While mainstream conflict studies focus on the use of force and the emergence civil war, this panel reverses this perspective by looking at the formation of spaces that remain peaceful in the midst of violence. It also aims at outlining conceptual alternatives to the binary logic of peace and war.
There is a dominant framing of war zones, as a bi-polar world where conflict becomes a zero-sum game between rebel and government armed forces, and where violence is paradoxically the only and last resort to end the conflict. This framing, which is amplified in the media, also affects funding research and policy streams as much of the current research is articulated around this axis. As a result, a vital and important dimension to these wars has been neglected, namely how and why non-violent spaces emerge as 'islands of peace' during civil wars. Our general 'obsession' as human beings has been to try to understand rationally why 'other' human beings commit violence, thereby ignoring how individuals and groups have managed to escape from this violence during periods of armed conflict. In general, these third-party actors have been seen as passive, as the storylines and analyses of most civil wars focus on the insurgents and the army. There are still a number of influential actors that may situate themselves outside of the dispute by not taking a particular side. These actors nonetheless can still play an important role during a conflict. Furthermore, ordinary people have more agency than they are credited with in producing political projects, considering that a resort to military confrontation and physical violence is not necessary. The aim of this panel is to document and discuss these islands of peace in African wars and to understand how civilians manage to contain violence in unstable and conflict-affected environments.