kamau Nyokabi


 Gender, Peace and Security

The adoption by the African Union of the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in 2004 and the UN Security Council Resolutions 1325, 1820 and 1889 gave prominence to a broad range of women’s rights and participation in peace and security and more broadly in a context that is structurally dominated by a patriarchal narrative. Although the notion that gender analysis should be accorded a place in the public domain has been generally accepted it has evolved separately and as an additive to governance debates. The general separation of the women’s agenda from the security governance agenda raises a number of important questions about the depth and applicability of seemingly new and transformational security paradigms. This research cluster aims to respond to these gaps by: examining how governance and security and the most visible manifestations of state security, war and militarism, both construct and are sustained by specific masculinities and femininities; assessing the impact of gender constructions on the lives of particular groups of men and women; re-conceptualizing mainstream security and governance discourses by re-examining concepts such as nation-state, peace, security and militarism; revealing the gendered constructions, biases, and inequalities that mark both scholarship and praxis in these zones. It builds on recent research at the ALC on Women, Peace and Security and the implementation of the UN Resolution 1325 globally.


 Leadership and Higher Education in Africa

The comparison of the high intensity and frequency of conflicts in Africa vis-à-vis the number of higher education institutions devoted to peace and security studies highlights a significant gap in the way that higher education institutions have/have not prioritised these subjects as necessary for understanding conflict dynamics and peacebuilding on the continent. This research cluster aims to examine the status of peace and security research in African institutions of higher learning and the extent to which this addresses the root cause of conflicts to produce relevant, African–led knowledge to manage conflict and enhance peacebuilding practices on the continent. It will also engage the interaction between these institutions of higher learning and the reality of peace and security on the continent. This builds on recent research by the ALC on the engagement of institutions of higher learning with peace and security studies.


 Governance, Security and Justice

Justice and security institutions in the developing world, particularly in Africa, are a legacy of governance systems, not least colonial systems. As such, these institutions have provisions and mechanisms in place to preserve governance systems and those that inhabit them. While it is right the governance systems are protected by security and justice systems, existing power structures and the resulting disparities between the ruling elite and others can undermine access to justice and security for all. This research cluster will seek to understand the consequences of the absence of a collective vision of security and justice for the majority and especially the most vulnerable. Within the context of parallel security and justice systems that operate under the facade of a collective governance arrangement, this research cluster aims to: review the gaps in the provision of security and justice to all within formal systems; examine the reality of environments in which the vast majority of people rely on security and justice systems that operate on the margins of formal systems and are governed by processes removed from the view of the state; comprehend the violent conflict that can be produced at the points of intersection between the two systems referred to above; and explore  the role of leadership in reinforcing the status quo as well as in articulating a solution to these challenges. It builds on past ALC research on security and justice provision to the poor.


Mapping Study 2010


In 2009-2010, the ALC with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York undertook a Mapping Study on “Peace and Security Studies in African Universities.” This study had several objectives, including:

  • Expanding the ALC’s (and its partners’) understanding of the state of knowledge building on peace and security in African Universities.
  • Fostering close cooperation with select universities studying peace and security in Africa with a view to strengthening the work of the ALC and promoting its key strategic objectives.
  • Using the mapping study and resulting collaboration with select African Universities as a basis of fostering closer associations with a broad range of actors in the field of peace and security in Africa including national and regional organisations as well as non-governmental entities.


The findings of that initial mapping study not only improved the ALC’s understanding of the state of peace and security studies in African universities, but also revealed important gaps and informed the ALC’s engagement and partnerships on issues of peace and security on the continent. Some of the conclusions and recommendations from that study pointed towards a future agenda for ALC, and other institutions seeking to contribute to peace and stability in Africa. The following questions and issues formed the core of the conclusions from the 2009 mapping study and conference, in which its findings were first disseminated:

  • Defining “peace” and “security” for Africa: Given Africa’s unique history, it is important to examine the relevance of externally generated definitions and methodologies. This remains a priority intellectual challenge for African scholars and institutions as well as those seeking to support peace and security efforts in this terrain. There remains a dearth of historical analysis and consistent focus on conceptual study of peace and security. Understanding the evolution of this field in Africa, the nature of the terrain in which it is being studied and practiced is central to any effort to conceptually and practically grasp this field–– in an African context.
  • Defining and designing the content of peace and security courses across Africa: Is there latitude for uniformly designing courses across Africa? Or should content be determined based on the peculiarities of different national or regional environments? Overall, there is merit in looking into the development of an Africa-centred curriculum that takes the experiences of the continent into account. • Peace and security as an evolving discipline in Africa: Like other parts of the world, this discipline is unlikely to remain static. Will it evolve based on the demands placed on it by stakeholders or in response to transformations within the peacebuilding terrain? If so, how can the study of the field and curriculum be adapted in this regard?
  • Developing a network of scholars, teachers and mentors: Is it possible to develop such a network across African Universities? How can we overcome the challenges posed by university governance structures? Is a “Centre of Excellence” approach along regional lines useful in the effort to develop such a network?
  • Overcoming language barriers in the teaching and study of peace and security in Africa: This remains a continuous challenge in the effort to build Africa-wide networks and developing curricula and systems of engagement that connect scholars and institutions across the continent. It requires coherent, long-term strategies and engagement.
  • Ensuring a connection between universities and the rest of society: This is perhaps the most difficult challenge that confronts the effort to develop a coherent and robust study of peace and security in Africa. Studying peace and security is not an end in itself. The very essence of such a project is to ensure that the network of scholars and universities remain relevant to the security and development challenges confronting African citizens and states. Only a systematic engagement with the African peace and security terrain beyond the first important step of teaching and research will ensure that relevance. At the moment, such systematic engagement is yet to occur and in the absence of this, the ideas, strategies and resources for responding to Africa’s security challenges are largely externally generated alongside few isolated African voices and opinions.

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