We need thank our Program Chairs, Odile Cazenave (Boston University) and Clifton Crais (Emory University) for their careful conceptualization and articulation of this year’s theme: Rethinking Violence, Reconstruction, and Reconciliation. This is a very difficult topic, one that could easily provide fuel for the fire of Afro-pessimism, the widely held view of Africa as a continent steeped in violence, mired in war, poverty and disease. Indeed, these are difficult times for Africa. On the one hand, the demand for peace and democracy is on the rise all across the continent. “The Afrobarometer,” an independent, nonpartisan research project that has been measuring the social, political, and economic atmosphere in Africa for over 15 years clearly shows this to be the case. But there has been a surge of disturbing setbacks recently. The revolutionary waves of demonstrations and protests that came to be called the “Arab Spring,” have led to a winter of discontent, a brutal reality with varying degrees of violent consequences. The Moroccan monarchy has managed to hold on to power by granting some constitutional concessions. Tunisia, however, has been racked by mass incarcerations and highly public assassinations of opposition leaders. The Egyptians, after flirting with democracy for only one year, are now ready to bring back the generals. And the downfall of Qaddafi’s Libya precipitated a cascade of warriors and rifles into West Africa that has destabilized Mali and placed all the surrounding nations on military alert. Boko Haram keeps Nigeria continually on edge, exponentially expanding the scale and scope of its violence almost weekly. The Seleka takeover in the Central African Republic and the subsequent Anti-Balaka backlash has left untold numbers of people dead and sent over 700,000 fleeing for their lives. South Sudan, Africa’s newest nation, had yet to finalize the modalities of its separation from The Republic of The Sudan before it became engulfed in its own wave of violence. Although widely acknowledged as politically grounded, the violence nevertheless appears to be playing out along ethnic lines. Al-Shabab regularly demonstrates its ability to project violence across East Africa, from the streets of Mogadishu to the marketplaces of downtown Nairobi. Joseph Kony and others of his ilk continue to wreak havoc in Eastern Congo demonstrating, if nothing else, the limits of “internet activism.”
Yet professors Cazenave and Crais called upon us to go beyond the obvious, the usual expressions of anger, indignation and disappointment, or the global calls for more arms and economic support. They asked us to examine the silent and deeply embedded forms of everyday violence that lay behind the explosive headlines. They asked us to bring to light the violence of neoliberal economics, the new scramble for African resources and the resultant poverty of opportunities that swirl in their wake. They asked us to seek out novel forms of resistance and reconciliation, novel expressions of witnessing and memorialization, to examine the epidemiological consequences of conflict and dislocation, and to even explore the impact of violence on the environment. The members of our association have responded well, engaging all these dimensions and still others we had not previously imagined. The annual meeting in Indianapolis will be a rich font of stimulating ideas for the scholar, a plentiful source of new paradigms and perspectives for those engaged in the world of policy, and a wealth of new findings to assist the applied practitioner.
For those who cannot wait until November, please note that the ASA Blog is up and running, available now for sharing ideas about important and pressing African matters. We look forward to reading your thoughts, as well as your responses to the thoughts of others.
James A. Pritchett
President of the African Studies Association