The Merian Institute for Advanced Studies in Africa (MIASA)’s Midterm Conference, held in September 2023 at the University of Ghana, was a critical dialogue on the theme: ‘Sustainable Governance in a Time of Global Flux’. An interdisciplinary event and a collaboration between the University of Ghana and its German partners, the conference, from a neutral observer’s point of view, succeeded in doing what many such meetings frequently hoped they were doing: it convened scholars from diverse backgrounds and programmed this jambalaya of scholars to successfully spring a seamless conceptual, theoretical, and empirical treatment of the myriad themes, issues, and problems on sustainable governance especially in the context of Africa. Jointly sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the University of Ghana, the MIASA team in convening this conference relied on a critical review of the findings from previous research by MIASA Fellows on sustainability especially in the last five years, drawing on new perspectives on central thematic fields where sustainable governance or its discourses have made a difference to actual governance practices concerning peace, environment, democracy, mobility, land access, energy transitions, natural resources, African cities, human rights, or memory politics. Indeed, over the last five years, Interdisciplinary Fellow Groups, research tandems, and individual researchers at MIASA have worked on related topics on sustainability and come up with findings that speak to somewhat compartmentalised academic discussions on sustainability. This conference aimed at outdooring and expanding these findings while bringing in other scholars doing important work in similar areas to create an important intervention. The policy impact ambitions of the conference were mooted at the outset by the German Ambassador to Ghana, Mr. Daniel Krull, when he envisaged the possible benefits of the scientific cooperation between MIASA and governments. Krull describes the condition of governance among governments in Ghana and the rest of Africa, Germany, and the rest of Europe and the world as that of ‘cluelessness, resignation and perplexity’, and entertained the hope that lessons from this conference will be harvested to improve governance in these countries. The German ambassador then highlighted his objective of seeing the scientific cooperation between Germany and Ghana become a big employer of labour by the end of his tenure.

The conference also witnessed at the opening stages, addresses from the Directors of MIASA, a representative of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, and the acting Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana. These dignitaries welcomed participants and deliberated on the MIASA journey in Ghana and the paths and collaborations that lay ahead. The two MIASA directors also acknowledged MIASA’s partners within a broader narrative of the Institute’s story and its work. Apart from stressing the essential position of interdisciplinarity they stressed the need to reflect on sustainable governance and explore interconnections of themes, concepts, and cases under research carried out by MIASA Fellows. The Acting Vice Chancellor assured MIASA of continued support after its funding phase was over even as they await the team preparing the sustainable plan for the Institute’s future. Over 3 days the conference accommodated two keynotes, three roundtables and six panels which saw presenters of local and international origins. In addition, presenters cut across generations of young scholars and very experienced professors with a balanced representation of genders. In all, thirty-seven presentations were scheduled within the sessions and roundtables, and five of the panels involved discussants.


Keynote Address: The Moral Sustainability of Governance

Speaker: Elisio Macamo

Elisio Macamo places his keynote address in the wider context of the condition of research in Africa. ‘There is too much we should know that we don’t know in order to do [impactful] research in Africa. The moral ecology of concepts is one the requirements for research in Africa which most scholars lack.’ He then focuses pointedly on governance and avers that a metaphorical lens often shapes its understanding as a representation of power and authority. This metaphorical perception, however, Macamo argues, has the potential to divert attention from the practical ethics that underlie the management of societies. At the very least, it may intentionally overlook the potential assault on the moral integrity of individuals in the pursuit of ostensibly good intentions by those who govern. At this point, Macamo shines an ethical gaze on the researcher. His key admonition is on the need to allow space for inquiries into the values that the exercise of power and authority aims to safeguard. What are the ethical dimensions of knowledge production in the context of practical ethics? He saw that cruelty might sometimes serve as a motivating force in research and, conversely, wonders at how this could undermine theoretical and conceptual work quality. It is particularly relevant when normatively charged concepts are used and scholars permit these concepts to dictate their thinking. Research on sustainable governance must then allow room for questions about the values that power and domination have long protected.

Macamo perceives the celebrated work of Frantz Fanon as one which shaped political culture in Africa, especially in its foregrounding of violence. Macamo likens political behaviour in Africa to the ethics of knowledge production. Both endeavours are spaces in which cruelty has manifested in Africa and the world. But in the opinion of this rapporteur, Macamo’s comments here about the role of violence in Fanon’s work and African politics are at best sweeping and unhelpful; his comments are a serious misunderstanding of the use of violence in Fanon’s work in the specific context of settler colonialism, and the perceived impact of Fanon’s writing on African political culture. Nonetheless, Macamo recommends the moral ecology of concepts and the need for academics and politics to eschew cruelty as providing the right framing and shifting in the politics and practices of sustainable governance and the governance of socio-cultural change. Falling back on an epithet he saw on a trotro (bus) he encountered in Ghana in the course of his research, ‘Observers are worried’ Macamo invites his listeners to be kinder and more generous as these are virtues that are embedded in the silent monologues of the trotro driver. To him, these silent monologues bear deep philosophical substance. The epithet, ‘Observers are worried’ resonated with many presenters on the day.

Roundtable: Sustainable Peacebuilding? Historical Trajectories and Global Interconnections

Chair: Andreas Mehler

Presenters: Emma Birikorang, Antonia Witt, Emery Mudinga, Adam Sandor    

The discussions held during this session covered the recent spate of coup d’état mostly in the West African sub-region and their implications. Panellists listed the types of observers that must be worried and re-strategise and reshape relations.

Speakers x-rayed the actual political context of Niger and observed that the people of Niger saw an opportunity to do away with a corrupt system. The coup leader, it was noted had been a part of the corrupt system in Niger for a long time, while the deposed President Bazoum used his prior experience as Interior Minister to manage violence and not necessarily to build peace and this eventually triggered the revolt. Thus, local actors who knew how to develop peace were rather engaged in working to produce violence and cruelty. On the global stage, the international community’s role of responding positively to certain governments and not others illustrates their disapproval of those they are unwilling to work with and not because those spaces are not governed. It was found that the uprisings in the country were linked to this approach, which involved making important issues less political and the effects that had on them. Contrary to the inherent capability of local actors to cultivate peace, they found themselves embroiled in activities that propagated violence and cruelty. Panellists highlighted the lopsided nature of contemporary global politics that seem to favour some governments over others even when similar international laws have been flouted.

We heard discussions about the differences between building peace and maintaining peace, as well as the moral legacy of peace research that is summed up by positive and negative peace concepts. Consequently, a critical challenge was posited for peace scholars to engage more fervently in conceptual debates on sustainable peacebuilding. Noting that sustainable peace as currently conceived is in the last analysis about micro-managing people and not really a robust conceptual template, Antonia Witt led other panellists to seek a more nuanced conceptual debate and understanding of peacebuilding. The key question is: what brings justice? A helpful answer to this question necessitates leaving behind the old ontology of sustainable peace in Peace and Conflict Studies, even if this might eventually force us to abandon altogether the whole idea of sustainability.

An additional facet brought to light was the impact of research funding on stifling pertinent issues. The imperative was to ground research within the confines of the available limited assets unhindered by set interests. The removal of hierarchies in more open collaboration between the global north and the global south was suggested as the long-term solution.  The tendency for the global north to frame projects for the south must become a thing of the past. This should be complemented by acknowledging networks and traditions of knowledge production extending beyond the purview of paper authors. It is as Adam Sandor saw, a charitable need to listen more to and pay greater attention to those who provide us with research information and subsequently recognize a network of researchers in our output, rather than the unhealthy triumphalism of sole authorship.

Subsequent discussions with the broader conference audience revolved around the interconnectedness of leadership and followership. The constitutional termination of political power surfaced as a topic, revealing a nuanced distinction between ‘good coups’ and ‘bad coups’. Acknowledgement was given to the proactive stance of ECOWAS as a critical observer. A lot of research was done on the role of conflict in peace studies and on the attacks on peace mechanisms and infrastructure, especially the courts. Here, the rapporteur believes that discussion about different kinds of coups is important. Why should we seek to impose sanctions on military coup leaders while ignoring election riggers and those who have carried out ‘democratic coups’?

Panel Discussion I: Theme: Formal Institutions, Informality and Knowledge Production: Developing a Research Agenda for the Analysis of Institutional Variations in Africa

Chair: Seidu Alidu

Presenters: E. Remi Aiyede, Clionadh Raleigh, Christian Wali Wali

Discussant: Anja Osei

The big questions raised by panellists here have to do with what they described as the moral crisis in African politics and political settlement arising from the impact of what Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni would call the coloniality of power in Africa. How do we domesticate borrowed ideas of governance to mitigate the spiralling political violence and spate of institutional failure in Africa? Or is the solution a recourse to traditional authorities?

For Remi Aiyede, the solution is to begin to think that institutions are made for people and not the other way around, thus institutional reforms must reflect the people’s interest. Coalitions and elite consensus should not just seek institutional stability but should actively pursue the common good and prioritise people.

However, the discussant, Anja Osei contended that in several African countries, from Tanzania to Gabon, Botswana, Benin, and Cote d’Ivoire, what we have experienced is political consensus based on ethnicity, but there has not been social consensus. And that is why people in these countries tend to reject the ruling party and the opposition with equal fervour. The above scenario seems to explain why we keep having many violent conflicts and serious issues of justice in Africa. This realisation implies that we need better data for research to avoid hasty generalisations.

Panel Discussion II: Theme: Interreligious Relations in Africa – How to Avoid Conflict and Promote Peace

Chair: Lisa Hoffmann

Presenters: Kofi Adaba, Herve Akinocho, Lisa Hoffmann; Julia Kobrich, Lisa Hoffmann, Matthias Basedau; John McCauley; Sylvian N’Guessan Kouakou

Discussant: Herve Akinocho

In this panel, presenters noted the difficulty of comparing different religions and how they affect or lead to a state of violence in a city or country. Nonetheless, the panel discussed the different facets of interreligious relations in West Africa, focusing on the nature of religious extremism and its impact on socio-cultural change. Intolerance for other religions, feeling of or receiving unfair treatment by the government in power based on religion, and supporting religious violence were identified by Koffi Adaba as the core reasons for religious extremism. That is why Julia Kobrich argues that the world as a whole and Africa in particular need to urgently develop strategies to foster religious peace. Peer-to-peer interactions rather than a focus on religious leaders were seen as capable of going hand in hand with social media posts that spread peace messages to tackle the menace 

Day 2

Keynote Address: From Good to Sustainable Governance: Itineraries, Applications and MIASA’s Future Research

Speaker: Dzodzi Tsikata

This lecture opened with questions about the history of the concepts we use, and the use we could make of them. The keynote speaker then asserted that the choice of sustainable governance by MIASA as its overarching research theme represented an exercise in strategic ambiguity and pragmatism. And to address the history of concepts we must be guided by three keys: the genealogy of these ideas and how their histories have shaped their present and future; a look at the kind of projects and how they use and apply concepts. For example, how well does Sustainable Governance lend itself to knowledge production the MIASA way?

In tracing the genealogy of sustainability, Tsikata placed the concept as a product of good governance. Good governance itself, will always be linked with the World Bank and it has persisted despite criticisms from scholars. ‘Good governance; is alive and well in the policy world and has become another condition for financial aid, and for this reason, must be seen as a colonial concept, even as it obscures more than it enlightens. Tsikata observes notable shifts in terminology from the good governance agenda to ‘development’ and finally to ‘sustainable governance’. These conceptual shifts are reflected in the work of MIASA over the years. The address raised concerns about the challenges posed by good governance criteria, corruption as a priority, and the UN Convention Against Corruption. Tsikata questioned the nominal adherence to ethical norms and the potential imposition of Western standards on the rest of the world. As MIASA enters a new phase, she prompted a critical examination of the continued efficacy of the sustainable governance concept, inviting contemplation on how to approach it in the post-COVID-19 global debt crisis and whether to retain or drop it entirely.

Tsikata saw that the MIASA’s methodology is neither easy nor safe in the face of charged discourses on decoloniality and questions about academic imperialism. Good governance has been attacked as being ahistorical and tends to coalesce the important distinction between informal and formal institutions, as well as eliminating differences between countries. Part of the bad name ‘good governance’ has earned for itself is that it is over-bloated, and its preachers have the tendency to include the item in aid conditionalities. In one word, good governance is a one-size-fits-all approach.

In summary, Tsikata’s speech looked at the philosophical and ideological problems that come up when you choose sustainable governance as the research theme for MIASA. She then selected and analysed three projects sponsored by MIASA on restitution governance, religious diversity, and land governance, paying particular attention to their application of the sustainability governance concept. These investigations applied additional thought and theories in cohesive ways, which show the interconnections of theories, concepts and frameworks that must guide future MIASA fellowships.

Panel: Theme: Extractive Governance Across Time and Space: What Does “Sustainability” Mean in Contexts of Mineral, Oil, or Gas Production?

Chair: Diana Ayeh

Discussant: Muriel Cote

Presenters: Abdul-Gafar Oluwatobiloba; Gordon Crawford, Gabriel Botchwey; John Manyimadin Kusimi, Tongnoma Zongo

This panel dealt with the praxis of ‘sustainability, investigating the meanings and challenges of implementing sustainability in practice.’ To that end, panellists delved into historical, conceptual empirical analyses of policy interventions, to offer a more robust understanding of the idea of ‘sustainable governance’.

In Ghana, for example, the small-scale mining law was passed in 1989 leading to the use of state security to guard and protect the mining companies, a decline in crop yield, and food production as well as changes in rainfall patterns and supply of medicine from the vegetation also declined. Thus, Abdul-Gafar avers that while the government believes in sustainability in theory, implementation has been poor. For John Kusimi, the inexorable forces of neoliberalism in Ghana have led to the collusion between state actors and illegal miners to extract minerals at the expense of the local environment. Gordon Crawford concludes that the government of Ghana’s war on galamsey was performative because in reality the government is deeply involved in profiting from illegal mining, and this shows in governments abysmal failure in achieving sustainable and responsible mining.

In the lively discussion that followed the presentations, the current worth of artisanal and small-scale mining in Ghana was assessed. The connection of this increase from 13 million in 1999 to 45 million in 2023 raises questions about fair trade, good miners, and bad miners in addition to different parts of identity politics in this frame. Another important question is about big gold dealing states like Switzerland and their place in the discourse on sustainable mining. The place of the labour movements especially given the nature of labour conditions was also discussed alongside the critical issue of gender. Some commenters raised some methodological issues about the need for clarity on what sustainable methods exist. How does the traditional frame sustainability and how does the government do the same things? Are there lessons to be learned? Responses from panel members included an emphasis on the need to avoid mining in water bodies; the African mining vision; compensation for owners of homes, farms and lands that must be organised between owners and miners; address dispossession by the state, large-scale miners and mechanised, medium and small scale mining; and finally the need to create sustainable mining, livelihoods and politics.

PANEL: Land Governance in the Era of Technology and Artificial Intelligence

Chair: Lamine Doumbia

Presenters: Aidas Sanogo, Sheila Medina Karambiri, Peter Narh, Drissa Tangara

Drawing on field work from several African countries, this panel takes a long hard look at the impact of colonialism on land and land tenure in Africa. The panel investigates the impact of AI and other new technologies on sustainability and land governance and the impact of digitalisation on matters of sovereignty. The broader conversation was about blockchain technology in land papers. In cases of conflict over land, papers have been produced as evidence to serve land claims. The sovereignty of chiefs and kings is eroded by these technological advancements, and it is an issue that is contested by the royal landowners. On a more positive side, Peter Narh saw that digitisation increases owners’ confidence, and makes the process of land acquisition a lot more transparent.

Roundtable: Governance and Environmental Crises in Africa: What Role for the Humanities?

Chair: Emily McGiffin

Presenters: Sule Egya, Eunice Ngongkum, Ogaga Okuyade

In the contested terrains of environmental politics, art and culture, the discipline of political science is often favoured ahead of the humanities, when in search of impactful solutions. This panel looks beyond this thinking to ask for a greater consideration of creativity, discourse, and cultural production. For example, by its very definition, Literature reveals its usefulness in climate issues. Yet writers like Ngugi wa Thiong O’ have defined literature differently to encapsulate political goals. Literature involves justice which includes environmental justice; it is territorialised and its relation between humans and the environment is akin to human relations for instance the libidinal domination of women by men.

On the Niger Delta, multinational oil companies have long taken advantage of government failings. The literary icon, Ken Saro Wiwa, took up this struggle with his movement which ended in their unfortunate death. The killing of Saro Wiwa engendered youth militancy and eco-writing (literary militancy). The magical potency of language is seen in works like the short poem titled ‘Then this Peace is Worse than War’ published in an anthology titled Echoes of Neglect. Connected to this body of work are cinematographic contributions produced by Nollywood that have also examined structural violence in Africa that draws on the Niger Delta experience. This highlights the implicit potency of Literature in the pursuit of environmental political ends.

In concluding this session, the following points stood out, African literature has always been utilitarian as such during the colonial experience it took the form of writing back to the Empire. Secondly, it has always played a vital role in historicising African conditions. Finally, its interventions have been impactful through its grasp of the power of poetry and language. All of this goes to highlight the neglected benefits in the struggle for environmental justice.


Panel: Moving Beyond Groupism in African Studies

Chair: Laure Carbonnel

Presenters: Erika Dahlmanns, Ahmed Badawi Mustapha, Antea Paviotti, Catherina Wilson

Discussant: Michael Stasik

Why is groupism such an important methodological and analytical grammar in African Studies? It might be because it is frequently used to make sense of individual-group relationships in Africa. However, groupism as an ascriptive category has its challenges. One key shortcoming is that it feeds into the occluding methodological closure of organising and defining African lives along simplistic, if not obsolete, collectivist categorisations that tend to generate an unsustainable basis of human cooperation in Africa. This panel takes this challenge head-on. By engaging instances of group formations that led to catastrophic outcomes like in the case of the Rwandan genocide and Boko Haram, panellists and the discussant/audience engaged in lively debates about how to overcome this quagmire.

Roundtable: Exploring Peaceful Coexistence through Religious and Non-religious Sociabilities in African Cities

Co-Chairs: Musa Ibrahim & Nadine Sieveking

Speakers: Tilmann Heil; Laure Carbonnel; Abdourahmane Seck

Politics and religion tend to create tensions and conflicts in African cities. Yet, African cities are still able to enable peaceful coexistence. Presentations in this roundtable specifically focus on the sociabilities of popular culture as a vital cog that promotes social integration and peaceful coexistence in African cities. Discussions in this section complement the dialogue on groupism earlier in the day. What is notable is that speakers raised important questions about how the kinds of integrations and peaceful living engineered by the sociabilities of popular culture could engender social transformation in specific and wider contexts, and across diverse cultural, and linguistic settings.

Panel: Restitution and the Challenges of Knowledge Production in and about Africa

Co-chairs: Mamadou Diawara, Elisio Macamo and Albert Kanlisi Awedoba

Presenters: Solange Mbanefo and Michaela Oberhofer; Kodzo Gavua; Marilyn Douala Manga Bell

Discussant: Hans Peter Hahn

This session in many ways seeks to address the politics and coloniality of knowledge in Africa. The debates here were lively, robust, and of high importance in thinking of sustainability in Africa. Was worth every bit as the grand finale of what was an immense 3-day intellectual encounter. How should we conceive museums as zones of restitution and the atonement of the wrongs and thefts of Empire? Inspired partly by the concept of the colonial archive by Mudimbe which posits that knowledge about Africa is stored in the colonial archive and that it is required that African scholars engage this archive critically and free it from the normative underpinnings it conveys, panellists and other interlocutors proffered important solutions to some of the most pressing issues of justice in Africa: intellectual imperialism and cultural reclamation. Panellists challenged the Eurocentric tendency to treat knowledge as European in a black-box-like condition that tend to conceal the normativity of epistemic claims while reducing non-western knowledge to the condition of domination.

The presentations reflected different voices of restitution; an ambition to recover dimensions of knowledge and life that had been lost; arguments were put forward to redefine a museum; and heterogeneity involved in the actors and items. The wider conversation engaged issues related to the problematic terms on which negotiations and work on restitution have been based; the controversy over the dubious question of whether African societies are prepared to receive artefacts and value them, and what the return would inspire in scholars and artists.


The MIASA midterm conference is one more critical intervention by the Institute on pivotal discourses germane to the current situation in Africa. The conference provided a platform for intergenerational and interdisciplinary discussions on sustainable governance. Keynote addresses, roundtables, and panels offered valuable insights into the complexities of governance and sustainability more generally in the face of global flux. As the conference concluded, it became evident that sustainable governance remains a conceptual challenge yet a crucial avenue for navigating uncertain futures. The diverse perspectives presented underscored the need for ongoing dialogue and collaborative efforts to address the multifaceted issues facing Africa and the global community. The conference’s success prompts considering future research directions, emphasizing continued interdisciplinary collaboration, addressing knowledge gaps, and fostering sustainability practices and going beyond it in the academic and policy spheres.

Report: Chika Mba

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
teammiasa (May 8, 2024). MIASA MIDTERM CONFERENCE ON SUSTAINABLE GOVERNANCE IN A TIME OF GLOBAL FLUX: ISSUES, CONCEPTS AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS. Merian Institute for Advanced Studies in Africa - Blog. Retrieved July 16, 2024 from https://miasa.hypotheses.org/2648

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search