Projectos Científicos
Entrar   Pesquisar
Projectos Científicos  
O INEP - Vista de um dos corredores

Cooperation INEP - Bayreuth University / Germany

Research Project: Local Strategies of Conflict Management in Guinea-Bissau

Funded by: Volkswagen Foundation, Germany


Our  team:

Project director:       Professor Georg Klute, Bayreuth University

Project partners / coordination in Bissau: Dr. Birgit Embaló, Dr. Idrissa Embaló, Dr. Mamadu Jao

Project coordination in Bayreuth: Anne-Kristin Borszik, German Phd candidate

Master / Phd candidates in Bissau: Samba T. Camara, Raul M. Fernandes, Fode A. Mané,  Paulina Mendes, Caterina G. Viegas

Other Researchers: Augusto Bock, Hamadu Boiro



Project design / Theoretical grounding

We take it as a starting point that all societies are confronted with the “violence problem” (Hanser / Trotha 2002, Bellagamba / Klute 2008); they have to cope in one or another way with violence and conflicts. We indeed assume that coping with violence and (violent) conflicts lies at the heart of any process of socialization (Trotha 1997). Solutions to the violence problem, however, vary greatly, ranging from avoidance, regulated forms of intra-societal violence (cf. Evans-Pritchard 1940), including formalized forms of vigilante justice like feuds, to the coercive force of central powers. From this point of view, the monopolizing of violence by the modern state is but one among many historical outcomes of such processes of socialization.

In our overall project design we take neither the imposition of the state’s rule, nor internal pacification through modes of dispute settlement specific to the state for granted. We rather consider as well the very existence as the regularity of modes of dispute settlement, state and non state ones, only as tests helping to indicate the durability of social orders.

Our second assumption concerns the current emergence of local or translocal, ethnic or trans-ethnic socio-political orders beside, parallel to or in articulation with existing state structures (Copans 2003). Some of these seem to be new and innovative creations, particularly on the African continent (Trotha 2000), others but revitalized forms of political orders commonly – but quite vaguely – subsumed under the heading of ‘traditional authorities’. In order to explain the emergence of new or the re-emergence of ‘traditional’ orders ‘beside the state’, two main arguments are put forward which Bellagamba and Klute qualify respectively as the ‘substitute’ and the ‘deviance’ argument (Bellagamba / Klute 2008: 9). While the deviance argument advances specific African causes evaluating the current African state against the background of the Weberian ideal-type, stating its ‘criminalization’ or ‘failure’ (Fatton 1992, Bayart 1989, Bayart / Ellis / Hibou 1999), the substitute argument refers to the undermining of state sovereignty, a phenomenon that is said to occur worldwide through processes of globalization (Gupta 2006, Sassen 1996).

There is, however, a reasoning running more or less explicitly through both arguments, namely that informal and non-state political orders are doomed to disappear as soon as the state rebuilds its structure and solves its internal problems. But the existence of non-state political orders may not only refer to the weakness or even absence of state structures. Rather, it may also indicate a particular vitality of forms of social and political power by their own right on a local level (Bellagamba / Klute 2008, Forrest 2003).

The third point our project is based upon is the thesis of ‘generalized (or globalized) statehood’, i.e. the assumption that today all forms of rule are oriented at Weberian state characteristics such as territorial rule, the quest for a monopoly of violence, the offer of services and the redistribution of resources and, last but not least, the development of elements of justice and equality including the setting and sanctioning of legal norms (Klute 2004: 300).

However, in the face of re-emerging (neo-traditional) non-state rule – possibly a new indirect or intermediary kind of rule – one of the questions to be studied is what kind of state and what image of ‘state’ we are dealing with: do people only refer to the imaginary of a ‘generalized’ idea of the state, or has the model of the (Western) nation-state actually come to an end? Do heterarchical orders and the decline of monoarchical ones, e.g. the centralized state, characterize new (African) political settings?



An important feature in various analyses of dispute settlement procedures is the phenomenon of vigilante justice. The practice of vigilante justice seems to be more marked in some countries than in others. The existence of vigilante justice is generally rated as symptomatic of the ‘weakness’ of both state and non-state institutions of dispute settlement. In many African countries there is an overall tendency of disputing parties to opt for local religious - among them witchcraft (Ashforth 2005, 1998, Geschiere 1997) - customary or other non-state institutions when they try to resolve a problem. In contrast to state legal institutions which either delay proceedings or produce new conflicts by imposing and sanctioning legal decisions, disputing parties give priority to non-state institutions for their ‘harmonizing’ effects. 


Active Forum Shopping 

Research in Guinea-Bissau revealed active forum shopping, i.e., a conscious choice of disputing parties among the existing dispute settling institutions either within the non-state legal sphere or within the realm of both state and non-state legal institutions. These findings put into question the idea of hierarchical relationships hinting instead at both legal pluralism (Benda-Beckmann 1985) or pluralism of instances (Bierschenk 2004: 205), i.e. a variety of legal orders or several legal institutions existing side by side.

In critical analysis of the notions proposed by Benda-Beckmann and Bierschenk, and taking into account our own data, we doubt whether legal orders are in all contexts equivalent with actors choosing freely among them. At least in some cases, actors actually opt for one particular legal institution; here they follow the logic of affiliation: specific cases are considered to fall under the jurisdiction of specific legal instances. According to the logic of affiliation, disputing parties respect fixed or hierarchical relationships between legal systems and follow specific ‘pathways’ through them in order to get their case successfully settled. Concerning this aspect of dispute settlement, future research needs to analyze which ideas of law disputing parties refer to and, more importantly, to find out under which conditions they are ready or even forced to change their framework of legal reference or their logic of affiliation.


Entanglement of state and non-state legal orders

Our findings revealed also the phenomenon of a ‘personal union’: ‘traditional’ chiefs are at the same time public civil servants. This is thought-provoking as the occupancy of two power positions by a single person touches directly on the assumption that state representatives and ‘traditional authorities’, including respective legal orders, are in an opposite relation to one another. Instead of stating their contrariness, we observe intertwining tendencies. Hence, it becomes difficult to speak of the imposition of the state’s rule and its law. We rather seem to be confronted with processes of informal socialization and privatization of the state’s norms and prerogatives by ‘traditional’, state and other elites (cf. Klute / Trotha 2004; see also Schiefer 2002).

We thus propose the argument that in Guinea-Bissau (and possibly beyond) state and non-state legal orders and institutions are entangled, albeit in some cases conflicting. The state is but a ‘primus inter pares’ among several power groups, a configuration which opens spaces of manoeuvre for non state power groups, neo-traditional ones as well as “new guys” (Klute / Trotha 2004) within and “beside the state” (Bellagamba / Klute 2008) enabling them to succeed with their conceptions of order against, or parallel to, or in interlacement with, the state the result of which we call ‘heterarchical settings’. The concept of ‘heterarchical settings’ bears some resemblance with the concept of the “heterogenous state” Sousa Santos proposes (2006). Though the last concept responds to the circumstance that regions of fragile, failing and failed states accommodate political orders of great heterogeneity and draw our attention to the diversity of non-state orders, it still puts the state at the center stage of thought, downplaying the dynamics, interests, conflicts and power struggles of (customary) non-state institutions and actors.


Political order, violence problem and the notion of heterarchy

By looking into the future of informal polities within or beside the African State, we thus hope that our project will contribute to a number of fields within the social sciences, which seem to be of relevance not only for the future of the state in Africa - particularly with regard to the “violence problem” and the resolution of violent conflicts -, but also for theories of power and political order in general as the hypotheses about the informal socialisation and privatisation of the state, the ‘violence problem’ of social orders, the entanglement of state and non-state legal orders, the (re)-emergence of neo-traditional legal norms and the concept of heterarchical settings.


Transborder & transnational conflicts: Casamance

Taking up the ABORNE approach, according to which “Borderlands are social spheres where the limits of the national model become tangible”, we started to extend research to the Casamance / Guinea-Bissau border region. As stated by ABORNE (African Borderlands Research Network), “border regions remain problematic because of the ways in which guerrilla movements may hide behind the screen of national sovereignty. […] The unsettled nature of many border zones has permitted a contagion effect” (ABORNE 2009; see also Asiwaju / Nugent 1996, Evans 2003).

In the southernmost region of Senegal, the Casamance, rebels of the “Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance” (MFDC) are fighting for independence since 1982. Despite various peace agreements,, new armed attacks occurred in March 2006 and again in autumn 2009. As with recent conflicts elsewhere in Africa, there have been spill-over effects into neighbouring countries, with Guinea-Bissau and The Gambia becoming implicated in various ways, by choice or by imposition. Apart from refugees some of whom are closely associated with the maquis fleeing the zones of conflict to The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, both countries are also used for arms supply or other material support, with rear bases situated in Guinea-Bissau. Understanding the origins, motivations and support structures of the guerrillas is crucial for peace-building and conflict management in this three country border region. Dr. A. Idrissa Embaló has already established working relations with ProCas/GTZ, an initiative for peace-building in the Casamance. He looks at this borderland as a physical space, social sphere and economic field of transaction and started to work on various topics such as the chronology of the conflict; population and cross-border ties, in particular with regard to a strong transnational identity of the Djola ethnic group present in all three countries allowing as well maquisards as bandits to make use of national borders; the role of the MFDC faction Front Sud in Guinea-Bissau’s civil war which helped in the 1998 upheaval against President Vieira who in turn was supported by Senegalese troops; trans-border arms and drug trade leading to a war economy which is further fuelled by illegal trans-border trade or trans-border criminality.

From what we know now, it appears interesting to include also the Eastern part of the borderland, beyond the actual conflict area in the Western Casamance. This will allow us to determine the effects and impacts of the trans-national Casamance conflict on the whole border-line. Obviously, local (non-state) institutions of conflict resolution on both sides of the border greatly influence the regulation of the Casamance rebellion, parallel or in opposition to state order and its legal conceptions (see also Tomàs 2008, Diallo 2009, Foucher 2007).


The Bissau-Guinean military as crucial factor of instability and violent conflict

As shown in the light of the ongoing political crisis in the country, Guinea-Bissau’s military has been a crucial factor for instability and violent conflict since independence. While the national and international media frequently deal with the Bissau-Guinean armed forces, describing them as agents of political violence, their role and influence in society and politics have hardly been made the subject of scientific studies which is probably due to the difficulty to access confidential sources. Apart from a special volume of Soronda on the 1998-1999 civil war (INEP 2000) and Vigh’s (2006) study, there is indeed no single socio-political study on the armed forces in Guinea-Bissau.

It goes without saying that this is a sensitive field of inquiry. Though we are not in the position to undertake a proper socio-political study on the military, Dr. Birgit Embaló (2010) nonetheless started to work on the role of the armed forces and civil-military relationships in order to better validate research on conflicts and (local) modes of conflict resolution within the national context. All members of our team follow closely politico-military events, thoroughly scrutinising the ‘grey literature’ and the media. Beyond this interest in contemporary history, Birgit Embaló undertakes a case study in the Bairro Militar quarter of the country’s capital Bissau. Because Bairro Militar is mainly inhabited by soldiers, war veterans and their extended families, this quarter seems to be an appropriate research site as it is the hot spot of urban violence. During the military conflict in 1998/99, the quarter and its inhabitants played a prominent role.

A second aim is to elucidate the inner power structures of the Bissau-Guinean army. Power competition between civilian policy makers and military actors  does not necessarily point at an opposite relationship between the military and the civil, but at an entanglement of both spheres. Guinea-Bissau appears to be a ‘heterarchical setting’ in which various power groups compete for power. Some leading military figures are said to be involved in organized crime, allying and making business with South-American drug cartels and international criminal organizations.

Research among the Balanta group highlights the culture of the youth organised in age groups and the esteem for virility and violence in this acephalous society. Do these cultural features contribute to the massive adherence of Balanta to the military profession? Does the relatively high number of Balanta in the army lead to a wagon-bound effect in that the Balanta officers mainly recruit Balanta?


Inter-ethnic conflicts and conflict resolution

Mutual ethnic and regional prejudices, in particular with regard to the Balanta, to the east-west and Muslim-non-Muslim divide are but trivial and shape everyday conversations. Beyond the field of these ascriptions, however, there are certain enduring inter-ethnic conflicts in Guinea-Bissau. One case in point is the historically burdened relation between the Fula and Mandinga (Jao 2002, Sidibé 2004, see also de Bruijn 1997). I. Embaló (2004) identified various strategies aiming to overcome this historically loaded relationship and reaching an inter-ethnic cooperation in conflict management. In a similar way there are traditional interethnic mediators (kuonhinnhá), sometimes of mixed ethnic origin and always with long-standing links to all groups in the region the multiethnic region of Bambadinca (Mané 2008). Several spiritual and religious institutions indeed serve in inter- and trans-ethnic conflict resolution, albeit in an ambivalent manner (I. Embaló 2008, Mendes 2010). Can we distinguish other models of conflict resolution beyond a locally limited practise? Or do people fall back to their primordial ethnic affiliation in times of heavy crises and conflict?


First Public Workshop on Legal Reality in Guinea-Bissau, March 2010 

The first public workshop was a great success since we managed to get together high state officials and representatives of international organizations as well as different researchers from Germany, France and Senegal to discuss aspects of legal reality in Guinea-Bissau. Group work has proven to be the appropriate methodological approach which allowed discussing various ideas among the participants.

The participants seemed to be aware of the problematic of the national legal system; all held the opinion that overcoming these problems will be neither fast nor easy. In an attempt to promote justice in Guinea-Bissau, the following points were made:

Since the current administration is as separated from the actual socio-cultural values of the population as the colonial administration has been, the postcolonial state must be understood as the continuation of the colonial state. “Legal pluralism” is particularly visible in today’s Guinea-Bissau, and the legal system is in a “hybrid state”, a situation resulting in various practices of active “forum shopping” whose forms seem to depend mainly on regional, cultural or religious particularities. During the workshop state officials confirmed our research findings according to which traditional institutions of conflict management seemed to be quite successful in resolving conflict cases, although some of their practices apparently contradict principles of the national legal constitution.

With regard to the question of how to integrate customary law into the national legal system, most participants stressed the necessity to respect all of Guinea-Bissau’s many ethnic and cultural groups underlining thereby that each of them contains positive aspects. It has also been stated that Guinea-Bissau could learn a lot in this respect from experiences in other African countries; countries like Ghana, Ethiopia, South Africa or Mozambique have installed various institutions to facilitate as well the dialogue between local powers and the state as the integration of customary law into the official legal system.

The participants’ opinions about a possible integration of local modes of conflict resolution into the official legal system varied greatly. Some argued that it is difficult to take decisions on the basis of customs, especially in urban contexts, while others pointed to the fact that in culturally mixed regions local courts (“Tribunal de Sector”) can not draw on local traditions as they are supposed to, for persons from different ethnical or cultural backgrounds generally do not agree upon a particular cultural tradition which could serve as a basis for judgement. Hence, the state law has to be applied to get a case settled. To improve the acceptance of formal legal decisions it might be helpful stimulating the dialogue between religious or spiritual institutions and the state. The participants criticized also the absence and/or mal functioning of state institutions (courts, police, prisons, etc.), especially in rural areas. They noticed high rates of corruption, no clear cut distribution of competencies between state bodies, sometimes even leading to competition between them, and, on a more practical level, a general lack of infrastructure, equipment and human resources, de-legitimizing public institutions in the eyes of the population.

Despite these shortcomings, the state’s legal institutions continue to be addressed. Here, local courts are of special interest since they try to find decisions with respect to existing local legal practices, thus getting some legitimacy on the local level. Some participants, however, expressed their doubts about such practices asking how local legal practices are defined, and by whom? Are we here confronted with a superposition of power and law? Is it enough to draw on the possible morality of traditional authorities? How can democratic participation of the population be assured?

Although Guinea-Bissau offers some elements for the formation of a national unity (common language, memory of the liberation struggle, ethnical mixture), there still are obstacles. The most obvious ones are the following: the central government until today has not succeeded in legitimizing its authority, by organizing, for example, independent local elections, creating decentralized institutions or by perceiving chieftaincy as a possible supplement to state rule at the local level.


Qualification of Master and PhD-Candidates:

While two candidates already succeeded in their qualification (Samba T. Camara, M.A.; Mamadu Jao, PhD.) with one PhD candidate following in the course of 2012 (Raul Fernandes), the qualification of the other three PhD candidates from Guinea-Bissau is prolonged until June 2013 since language barriers, especially in writing the thesis in French, have been clearly underestimated in the original planning. Therefore we decided to organise a double-degree in cooperation with the University of Coimbra, Portugal, which not only will enable the candidates to write their thesis in Portuguese (and thus minimizing additional costs of translation) but also will offer them the possibility to discuss their thesis with the respective legal anthropologists and legal sociologists there, especially with the two professors Paula Meneses and Boaventura de Sousa Santos, who are among the best known social scientists of the Lusophone world. The cooperation with Coimbra requires the candidates to stay two semester at the University of Coimbra, which is ongoing in 2012.


Extension of thematic foci

The research on the extended thematic foci as described above already resulted in several publications: see I. Embaló on transborder and transnational conflicts under the title “Borderland and Violent Political Conflict: The Case of the Casamance / Guinea-Bissau Border” (2011); B. Embaló (2012) on the Bissau-Guinean military and also in our conference publication under the title “Bairro Militar (Bissau): A hot spot of urban violence? The challenges of local conflict resolution in Guinea-Bissau” (2011) and M. Jao in the same volume under the title “Étude de cas: Résolution du conflit opposant Mandingue de Djabicunda et Peulh de Timbinto en 2005, dans la région de Bafata” as well as F. Mané (PhD-Thesis) on Inter-ethnic conflicts and conflict resolution. 


Consult for  project activities and results:


- Estratégias locais de resolução de conflitos, portuguese version

- Conference report 2008

- Soronda Especial 2008, Table of contents


 -INEP annual report 2009-2010,ções/tabid/59/Default.aspx (relatórios)

- homepage of the IAS (Institute for African Studies of Bayreuth University):

- homepageof Bayreuth University: „Aktuelles aus der Afrikaforschung“ (

- Spectrum Ausgabe 1/2010 zum Thema “Wege aus der Krise”:

- Newsletter of African Studies at Bayreuth University VIII/2009 und IX/2010:



 Condições de Utilização Privacidade