Looking back at IFAS Workshop: Intermediaries and Governance in Africa

On the 14th of May 2024, IFAS-Research in collaboration with the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER), hosted the ‘Intermediaries and Governance in Africa’ workshop at the Dibuka Francophone Library, based at the Alliance Française in Johannesburg.

This workshop is the first to be planned under our new call for projects aimed at the organisation of events. It constitutes a preparatory stage for an upcoming workshop in July, entitled ‘Competence, Loyalty, and Control: Indirect Governance of Violence, Economy, and Religion in Africa’, to be led by Youssef Mnaili and Michaël Bourdon at the University of the Witwatersrand.

The workshop brought together economists, historians and political scientists from the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Johannesburg in two sessions.

Panelists in conversation

A first presentation by Youssef Mnaili (researcher in political science at WiSER) focused on the theoretical underpinnings of the workshop and sparked a dialogue on indirect rule dilemmas in Africa. The presentation was followed by a conversation with Keith Breckenridge (Professor of history and Co-director of WiSER).

Youssef Mnaili

The second session took the form of a panel discussion where the panelists offered insight and engaging perspectives on the intricate dynamics of governance in Africa. Jonathan Klaaren (Professor of Law and Society at the University of the Witwatersrand) shared his views on regulatory governance in Africa and its instruments of control. Joel Quirk (Professor of Politics at the University of the Witwatersrand) challenged how society defines and demarcates political authority in Africa’s precolonial history. He problematized how political authority in Africa often gets defined through a Eurocentric mirror. Sarah Delius (postdoctoral researcher in the Department of History at the University of Johannesburg) highlighted problems surrounding arbitrary border definitions, using the example of the Luawa chiefdom during the late 1890’s, on the border between Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The audience, comprised of students, academics and members of civil society in attendance

As a conclusion to the event, Laura Phillips (researcher in the African Trust Infrastructures Chair at the University of the Witwatersrand) offered remarks on the modes of governance and types of loyalty in African democracy.

The speakers’ contributions gave rise to rich discussions on the definition of concepts such as “political authority” in an African context. The event was attended by approximately twenty people, including academics, students, and members of civil society.

Speakers and panelists in attendance:

Youssef Mnaili: Researcher at WISER. He holds a PhD in Political Science from the European University Institute. His work focuses on indirect governance, delegation, and agency problems, with publications in esteemed journals like the Review of International Organization and Politics and Society.

Keith Breckenridge: Professor and acting Co-Director at WISER who is known for his expertise in the cultural and economic history of South Africa, particularly in the gold mining industry and the development of information systems. His extensive research on biometric identification systems, highlighted in his acclaimed book Biometric State has garnered international recognition, including the Humanities Book Award by the Academy of Science of South Africa.

Laura Phillips: Researcher in the African Trust Infrastructures Chair. She holds a PhD in African History from New York University. Her research delves into histories of rural South Africa, mining, and class formation. Notably, she is leading a collaborative research project on the history of currency and money in South Africa.

Jonathan Klaaren: Professor of Law and Society at the University of the Witwatersrand. He specializes in human rights, competition law, and socio-legal studies. With a wealth of experience including serving as an Acting Judge on the High Court of South Africa, his research interests span African legal profession, competition policy, economic regulation, and migration law.

Joel Quirk: Professor of Politics at the University of the Witwatersrand. He is a leading authority on enslavement and abolition, gender-based violence and historical repair. With eight books to his credit, including Research as More Than Extraction, his work contributes significantly to understanding the complexities of African societies and histories.

Sarah Delius: Postdoctoral researcher at the University of Johannesburg. She specializes in West African History, with a focus on gender, conflict, and state formation. Her doctoral thesis explores the historical genealogy of practices of forced marriage in Sierra Leone, showcasing her expertise in archival research and nuanced understanding of colonial legacies.