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Conflict studies and migration: an interview with Dr. Cori Wielenga

Dr Cori Wielenga

Dr. Cori Wielenga is a Senior Researcher at the Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation.  Her research interest is in reconciliation, transitional justice, and post-conflict reconstruction in Africa. Her research initially focused on the intersection between national and community level reconciliation in Rwanda and South Africa, but now more broadly includes emerging reconciliation processes across the continent.

Q: With the appointment of Prof. Fioramonti, the Chair moves to Sub-Saharan Africa (Fioramonti is Director of the Centre for the study of Governance Innovation at the University of Pretoria). Dr Cori Wielenga, where will your research under the chair focus on?

My research has two areas of focus. The first is on issues of inclusion and exclusion of migrants in sub-Saharan Africa. My interest is in the idea put forward by Francis Nyamnjoh of flexible citizenship, and what we can learn from the ways in which movement across borders is already happening across sub-Saharan Africa’s porous borders.

The second is on how people resolve conflicts across borders. Increasingly, conflicts occurring in one state spill over into neighbouring countries (eg: the conflict in the DRC has affected the entire region; the conflict in Zimbabwe affects South Africa). But formal justice and transitional justice mechanisms are confined to national borders. However, on the informal level, customary practices exist that work well to resolve conflicts across borders. My interest is in understanding how these informal processes work and how the formal processes and policies can support and enhance these.

Q: Migration, Regional Integration, Free movement of people: what do you consider the challenges facing those domains?

There is a gap between what happens at the policy level and what happens on the ground. Policies are made that look good on paper but are difficult to implement as they don’t reflect the many ways people are moving across borders. Behind this is a competition of norms and meaning. For example, what does it mean to be a citizen? How do we understand nation-states?

Q: How does your background in peace studies and conflict reconciliation contribute to Migration, Regional Integration and Free movement of people?

My work in the area of peace studies, transitional justice and reconciliation led me to an awareness of how many aspects of a conflict are regional rather than national. It also brought to my awareness how very few of the formal peace, justice and reconciliation processes into which enormous amounts of resources are poured, actually reach local communities.

In the absence of these formal processes, local communities have found innovative ways to manage peace, justice and reconciliation.

When the formal processes and policies do reach local communities it is sometimes simply only a hindrance to what local communities are already doing well. Or where local communities are failing, interventions from outside rarely are relevant to their distinct challenges.

Q: Do you think that a Southern Africa region without borders is really desirable? Why? 

Yes, although it would require a lot of careful thought and planning, and would need to be a very inclusive process. The borders are already very porous and many people live as if the region has no borders. The question is how to capitalise on the positives of this and mitigate the problems that currently exist in the movement across borders.