Security in a networked Africa

Conflict_StandardResearch by Professor David Leonard of the Institute of Development Studies

With violent conflict the cause of thousands of deaths in Africa each year, new research explores the complexity of politics in Africa and the key role unofficial institutions play in responding to conflict and rebuilding states.

The research, led by Professor David Leonard of the Institute of Development Studies, was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council through the Partnership for Conflict, Crime and Security Research.

‘The research explores the fundamental problems in rebuilding effective states in African countries affected by violent conflict,’ said Professor Leonard. 

‘Far too much importance is often placed on national government instead of multiple levels of authority, including the local community and international influences.

‘In many situations, local governments can continue to perform effectively when national government breaks down.’

A return to human security in African conflict states requires a reconstitution of the social contract – between citizens and their community governments and local authorities and national government.

Professor David Leonard – Institute of Development Studies

The research illustrates that effective governance relies on the performance of all levels of authority and the complex networks linking them.

It also helps us to understand how the networks of international organisations and non-government working in local communities can be leveraged to support rebuilding efforts.


In presenting and evaluating the research findings, Professor Leonard has held workshops in Nairobi and Abidjan, and spoken with parliamentarians and policy makers at events in London and Brussels.

The research has also received significant interest from the Department for International Development (DFID) and European Union (EU). Professor Leonard also presented evidence to the House of Commons International Development Committee in 2012.

This committee presentation influenced the decision by DFID to open a local office in Goma (Democratic Republic of Congo). The research has also been used by Dr Anna Schmidt, a governance and security advisor for the EU Somalia Mission, to inform the restructuring of the governance portfolio that reflects the importance of local processes in efforts to strengthen public authority. 

Professor Leonard contributed a chapter entitled Elections and Conflict Resolution in Africa to the book When Elephants Fight: Preventing and Resolving Election-Related Conflicts in Africa.

He also edited and authored articles for a special journal issue of the IDS Bulletin (44,1, 2013) entitled Piecing It Together : Post-Conflict Security in an Africa of Networked, Multilevel Governance and has contributed to a blog on The Guardian website.

Future Impact

Professor Leonard’s research is expected to have a significant impact on future policy decisions made by governments, international organisations and non-government agencies.

Further Information