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Cluster of Excellence EXC 2052 - "Africa Multiple: reconfiguring African Studies"

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Today’s African nation states maintain multiple, often overlapping, competing political, economic and social affiliations that change over time and redefine societal issues. In this thematic field we propose to analyse the tensions, obstacles and temporal evolution as well as the benefits and challenges connected with such affiliations, especially as they play out in regional economic communities (RECs).

Consider the recent Agreement on a Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) in Africa as an example for an emerging affiliation between the East African Community (EAC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Regional economic exchange, legal harmonization and political cooperation within and between the three participating RECs has been limited and it has been caught between the multiplicity of modes of collaboration and policies aimed at different degrees of homogenisation, such that internal potentials have not fully been realized. These multiple affiliations and references to regional integration mechanisms reshape economic relationships and question existing borders, concepts of nation states, and legal understandings of diverse sets of affected African societies.

Beyond holding regional affiliations through RECs, African states are affiliated with global organizations. African relations are shaped by historical trajectories such as former colonial ties and migration networks. Simultaneously, a number of existing states in present borders struggle with their own sovereignty, concepts of national identity and ethnic diversity. In theory, affiliations in Africa are supposed to facilitate and redefine modes of exchange, and cooperation, and they even extend to understandings of rights which affect existing, fluid individual and group identities. Although regional integration is en vogue in Africa and affected by development optimism, actual results of integration on the ground often fall short of theoretically expected outcomes, pointing to the need of academic reflection on existing theories. Evidently affiliations in Africa are not limited to trade, legal harmonization and political integration but they have the potential to affect capital movements and migration issues, which in turn reshape existing trade relationship and require the evaluation and evolution of existing economic, legal and political settings.


We propose to explore the complexity and interplay of different affiliations and integration efforts by analysing (a) Interacting Markets, (b) Decision Making, and (c) Human Rights. A typical research question raised in the field of interacting markets relates to necessary prerequisites for regional integration to enhance social and economic welfare and to foster cohesion on the African continent. Economic co-operation of states within RECs and beyond implies cross-border movement of persons, capital, goods and ideas. Challenges arise because of sometimes confusing affiliations to overlapping RECs, but also due to the economic, legal, political and societal feedback mechanisms of policy changes in an integrating Africa, where national borders become fluent and where integration and interests of decision-makers multiple in nature. Since interacting markets require and favour mobilities, this invites cooperation with the RS “Mobilities”.

Any process of integration connects and affects actors such as international, national and regional political decision makers, public administrators, courts, developmental agencies, and diverse interest groups, among others. When analysing decision making, we explore state-time dependent interests, incentives and intentions of decision makers in Africa to understand, evaluate and design potential policies that influence, extend, shape and promote mutually beneficial affiliations between actors with diverse interests. A typical research question here relates to the incentives of politicians, business leaders, bureaucrats, judges or NGOs to push or frustrate affiliations that tie countries to integrated decision making at various levels. Different cultures and traditions of dispute settlement, their indigenous and colonial past and their future role in modern Africa shape existing affiliations and engender new ones, thereby providing feedback mechanisms. Consequently, we consider decision making in the resulting multilevel set-up to depend at least as much on the kind of relations at play as on the individual characteristics of the many actors and organisations involved. This can be achieved by means of analysing the institutional structures as well as the incentives of decision actors.

Existing institutions shape affiliations and affiliations transform institutions, thereby reconfiguring understandings of peoples and existing states. Such transformation processes link to fundamental Human Rights. According to the classical, Western understanding, such rights are tied to the individual who are to be protected from the state. The alternative protection of various collective entities—African legal texts tend to speak of “peoples” or “national communities”—is not conflict-free as individuals may have to give up rights in the interest of the group or entity they belong to. Combining the tools of social science and legal studies with cultural analysis, we will ask whether the multiplicity in African legal provisions is relaxing the observance of clear but static rules in favour of mediation and consensus-building among different actors. The focus on Human Rights connects to debates in the RS “Moralities” and can also inform research about decision-making processes in general.

On a higher level of abstraction and even broader interdisciplinary collaboration, this RS contributes practical observations to approach reflexivity as a key concept of the cluster. The Tanzanian-German Centre for Eastern African Legal Studies (TGCL) in Dar es Salaam has built strong relations between the research topic “regional integration” and the legal practice of regional integration by training, among others, lawyers beyond the legal framework of the East African Community (EAC). The ambition of this RS in “applied reflexivity” draws on the careers of researchers and former TGCL students from all six Partner States of the EAC and beyond to find the effects of research and teaching interventions on the outcome of interest itself. Reflexivity here invites the analysis of the ways in which TGCL has co-shaped debates on regional integration. This includes self-reflection and empirical evaluation of its activities and results so far, and continuous reflection and monitoring accompanying research on affiliations, such as those of regional economic communities and international and regional human rights regimes, and the translation of education into national and local discourses.

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