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WSG expands security studies to focus on peace

- Kemantha Govender

Associate Professor in Security Erin McCandless teaches a course on Approaches to Peace and Security at WSG.

We chat to her to find out more about this important area of study.

Tell us about your background

For two and a half decades, I have been working on and in conflict-affected and transitional settings – as a scholar, practitioner and policy advisor. My focus lies in understanding the processes of building and sustaining peace and preventing violent conflict, and how transformative social change, resilient social contracts and inclusive development contribute to these goals.

My work with the United Nations (UN), civil society and other intergovernmental bodies has taken me to many countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire, Croatia, Haiti, India, Israel, Nigeria, Palestine, Pakistan, Romania, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen, with particularly long stints in Zimbabwe and Liberia. Conducting policy research, contributing to better policy and programme design through evaluation and advising, and facilitating trainings and strategic, policy-relevant processes has allowed me to bring an evidenced-based and practically grounded orientation to my scholarly work – ensuring it has greater impact. In turn, my scholarly work allows me to support policy processes with robust, evidence-based grounding.

Why is it necessary to study peace in conjunction with security? How will our students benefit from this course?

The field of security studies has undergone its own transformation over past decades. The traditional, dominant, “realpolitik” inspired security lens focussing on the pursuit of national (state) interests, security through threat of force or deterrence, and protection above all, state sovereignty, has given way to a more human security-oriented approach. This comes with the recognition that contemporary security threats and challenges are usually not emerging or contained within borders or disciplines. At the same time, many would argue that the integrated, holistic strategy and vision this requires is far from being met – in many countries and globally. Further, while human security holds much relevance for the study and practice of peace, the latter requires its own, steadfast attention.  The fact that conflict and violence continue to dramatically increase, and that so many countries go back to war, attests to this need. We know that the absence of violence is not enough: humans want the “positive” side of peace too – the presence of inclusive socio, cultural, political, economic systems, structures and relationships that advance the reality and perception of fairness and well-being.

At the policy level, the profound importance of peace – attaining and sustaining it – and preventing violent conflict, is increasingly well recognised at the highest levels, by member States. The African Union’s Agenda 2063, for example, holds a “peaceful and secure continent” as one of its seven aspirations.

The goal to silence guns by 2020, is underpinned by the need for dialogue-focused conflict prevention. Within the UN’s system, twin Security Council and General Assembly resolutions were adopted in 2016, focusing on preventing conflict and sustaining peace. A global commitment to preventing violent conflict and sustaining peace is now reflected in the UNs’ twin Security Council and General Assembly Resolutions, signed 27 April 2016 – which focusses on sustaining peace and preventing violent conflict.

Also noteworthy, the global development framework adopted in 2015, “Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, unlike the prior Millennium Declaration, holds peace concerns at its core. It does so both as a cross-cutting pillar identified in the preamble, and, through Goal 16, which draws attention to peace, justice and strong institutions as necessary to meet development goals. As well, the South Africa white paper on foreign policy speaks of diplomacy based on “Ubuntu” – with the focus on collaboration, partnership and cooperation, not conflict and competition. All of this suggests both a holistic, human- (and environment) centered notion of security, and, a focus on the more positive elements that we want to see and strengthen – peace, how we achieve and sustain it, how we prevent violent conflict, transform structures and cultures of violence and foster resilience.

In my class on Approaches to Peace and Security, we examine the evolving and dynamic peace and security landscape shaping Africa and the world, and key contending perspectives and strategic responses. We aim to develop understandings of the scholarly, evidence-based and practical resources available in the area of peace and security studies and their relevance for Africa. This course also provides students an opportunity to explore connections between the challenges and approaches identified across many disciplines and sectors and to develop interdisciplinary analytical awareness and skills demanded for more effective responses to contemporary challenges.

You do a lot of work on social contracts – can you tell us more about social contracts and its importance?

The social contract is a term no doubt familiar to all – yet it is often dismissed for being too rooted in antiquity, and for some, too rooted in traditional liberalism.  Yet at its core, the value of notion of the social contract is indisputable: we need basic agreements about how to live together. Globally, this idea and practice transcends time and space. While many hold deep and legitimate grievances about the way in which the Westphalian State evolved, few would promote doing away with the State system – in an era where conflict, disaster, extremism and so many other challenges undermine our ability to live peaceably. But as we know too well – living together is not easy. For countries in transition (from conflict and fragility, towards peace and inclusive development) ensuring that a resilient, inclusive social contract (between State and society, and groups and citizens within society) is forged, is vital. In fact, this notion is increasingly being adopted by policymakers, internationally and domestically, who struggle to find winning formulas to build social cohesion and buy in around their national visions. South Africa is a case in point – where the National Development Plan holds the social contract concept at its core.

Read more Working papers on social contracts 

Why did you start the Journal of Peacebuilding and Development?

I am proud to be a co-founder and past Chief Editor of the peer-reviewed Journal of Peacebuilding and Development, published by Sage. This is the first and only journal focused on conflict, peace and development links – an agreed global priority, i.e. as evidenced by the UN's concern with these linkages since its inception, as well as a deeply rooted perspective of many leading African scholars and practitioners.  JPD has cultivated a leading edge by promoting critical scholarly-policy discussions on issues that lie at the heart of this interdisciplinary field.

Unlike other journals we maintain peer-review professionalism while actively carving space (a goal of 50 percent plus in each issue) for authors from countries in the Global South, and those affected by conflict and fragility. This acknowledges and supports the decolonisation of knowledge creation – and that agents of knowledge transformative change need opportunities to create and share this knowledge, and their experiences. Our journal has further sought to pursue innovative ways of working, cultivating partnerships with people and institutions around the world.

Please explain the different levels/aspects of peace and how it can affect a country.

South Africa is now 25 years post-Apartheid. Yet, can we say South Africans have peace – i.e. in the positive sense described above? While South Africa is clearly “post-conflict”, it is hard to argue that the transition is complete. The political settlement, as our South Africa social contract case study authors have insightfully argued, has not been accompanied by an economic and social settlement. Promises have not been kept and expectations not met – hence the ongoing need for a “transformation agenda” – an agenda underway to the great credit of South Africans at all levels. At the same time, this lack of transformation has placed South Africa in the ‘fragile state” category according to numerous global indexes.

While one may legitimately critique these indices, they point to well documented concerns around the country’s indicators relating to government legitimacy, the functioning of security apparatus and the economy, and group grievance. The high levels of violence in South Africa, alarming in their own right, are particularly concerning when considering that we are increasingly witnessing an intermixing of violence, fragility and conflict, globally. South Africa has much to share with the world, being in many ways far along in its difficult transition, in a world where there are few success stories.