Africa and the Middle East and North Africa: Understanding Paradoxical Outcomes of Contemporary Transformations
June 23-25, 2020 Ifrane, Morocco
Submission deadline: December 9, 2019
Africa and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have attracted significant attention from International Studies scholars, on political, economic and social agendas. Politically, both areas have experienced rapid changes in some countries, some of which had long lasting impacts. From the fall of the Apartheid regime to what has been referred to as the Arab Spring, regimes have changed, elections were held, reforms were made, and peoples’ lives were impacted, both positively and negatively. Still, on the political side, inter and intra state conflicts have also changed the lives of significant numbers of people in both areas, and mobilized international attention and resources, in particular with international interventions, including peace keeping operation by international and regional organizations, as well as forced and unforced/voluntary population migrations of all sorts. Finally, some protracted conflicts and rivalries have had sustained influence on intra-regional relations in both Africa and the MENA, as well as impacting their international relations, local state-building processes, and contributing to the proliferation of militant non-state actors.
Regarding economic and social dimensions, we observe similarities in forms of change, with significant regional variations in direction and magnitude. Despite African and MENA societies witnessing major socio-economic and political transformations since the decolonization period, structural developmental weaknesses remain; these include volatile growth, migration, poverty, poorly managed urbanism, social exclusion and inequality, gender inequalities, and youth unemployment. Important factors that suppressed local potential and accentuated inherent contradictions include the persistence of authoritarian rule, the introduction of neo-liberal economic development models, and pressures from external actors, especially former colonial powers. Therefore, the reality of select states in Africa and MENA making substantial economic headways with significant positive impacts on their population cannot be generalized. Indeed, while some sub-regions in MENA exhibit wealth, reflected in significant sovereign funds, other parts of MENA show deep pockets of poverty. Meanwhile, on the African continent, significant economic progress made by some states (as measured by their Human Development Index as well as by the growth of their GDPs) present clear contrasts with struggles of large portions of populations of the continent, as evidenced by migration patterns, both within the continent – which is the most significant movement in terms of population – and outwards, especially towards Europe.
Finally, relationships of power with Europe and the western world came historically with a mixed bag of opportunities for protection and alliances, as well as constraints on the independence and agency of local actors; these complex relations had discernable effects on governance and state-society relations. More recently, China’s increased presence in the MENA and Africa has generated intense debates around its strategic novelty and contributions to local needs. In sum, confluence and divergence in the above patterns offer pertinent, and timely, materials to help advance scholarship on these areas, on the Global South more broadly, and expand on relevant disciplinary research agendas.
Our conference aims to interrogate the ways in which Africa and the MENA have been studied in the interdisciplinary field of International Studies. The above variations within Africa and MENA, as geographic areas, complicate how they are – and could be – studied. We are particularly interested in addressing disciplinary debates with fresh analysis of local empirics as well as local-international connections. For example, what is local scholarship interested in? How does local scholarship understand main ontological categories such as the state, the international, and, by necessity, sovereignty? How do locally-developed theoretical frameworks locate themselves within broader global debates? What can the field of International Relations (IR), in particular, learn from local conversations and ideas? What are facilitating factors or limitations to generalization from locally-produced knowledge? Moreover, how have recent theoretical debates related to international politics affected scholarship produced in in Africa and in the MENA region? What spaces allow for contributions originating in the Global South that might present significant developments in the theoretical debates affecting Africa and the MENA? What is the relevance of analyzing these areas from the prisms of zones of peace and zones of stability, in contrast to zones of war; what can the categories of weak or fragile states tell us about societal influence, Westphalian (ideal) models of states, and the legacies and colonial control? Importantly, how does analysis of the international relations of both areas account for the proliferation of various non-state actors? Finally, how does change in world politics affect regional and national politics in Africa and in the MENA region? How does politics in Africa and the MENA affect international political and economic agendas?
We also welcome other proposals not specifically focusing on these thematic questions. Such proposals, however, should have broad appeal and will be evaluated at least partly for how they complement other proposals submitted.
Please also note that the conference will be multilingual, where participants can submit papers and roundtable proposals in Arabic, English and French; it also means that presentations can also be done in these languages. However, all communications and organization activities will only be done in English, which is the official language of the ISA.