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Self And Other- Talking to Rebels: Understanding African Civil Wars from the Ground Up


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Self And Other- Talking to Rebels: Understanding African Civil Wars from the Ground Up
Zoe Marks, Chancellors Fellow, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburg
Time 6:30pm, Location McGuire Hall West
Sponsored by Messina, the Global Studies Program & the History Department
A Messina Self and Other Event 

About the Event: 

When Africa makes the news, it is often for stories of war and violence. Only occasionally does the equally simplistic narrative of ‘Africa Rising’ eclipse that of the ‘Dark Continent’ - and neither version of events gets to the realities of daily life. When it comes to armed conflict, it is clear that some of the big trends are changing. There are fewer classical ‘civil wars’, more peace accords, and more trials for war crimes. But, there is also increasing terrorism and low-level conflict that spills over into large-scale destructive events; moreover, the links between violence and resource-extraction seem increasingly entrenched. Albeit complex, these broader trends present only part of the picture. To even begin to understand conflict in Africa, we need to see the people behind the stories. Women, brothers, reluctant activists…the line between fighters and civilians is surprisingly thin. The ‘warlords and criminals’ that populate headlines rarely lead attacks, and the people who do are often from the same areas they threaten. This talk presents micro-stories, those hidden behind the news stories, from one of the continent’s most notorious conflicts: the Sierra Leone civil war, which waxed and waned from 1991-2002. It illustrates how talking to rebels dismantles our assumptions that they are all criminals. Listening to them teaches us to have compassion for both war’s victims and its perpetrators. And, moving beyond such simple dichotomies enables us to understand how seemingly impossibly opposed realities can exist simultaneously. This presentation will take place on Oct. 1st at 6:30pm in McGuire Hall West in the Andrew White Student Center. This event is free and open to the public.

Resources for Attendees:

About the Speaker: 

Zoe Marks is a Chancellor’s Fellow and Lecturer in the Centre of African Studies. Her research focuses on conflict and civil war, armed groups, gender relations, post-conflict development and politics in sub-Saharan Africa. She has focused in particular on the internal dynamics of African rebellion, with the Sierra Leone civil war her primary case study, and on sexual violence and women’s experiences in wartime. Her current work analyses the organizational and material capacity of African rebel groups from a comparative perspective, with a longer term project being developed on state-military relations. Her gender-related work focuses on understanding female power and victimhood in African conflicts as dynamic and relational, with an emphasis on female combatants. Zoe received her DPhil in Politics from the University of Oxford, and holds an MSc in African Studies (Oxford) and BA in Government and African American Studies (Georgetown University). She has also previously worked and taught with a range of institutions in Ethiopia, France, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and the United States; and has been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship (Sierra Leone 2009/2010), a Fulbright-UNESCO Fellowship (2011), and is currently a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School Women and Public Policy Program (2013/2014).

Questions for Further Reflection and Discussion:

  • What current events are occurring in the world today in which this approach would be relevant?
  • What holds us back from better understanding the position and experience of others in situations involving conflict?
  • How can you apply this presentation to guide the individual relationships and interactions you personally have with others?




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