Methods of Conflict Resolution in African Traditional Society

Adeyinka Theresa Ajayi & Lateef Oluwafemi Buhari

(Department of History and International Studies
Faculty of Arts, Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti, Nigeria)

African Research Review Vol. 8 (2), Serial No. 33, April, 2014:138-157

OpenAccess here.


This study examined the patterns or mechanism for conflict resolution in traditional African societies with particular reference to Yoruba and Igbo societies in Nigeria and Pondo tribe in South Africa. The paper notes that conflict resolution in traditional African societies provides opportunity to interact with the parties concerned, it promotes consensus-building, social bridge reconstructions and enactment of order in the society. The paper submits further that the western world placed more emphasis on the judicial system presided over by council of elders, kings’ courts, peoples (open place) assemblies, etc; for dispute settlement and justice dispensation. It concludes that traditional conflict resolution techniques such as mediation, adjudication, reconciliation, and negotiation as well as cross examination which were employed by Africans in the past, offer great prospects for peaceful co-existence and harmonious relationships in post-conflict periods than the modern method of litigation settlements in law courts.


Are We as Area Studies Scholars Guilty of Negligence in Allowing Genocides to Happen in the Regions we Study? (2021)

Michael W. Charney

(SOAS, University of London)

Published by Forces for Renewal in Southeast Asia genocides-to-happen-in-the-regions-we-study/

Like many, I rely on twitter to keep up to speed with current information put out by Foreign Ministries. I recently saw a tweet from the US State Dept stating that “China has committed genocide & crimes against humanity against #Uyghur population in Xinjiang. Uyghurs & other Turkic Muslim minorities must be protected against future atrocities & those in detention immediately released.” We have seen the Myanmar Government ruled against in the ICJ for the same act against the Rohingyas. We certainly believe this has happened elsewhere.

Of course, many of us wait for governments and lawyers, human rights organisations, and the communities involved to bring such acts before the courts and to put pressure on the guilty governments to resolve the situation after it has occurred. Some academics involve themselves in campaigns alongside activists to keep pressure on their governments to act where the latter might prefer to remain silent lest they jeopardize trade or cooperation with a government on some other issue. Some fields, however, are poorly represented. Colleagues in my own field, history, are particularly prone to use their occupation as a virtual press card, claiming to be neutral observers, apolitical, and not interested in the now. What they research has little to do with current events, the whisper, and, of course, there is no requirement for a historian to be an activist. Most will never be. It may be surprising for many though that some of the same historians will make claims at their own universities for continued employment or grant funding on the grounds that their research is so important for understanding the present and that their findings actually have a lot of potential impact on policy today. When it counts for them, then their research matters, but when it might count for someone else, someone vulnerable, then it has nothing to do with their professional remit.

Without absolving the guilty countries of their gross responsibility, I would also raise the issue of scholarly negligence in allowing crimes against humanity to occur without taking action BEFORE these crimes happened. Certainly, it is hard to prevent a crime before it happens or even before the first steps are taken in that direction. Without doubt, some scholars have said a great deal since these acts took place. But it is also true that many, many, many more scholars have not.

If our scholarly work is going to influence policy and be effective in saving lives, it cannot simply be mobilised AFTER a crime has taken place. It must actively seek to INFORM policymakers in the global community BEFORE they or branches of their governments and militaries g on a criminal course.

Let’s consider genocide and ethnic cleansing. 159 countries have ratified or acceded to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide as of 2019. The

1 This is a revised and expanded version of an opinion I put on Facebook in January 2021. 1page1image47149248page1image47139072

leaders and key diplomats at the time of signing and those involved in the discussions at the time were aware of what was spelled out and signed. But who ensures that a broad understanding of what was agreed concerning what amounts to genocide is then communicated to subsequent leaders and policymakers, generals and soldiers, villagers, clerics, and monks? How do we ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding what crimes against humanity are, what genocide is, and why racism is a negative and not a positive thing. And who takes up this task in particular in societies where civil society has been suppressed, where freedom of the press is gone, and where educational systems and critical thought have slumped? If scholars and those who study the past (historians), policy (politicians), and laws (the legal scholars) do not take up this role, if we do not ensure that there is a global understanding or awareness of what constitutes crimes against humanity, how can we absolve ourselves of guilt at some level when serious transgressions occur.

In much of the world, the scholars who could say most are those who wear a badge of honour as area studies scholars. The scholars, like myself, are those who have chosen to focus their research and writing on non-Western areas of the globe in most cases. I have written and discussed elsewhere concerning the reticence of area studies scholars to comment negatively when bad things (things that have been agreed globally are universally bad) happen in the countries they love and often live in for extended periods of time and the reasons for this reticence. Part of the problem is that area studies shapes imaginaries of states and societies in particular ways that normalises claims to indigeneity or religious legitimacy for some groups and “others” ethnic and religious minorities as being extraneous. Another is that area studies forges direct links between the scholars in training as undergraduate and postgraduate students with language speakers who often become the primary interlocuter for knowledge about what the country language is drawn from. It’s difficult to break free from this doubled-down spelling out what a place like Myanmar actually “is,” who belongs there and who does not, who is a son of the soil and who is a foreigner, if not in this generation, in some generation long ago. This intimacy however is what gives area studies scholars the greatest access to local societies and they are best placed to know how to communicate locally (for if not, this what good is an area studies degree?). It is this intimacy that also gives area studies scholars the greatest responsibility of all scholars, not to ignore a clear path towards transgressions of human rights.

I wonder if such scholars do not share some of the burden for what happened to the Rohingya by not doing more to reach Myanmar decision makers BEFORE the 33 Light Infantry Regiment started attacking Rohingya villagers in August 2017? Foreign scholars are not mind readers, they do not have crystal balls. We could not see in advance what exactly would happen. But, from 2012 in particular, and for many decades before, the signs were there that there COULD be serious problems for the Rohingya. We should have done more work from the start to make certain that everyone who had any voice in the country was clearly aware of what genocide was, what the consequences would be, and should have spent much more time deconstructing ethno-religious paradigms. We should have challenged vociferously the racial slurs that began to be circulated by Myanmar government officials and others. We should have been much more pro-active in strengthening civil society groups that promoted human rights. And we should have convinced our own policymakers elsewhere to take a harder line with the NLD.

None of us can change what has happened. Even should the Rohingya be able to return to Rakhine, under safe conditions, and their homes restored, they can never really return to lives they left absent of the memories of the holocaust that unfolded in August 2017. There will always be the trauma. Victimhood is experienced in its own time and is never completed, even while the rest of the world moves rapidly ahead. There will always be the missing family members and the lingering doubt of security.

But foreign scholars CAN help to prevent genocide again. If we’re waiting for policymakers to prevent things on their own and save ourselves the trouble so that we can take a well-funded research trip and sit outside a coffee shop in Naypyitaw or Yangon, why should the rest of the world have any interest in reading anything we have to write? Scholarship and research should mean something. If you do choose to be silent and hold that your research is not connected with such contemporary social issues, make sure you explain how irrelevant your research is on your next grant application.

Five history lessons in how to deal with a refugee crisis (2015)

Alexander Betts

The Guardian.

What can we learn from the way we dealt with previous refugee emergencies? After all, this is not the first time.

Online article here.

Does History Matter?: Making and debating citizenship, immigration and refugee policy in Australia and New Zealand (2009)

Klaus Neumann & Gwenda Tavan (eds)

OpenAccess Book hereImmigration .

Camps of Containment: A Genealogy of the Refugee Camp (2016)

Kirsten McConnachie

Humanity : an international journal of human rights, humanitarianism and development

OpenAccess version here.

What is a refugee camp? Existing definitions have focused on logics of power and institutions of governance. This article argues instead that refugee camps are best understood in relation to their purpose of containment. It posits ‘camps of containment’ as a specific form of encampment consisting of three primary categories: prisoner-of-war camps, internment camps and camps for forced migrants. This genealogy sheds new light on the origin of the refugee camp and reveals camps of containment to be an evolving politico-military strategy related to changing patterns of political conflict and to shifting anxieties about national security.

A New Paradigm of Customary International Criminal Law: The UN War Crimes Commission of 1943–1948 and its Associated Courts and Tribunals (2014)

Dan Plesch & Shanti Sattler

Criminal Law Forum, 25 (1-2). pp. 17-43.

OpenAccess version here.

This article focuses on the United Nations War Crimes Commission’s significant contribution to the development of customary international criminal law defined by the development of international legal standards and proceedings to combat impunity and promote justice. It draws on the Commission’s official history and its increasingly open archives in order to provide an overview of the UNWCC and its work, its members and its legacy for the contemporary era of international criminal law. The article firstly places the Commission in its historical context through the events and agreements that led to its creation and provided the legal character of the UNWCC. The defining characteristics of the Commission are afterwards described: the nations involved, the committee structure it formed and the sub-commission located in the Far East. Lastly, the accomplishments of the Commission are emphasised and criticisms of its work are presented. The article concludes with a discussion on the legacy of the Commission’s work and a possible future research agenda.

The Relevance of the United Nations War Crimes Commission to the Prosecution of Sexual and Gender-Based Crimes Today (2014)

Dan Plesch, Susana Sácouto, & Chante Lasco

Criminal Law Forum, 25 (1-2). pp. 349-381.

Online version not available.

1945’s Forgotten Insight: Multilateralism as Realist Necessity (2015)

Dan Plesch & Thomas G. Weiss

International Studies Perspectives, 17 (1). pp. 4-16

OpenAccess version here.

The 70th anniversary of the signing and entry into force of the UN Charter provided an occasion to explore the historical underpinnings of contemporary global governance. This essay redresses the neglect of the United Nations as a multilateral structure before the conference that drafted the Charter in 1945. It rehabilitates an underappreciated aspect of the period that began on 1 January 1942 with the “Declaration by United Nations,” namely the combination of multilateral strategies for military and human security to achieve victory in war and peace. The wide substantive and geographic resonance suggests the extent to which the pressures of the second war to end all wars helped states to overcome their disinclination to collaborate. Today’s fashionable calls for “good-enough” global governance abandon the strategy of constructing robust intergovernmental organizations; they are not good enough, especially because our forebears did much better. Many insights and operational approaches from 1942 to 1945 remain valid for addressing twenty-first century global challenges.

Human Rights After Hitler: The Lost History of Prosecuting Axis War Crimes (2017)

Dan Plesch

Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press

2017 Outstanding Academic Title, Choice Magazine 

Human Rights after Hitler reveals thousands of forgotten US and Allied war crimes prosecutions against Hitler and other Axis war criminals based on a popular movement for justice that stretched from Poland to the Pacific. These cases provide a great foundation for twenty-first-century human rights and accompany the achievements of the Nuremberg trials and postwar conventions. They include indictments of perpetrators of the Holocaust made while the death camps were still operating, which confounds the conventional wisdom that there was no official Allied response to the Holocaust at the time. This history also brings long overdue credit to the United Nations War Crimes Commission (UNWCC), which operated during and after World War II.

From the 1940s until a recent lobbying effort by Plesch and colleagues, the UNWCC’s files were kept out of public view in the UN archives under pressure from the US government. The book answers why the commission and its files were closed and reveals that the lost precedents set by these cases have enormous practical utility for prosecuting war crimes today. They cover US and Allied prosecutions of torture, including “water treatment,” wartime sexual assault, and crimes by foot soldiers who were “just following orders.” Plesch’s book will fascinate anyone with an interest in the history of the Second World War as well as provide ground-breaking revelations for historians and human rights practitioners alike.

Publisher website here.

The South and Disarmament at the UN (2016)

Dan Plesch

Third World Quarterly, 37 (7). pp. 1203-1218

OpenAccess version here.

The article analyses the global South‘s role in disarmament. It offers the evidence of a customarily ignored Southern agency in UN processes and suggests that the work of the later Hans Morgenthau explains both this agency and contrary state policies. The article looks at the recent agreement with Iran as an example of constructive convergence and sets out the structure of an emerging and Southern-supported disarmament initiative.