Political Orders in the Making: a Comparative Study of Emerging Forms of Political Organisation from Libya to Northern Mali
Funding: DFG - Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft
Duration: 2017 - 2021
Project lead: Prof. Dr. Georg Klute, Dr. Thomas Hüsken
Research associate: Dr. Dida Badi,
Associated employee: Prof. Dr. Amal El-Obeidi (Humboldt Stipendiatin)
The project "Political Orders in the Making: comparative study of emerging forms of political organisation from Libya to Northern Mali" by Prof. Dr. Georg Klute, Dr. Thomas Hüsken and Dr. Dida Badi (all Anthropology of Africa) in collaboration with Prof. Dr. Amal El-Obeidi from the University of Benghazi in Libya, who is currently associated with the project as a Humboldt scholar, aims to explore "politics in the making" through a comparative study of emerging forms of political organisation in Libya and northern Mali.
The current political developments in Libya and northern Mali represent nothing less than the renegotiation of the post-colonial political order. The toppling of authoritarian regimes in Libya and the subsequent disintegration of the country in post-revolutionary camps and regions, the continuing rebellion of the Tuareg in northern Mali, accompanied by the rise of transnational Islamist and Jihadist forces have led to the fragmentation of state structures, to more heterogeneity in politics, and to the emergence of non-state power groups which gain relevance on the complex political stage. While often propagating social and political alternatives to the Western state model, some of these groups seem to be, at least at times, intertwined with respective state structures.
We propose to study processes of political orders in the making from local and trans-local perspectives. We assume thereby that the current situation in Northwest Africa offers a unique opportunity for the observation and study of the renegotiation of the post-colonial political order, including strong contestations to the Western state model. We further assume that ongoing processes of remaking political orders, particularly in Libya and Mali, are strongly linked, without suggesting any kind of causality between them. The local continues to constitute the decisive arena for the making of political orders.
The project brings together three theoretical concepts and fields of research: heterarchy, (historical and present) connectivities in northwest Africa, and the importance of local actors/locality. The first concept of heterarchy is a recent one, responding to the rapid development of political orders in Africa and elsewhere within the last twenty years. The colonial expansion and subsequent global implementation of statehood in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries seemed to support the idea that the modern bureaucratic state of Western origin is the inevitable mode of political organization for human societies. However, the crisis and erosion of the state in the former USSR and in Africa, and recently in the Middle East, initiated a debate on the transformation of statehood. 'Heterarchy' points at central traits of current political (state and non-state) orders, namely the mutable and unstable intertwining of state and non-state orders and the plurality of competing power groups.
The fall of the Gaddafi regime in Libya in 2011 has had obvious impacts in all of northwest Africa, creating political instability and conflicts, albeit to varying degrees, in Libya’s neighbouring countries. Mali in particular seemed to be affected by the return of soldiers and militiamen of (Malian) Tuareg origin to Mali in autumn 2011. This brought a number of authors to highlight the links existing between the Libyan events and their "repercussions" in northwest Africa and thus perceiving the region as interconnected, instead of being separated by deserts and state borders. The concept of connectivity (across states and borders) is a newly re-discovered topic, perceiving state borders (and the Sahara Desert) not as barriers, but as transitional spaces. It allows a better understanding of recent political developments and their historical roots.
The concept of local actors/locality is well rooted in political anthropology and political sociology. It underlines the importance of the local in negotiation processes and struggles over what political order to establish. Our project follows the hypothesis that in the crisis of the state in northwest Africa, it is indeed the local that becomes a prior place where political order is generated. It is the space where local and regional politicians, opinion leaders and groups act as gatekeepers between the (weak) state, the vitality of the "local arena," and the transnational sphere. Today's politicians and leaders are neither entirely local nor exclusively national, but are located at the interface of the local, the national and transnational political fields. Heterarchical figurations are populated by local, regional, national and international actors of various kinds. These actors are "producers of order" who play a major role in the renegotiation of the post-colonial order in northwest Africa.