Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Beyond the Ideology of 'Civil War': The Global-Historical Constitution of Political Violence in Sudan

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Beyond the Ideology of 'Civil War': The Global-Historical Constitution of Political Violence in Sudan

Article excerpt

It is commonplace to characterise political violence and war in Africa as 'internal', encapsulated in the apparently neutral term 'civil war'. Usage of this problematic notion is "partly habitual" but the concept of 'civil war' "might also be ideologically and politically convenient" (Cramer, 2006:10). Categorical distinctions such as so-called 'civil wars' are not simply descriptive or definitional frames but rather shape the production of knowledge, including "what is viewed and how it is interpreted." As has long been argued by critical scholars, "classification systems are generally determined by some purpose--they are not 'natural' and they should always be questioned" (Cramer, 2006:51). Analytical borders are therefore at the heart of much debate (and policy formulation) in the social and other sciences ... This is very much the case in the study of violent conflict. Here too what matters is whether or not a set of categories hides more than it reveals (Cramer, 2006:51).

This paper contends that the ideology of 'civil war' and the assumption that the principal causes of political violence are intrinsic to the 'domestic' sphere (that is, predominantly internally-constituted) excludes from consideration global structures of economic and political inequities as well as those of social and cultural exclusion. Orthodox accounts of political violence tend to focus narrowly on the combatants or insurrectionary forces, failing to recognize or address the extent to which political violence is historically and globally constituted (Hanlon, 2006a). As such, the assumption and privileging of internality lends credence to imperial narratives which aver that the degrading conditions of the vast majority result solely from the ineptitude of certain despotic and self-serving rulers and/or fanatic primordialist groups--whilst casting the western-led 'international community' as the "unconditional protector of all civilian victims, the impartial agent of peace, the zealot of the rule of law, and the promoter of reconciliation" (Feher, 2000:40).

The ideology of 'civil war' and the privileging of internality have attained particular salience in the post-cold war period. From the end of the Second World War until the late-1980s, western powers and their soviet bloc rivals had systematically projected the logic of the cold war onto most conflicts, thereby investing virtually all wars and insurgencies with a political and ideological stake (Feher, 2000). The assessment of these conflicts was influenced by the political allegiance of the concerned parties, but the political character and the role of 'external' forces in such 'proxy wars' was readily evident. With the end of the cold war and the 'end of history', accounts of international disorder could no longer be ascribed to an 'expansionary communism'. Thus, various explanations have emerged to account for conflict and crisis--explanations that "have been largely internal" (Hanlon, 2006a:5). Indeed, Chester Crocker, former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, is explicit in foregrounding internality: with the end of the cold war, the very nature of conflict changed. "Conflicts became internal" (Crocker et al 2001:xv).

Particularly pervasive amongst these (parochial) explanations of conflict have been the 'primordialism' thesis, whereby conflicts are officially attributed to "the existence of old and intractable 'bad blood' between neighbouring or intertwined communities", and relatedly, "the exploitation of these ingrained feelings by ruthless warlords" (Feher, 2000, 40). Although the relative significance of group antagonisms and the actions of selfserving elites varied across conflicts, throughout most of the 1990s,

the leading members of the international community contended that all post-cold war conflicts were about 'tribal' disputes--over land, resources, ethnic or religious supremacy, and so forth--rather than rival ideologies and adverse political projects (Feher, 2000:40). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.