Fifteen years ago, when African leaders set up their own peace and security system within what later became the African Union, they tried to balance diplomacy and armed enforcement. In case of a conflict, they would hold negotiations with all parties; sending in peacekeeping troops would only be a fallback option. But Western countries like the United States and France have tended to favor military approaches instead. During the civil war in Libya in 2011, a panel of five African presidents, established by the African Union and chaired by Jacob Zuma of South Africa, proposed letting Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi go into exile in an African country and then setting up an interim government. But the plan was spurned by NATO, which preferred regime change by way of foreign intervention.

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Existing models for peace-making, state-building and stabilization, which assume that “fragile states” can move, under international tutelage and sponsorship, towards capable and legitimate states, are wrong. Peace agreements that consist primarily in allocating rents to belligerents only reinforce the logic of a rent-based political marketplace. Indeed, international efforts to achieve stabilization and state-building by channeling effort and resources through governments are more often counterproductive than not.

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Politics is not business, yet the language and lens of the market and decision-making in a competitive environment – the perspective of a business manager – may often provide some of the most helpful vocabulary for describing how politics actually functions around the world. Even more, like al-Qaeda’s heated discussions about hostage-taking as a strategic revenue source, the language of business is often the language that political actors themselves use in describing their actions and the contexts within which they operate.

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Up to 40,000 members of Iraqi minority groups are at severe risk from the advancing forces of the Islamic State (IS or ISIS/ISIL). The most urgent crisis, according to accounts from eyewitnesses, news and humanitarian organizations, is the plight of the Yazidis—a small group that follows an ancient monotheistic religion that includes elements of [...]

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On July 29th, the New York Times journalist Rukmini Callimachi published a fascinating account of the role of hostage-taking in the operations of Al-Qaeda and other militant groups. Along with the article, the Times published several letters between members of Al-Qaeda leadership in the Sahara and in Yemen, which its reporter found in [...]

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Alex de Waal has published a newly released article in African Affairs, “When kleptocracy becomes insolvent: Brute causes of the civil war in South Sudan.” Below is the abstract, full text available through the journal:

South Sudan obtained independence in July 2011 as a kleptocracy – a militarized, corrupt neo-patrimonial system of governance. By the [...]

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