Saturday, September 15, 2012

Raiding Sovereignty in Central African Borderlands

My dissertation, titled Raiding Sovereignty in Central African Borderlands, is now available for public download.

Rather than swaddle it in caveats, I'll let anyone with the stamina to plow through nearly 450 pages on CAR take a look for themselves -- pdf here -- and I'll be happy to discuss more with anyone who is interested. In the coming months I plan to post more on how my thinking is changing.

And for those who prefer the digested version, here is the abstract:

This dissertation focuses on raiding and sovereignty in the Central African Republic’s (CAR) northeastern borderlands, on the margins of Darfur. A vast literature on social evolution has assumed the inevitability of political centralization. But these borderlands show centralization does not always occur. Never claimed by any centralizing forces, the area has instead long been used as a reservoir of resources by neighboring areas’ militarized entrepreneurs, who seek the savanna’s goods. The raiders seize resources but also govern. The dynamics of this zone, much of it a place anthropologists used to refer to as “stateless,” suggest a re-thinking of the modalities of sovereignty. The dissertation proposes conceptualizing sovereignty not as a totalizing, territorialized political order, but through its constituent governing capabilities, which may centralize or not and can combine to create hybrid political systems.

The dissertation develops this framework through analysis of three categories of men-in-arms—road blockers, anti-poaching militiamen, and members of rebel groups—and their relationships with international peacebuilding initiatives. It compares roadblocks and “road cutting” (robbery) to show how these men stop traffic and create flexible, personalized entitlements to profit for those who operate them. The dissertation also probes the politics of militarized conservation: in a low-level war that has lasted for 25 years, European Union-funded militiamen fight deadly battles against herders and hunters. Though ostensibly fought to protect CAR’s “national patrimony” (its animals and plants), this war bolsters the sovereign capabilities of non-state actors and has resulted in hundreds of deaths in the last few years alone, many of them hidden in the bush. The dissertation then shows how CAR’s recent cycle of rebellion has changed governance in rural areas. Though mobile armed groups have long operated in CAR, they used to work as road cutters and local defense forces and only recently started calling themselves “rebels”—a move that has landed in them in new roles as “governors” of populations. Throughout these various raiders’ projects, the idea of the all-powerful state serves as a reference they use to qualify themselves with sovereign authorities. But their actions as rulers undermine the creation of the unitary political authority they desire and invoke. Failure to appreciate these non-centralized micropolitical processes is a main reason peacebuilding efforts (such as disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration) have failed.


  1. You mention Maurice Dimanche. I am fairly sure I had lessons from him myself!

    I wonder if he or you would know Bernard Difara (PC Director of Secondary Education in 1988-90). When he came on tournee to supervise my teaching, he gave his chauffeur the afternoon off and drove us himself out to the Kembe falls for a picnic. My students naturally assumed he was my chauffeur, and when I told them he was my boss, they accused me of lying. Apparently the idea of a munzu working for an African was too much for them to process. Bernard made things worse for me by telling them he was my chauffeur! I hope things worked out for him post-PC withdrawal.

    1. Very interesting. I'm afraid I never met Mr. Difara. Did you get a sense of why he denied being your boss? To joke, or some other reason? In my (limited) experience, it seemed like Central Africans would displace responsibility onto munjus as a way to avoid difficult confrontations over state policies and permit paralegal compromises.