Durham University Conference 8-11 May 2013

“Struggles over emerging states in Africa: The impact of political governance violence on governance and society in North-East Africa, 1950-1980”


27 August 2013

8-11 May the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) in collaboration with the Department of History and the Global Security Institute of the University of Durham organised a successful conference in Durham (UK). More than 30 scholars gathered with the aim of exploring how, and to what degree, political violence shaped emerging independent states in northeast Africa in the ‘formative’ period between the 1950s and 1980.

The conference was organised as a part of the four-year PRIO research project, ‘The Dynamics of State Failure and Violence’, which is implemented in partnership with the African Studies Centre, University of Oxford, and funded by the Research Council of Norway. In addition to presentations by renowned scholars the conference also invited postgraduate students to contribute to a one-day master class. 

During four days of prolific discussions, participants tried both to explain the structural changes which have modified the pattern of political violence in this turbulent region and to categorise the new violent struggles emerging from these shifts. Both the conference and the master class raised novel and thought-provoking explanations to violent political actions in eastern Africa between 1950 and 1980 contributing to a better understanding of the dynamics of state failure and violence in the region.

The conference papers and main findings will be published in the forthcoming year, but these are some of the many challenging and interesting points raised:

  • Professor Derek R. Peterson showed how the racial and cultural categories formulated in the 1930s became the vocabulary of violent political actions, the secession movement, and ethnic separatism in post-colonial Uganda.
  • Jacob Wiebel revealed the crucial importance of the Red Terror to understand Ethiopia’s current state and urban society.
  • Dr. Dereje Feyissa Dori underlined the role of skin colour in the formation and contestation of state authority in western Ethiopia.
  • Katherine Bruce-Lockhart exposed how the British settlers gradually shifted to violence to crush the “hardcore” Mau Mau women in detention camps in colonial Kenya.
  • Aiden Russell highlighted the various political mechanisms that led Burundi to fall into a ‘selective genocide’ in 1972.
Group picture