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Conflict and Fragility

Ever since scholars have conceptualised the difference between negative and positive peace, much scholarly and policy attention has been placed on conflict transformations in divided societies. A look at contemporary political affairs shows that we still have a long way to go in understanding the complexities of conflict and fragility. Conflict dynamics seldom follow uniform patterns or predictable trajectories. In fact, fragility pertains to spaces beyond classic nations and affect all levels of societies. Therefore it is helpful to take a close and contextualized look at the political economy of conflict, including the composition of societal powers, interests, and grievances in divided societies. Pertinent factors include shifts in conflict-related norms and beliefs within society, perceptions of different groups, the mechanics of escalation and de-escalation, as well as institutional mechanisms of conflict mitigation.

Oversimplifying or neglecting this contextual embeddedness will likely give rise to unreliable conclusions or harmful policy advice. Conflicts may spread from local hotspots in the periphery to adjacent spaces and urban spheres, or from the capital to the hinterland. As they spread, the cohabitation of different ethnic and religious groups can be negatively affected. Many violent conflicts are encouraged by political, religious and ethnic actors who mobilize identities in search for power and material gains including natural resources. Their strategies often build on pre-existing cleavages within societies. Yet, by no means do all conflicts escalate into violence. Conversely, various elements of conflict regulation mechanisms including institutional devices can have adverse effects on the establishment of sustainable peace, though this may change over time.   

The institute’s research on conflict and fragility places emphasis on agency-centred analyses and the importance of informal institutions. ABI researchers consider the multiple determinants of conviviality in divided societies and the consequences and effects of conflict aggravation and mitigation efforts, both in the short and long term. Here, the focus lies not on ‘state fragility’, but on the fragility of societal cohabitation in areas of limited statehood; and in particular on questions as to how this degree of fragility is affected by ethnic/religious constellations, informal power-sharing institutions, or specific security provisions. ABI is committed to in-depth field observations including surveys in an area dominated by desk studies using macro-data. We aim to contribute to ongoing debates in selected countries of the global South by building on longitudinal comparisons.

Contact: Helga Dickow



Key publications

Glawion, Tim / Anne-Clémence Le Noan (2023): Rebel governance or governance in rebel territory? Extraction and services in Ndélé, Central African republic, in: Small Wars & Insurgencies, 34 (1), pp. 24-51. 

Glawion, Tim / Lotje de Vries (2023): Studying insecurity from relative safety — Dealing with methodological blind spots, in: Qualitative Research, 23 (4), pp. 883-899.

Glawion, Tim (2023): Cross-case patterns of security production in hybrid political orders: their shapes, ordering practices, and paradoxical outcomes, in: Peacebuilding, 11 (2), pp. 169-184.

Dickow, Helga (2022): Satisfaction With The Status Quo: Why has Religious Terrorism not yet Gained Ground In Chad?, in: Contemporary Journal of African Studies, 9/2, pp. 147-186

Gez, Yonatan N. / Beider, Nadia / Dickow, Helga (2021): African and Not Religious: The State of Research on Sub-Saharan Religious Nones and New Scholarly Horizons, in: Africa Spectrum, 57/1, pp. 50-71

Glawion, Tim (2020): The Security Arena in Africa Local Order-Making in the Central African Republic, Somaliland, and South Sudan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Caroline A. Hartzell / Andreas Mehler, eds. (2019): Power Sharing and Power Relations After Civil War, Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers

Mehler, Andreas, Lotje de Vries (2018): "The limits of instrumentalizing disorder: Reassessing the neopatrimonial perspective in the Central African Republic", in: African Affairs

Helga Dickow (2018): Tschad: Die schleichende Islamisierung? in: Blätter für deutsche und interntionale Politik

Glawion, Tim / Lotje de Vries/ Andreas Mehler (2018): Handle with Care! A Qualitative Comparison of the Fragile States Index's Bottom Three Countries: Central African Republic, Somalia and South Sudan, in: Development and Change

Zanker, Franzisca / Andreas Mehler (2018): Territorialisation in Post-Conflict Contexts. Claims to Space and Conflict Management, in: Ulf Engel, MarcBoeckler, Detlev Müller-Mahn (Hrsg.): Spatial Practices. Territory, Border and Infrastructure in Africa, Leiden/Boston: Brill, 80-94

Mehler, Andreas, De Vries Lotje (2018): Les Conditions marginales du néopatrimonialisme performant: Pourquoi l’Afrique ne « marche » pas dans la République centrafricaine, ABI Working Paper 8

Schütze, B. (2017): Simulating, marketing, and playing war: US–Jordanian military collaboration and the politics of commercial security, in: Security Dialogue, Vol. 48, No. 5, pp. 431-50

Zanker, F. (2017): Legitimacy in Peacebuilding: Rethinking Civil Society Involvement in Peace Negotiations, Routledge Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution; Abingdon: Routledge

Zanker, F. (2017): Moving Beyond Hybridity: The Multi-Scalar Adaptation of Community Policing in Liberia, in: Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding, 11(2), pp.166-185

Zanker, F.; Simons C.; Mehler, A. (2015): Power, Peace, and Space in Africa.Revisiting Territorial Power Sharing, in: African Affairs, 114/ 454, 72–91

Dickow, H. (2014): Autoritäre Strukturen im Tschad: Macht aus der Sicht derer, die sie nicht haben, in: Sociologus 64/1, S. 53-78

Dickow, H. (2014): Chadian Identity Cleavages and their Markers. The Competing,Overlapping or Cross-Cutting Pattern of Ethnic and Religious Affiliation, in: Leiner, Martin u.a. (Hg.): Societies in Transition. Sub-Saharan Africa
between Conflict and Reconciliation",Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht: Göttingen, S. 33-46

Mehler, A. (2014): Why Federalism Did Not Lead to Secession in Cameroon, in: Ethnopolitics, 13/1, 48-66

Zanker, F. (2014): Legitimate Representation: Civil Society Actors in Peace Negotiations Revisited, in: International Negotiation, 19, 1, pp.62 – 88

Dickow, H. (2013): Machtkampf im Sahel: Mali und  die Folgen, in: Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 6, S. 29-32

Mehler, A. (2013): Consociationalism for Weaklings, Autocracy for Muscle Men? Determinants of Constitutional Reform in Divided Societies, in: Civil Wars, Special Issue 1, 15, 21-4

Simons, C.; Zanker, F.; Mehler, A.; Tull, D. (2013): Power-sharing in Africa’s war zones: how important is the local level?, in: Journal of Modern African Studies, 51/4, 681-706

Mehler, A. (2012): Why Security Forces Do Not Deliver Security: Evidence from Liberia and the Central African Republic, in: Armed Forces and Society, 1/ 38, 46-69

Dickow, H. (2012): Religion and Attitudes toward s Life in South Africa. Pentecostals, Charismatics and Reborns, Baden-Baden: Nomos.

Dickow, H. (2012): Der Tschad und seine unruhigen Nachbarn, in: Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 2, S. 30-34


Cluster Events & Activities

Workshop „The Long-Term: Tracing Legacies of Violence in francophone Equatorial Africa“, Libreville (2018)

VAD African Connections Panel 24 Bassin du lac Tchad : L'Islam tolérant menacé par la violence?, Leipzig (2018)

Workshop: Access to Justice in Burundi, Freiburg (2018)

Workshop and panel discussion (in cooperation with Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung): Keine Berichterstattung – Kein Problem? Die vergessene Krise in Burundi und die Medien, Freiburg (2018)



Postcolonial Hierarchies in Peace & Conflict

Das Gewaltmonopol und Sicherheitsparadoxa – Diskrepanzen zwischen objektiver und subjektiver Sicherheit in der Zentralafrikanischen Republik und dem Libanon