Cedric de Coning on the symbiotic relationship between researchers, practitioners and policy makers
When the role of civil society in Africa’s peace and security architecture is considered, we rarely think about the role of academic institutions. We tend to consider the role of NGOs that advocate for specific norms or that represent certain interest groups. However, academic institutions, think tanks and research institutes play an important role in the development, adaptation and enhancement of Africa’s peace and security architecture.
Firstly, all the staff, officers and diplomats that work in the peace and security realm have been educated in academic institutions, and have been trained in some of Africa’s regional centres of excellence, or in programmes run by think tanks, and research centres, such as the Institute of Peace and Security Studies’ Executive Master’s Programme (MPSA).
Secondly, this education and training is based on theoretical, normative, critical and problem solving research with foundations reaching back hundreds of years. The daily work of the staff, officers and diplomats are further informed by research undertaken by academic institutions, think tanks and research centres. They study specific conflict situations or regional conflict systems to identify and analyze the causes and drivers of conflicts. They research phenomena such as the emergence and dynamics of rebel groups, insurgencies and violent extremism. They also study the ideas, norms, theories of change, processes and mechanisms that institutions like the African Union Commission (AUC) and the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) employ to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts. In the process, they contribute to identifying best practices and learning lessons about which approaches have better results than others. They help identify new challenges, monitor trends, and study trajectories that help these institutions to adapt to changes in their environment.
Thirdly, many of these academic institutions, think tanks, research centres and regional centres of excellence also contribute to the development or review of AUC, REC and national policy processes. They do so by helping to write concept notes or background papers, helping to organize seminars and workshops where such policies are developed or revised, and in some cases, where they have specialized expertise, they may even provide input to the actual policy documents. In the process, they help to identify and articulate the core principles and norms that should guide Africa’s peace and security institutions, and they help to generate policy options.
These roles that academic institutions, think tanks and research centres play in supporting Africa’s peace and security architecture is not unique to Africa. Similar processes are underway in support of the United Nations, the European Union and national governments across to the world. Nor is the need for this kind of support an indication that there is something lacking in Africa’s peace and security institutions. In fact, the countries and institutions with the most capacity in the world are also the ones with the largest budgets for research and development, and the ones that have the most engagement with academic institutions, think tanks and research institutions.
It would be uneconomical and inefficient for multilateral or national peace and security institutions to maintain in-house expertise on all the range of topics and issues that make up today or tomorrow’s peace and security landscape. It is much more economical and effective for these multilateral and national institutions to engage that expertise as needed. A symbiotic relationship between researchers, practitioners and policy makers has thus developed in most disciplines, and the area of peace and security is no exception.
However, someone must make the investment and bear the cost of maintaining such expertise. In most countries, this is done by government support to institutions of higher learning as well as through the establishment of national research foundations or other mechanisms that fund research. Some multilateral institutions, like the European Union, has its own research funding, whilst others rely on their member states and may play a role in coordinating and facilitating research among them. It is interesting, in this context for instance, to note the attention given to research collaboration by the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) grouping, who have regular meetings of think tanks, academic institutions, research foundations and university principals. In the case of Africa, in addition to national level support for research, several partners also support research, education and training.
In the area of peace and security in Africa the regional centres of excellence have, in particular, played a key role not only in training, but also in serving as hubs of expertise and as incubators for networking, sharing of knowledge and as hosts for lessons learned and best practices type of studies.
Academic institutions, think tanks and research centres thus play an important role in supporting, innovating and enhancing Africa’s peace and security architecture. This role may be mostly invisible, but is nevertheless crucial for ensuring that there is an ongoing process of analysis, feedback and adaptation that helps Africa’s peace and security institutions to co-evolve with the changing dynamics of their peace and security environment.
This article originally appeared on The Institute for Peace and Security Studies’ website
Written by Cedric de Coning