“New Regionalisms” and Violent Conflicts in Africa: The Politics of the AU and ECOWAS in Mali and Guinea-Bissau

Katharina Döring (SFB 1199) & Jens Herpolsheimer (SFB 1199)

Publication Date

November 2017


Leipzig: Leipziger Universitätsverlag




Working Paper

Working Paper Series

SFB 1199 Working Paper



About the Paper

Taking the events of early 2012 in Mali and Guinea-Bissau as the starting point, this paper examines the entangled intervention experiences of the AU and ECOWAS in these conflicts and subsequently explores the spatial dimensions of their responses. So far, the academic discussion has offered various empirical accounts of the events and conflict dynamics in both countries, to some extent also including responses by different actors. However, despite ubiquitous implicit spatial references, “space” as an analytical category and explanatory factor has not been explored. Against this backdrop, we argue in this Working Paper that an explicit spatial perspective allows for gaining new insights into current transnational conflicts, involving both state and non-state actors, and a better understanding of the ways in which the AU and ECOWAS react to them. Therefore, in an explorative manner, this paper engages with the conflict situations in Mali and Guinea-Bissau, followed by a first attempt to explore the spatial dimensions of the engagement of the AU and ECOWAS in the respective conflicts. From this, it draws three tentative conclusions. First, the AU and ECOWAS, as well as other international actors involved in conflicts in Mali and Guinea-Bissau, defend a particular (imagined) spatial order, which is based on a traditional notion of sovereignty that is exercised by fully territorialized nation states. Secondly, at the same time, the interplay of different actors and their strategies produces a dynamic that can only be understood if a more differentiated spatial analysis is applied, which goes beyond territory and physical geography (e.g. by including notions of networked or virtual regions). Lastly, part of these dynamics are alternative processes of spatialization running parallel to the processes of the AU and ECOWAS or, upon occasion, competing with these processes.


About the Authors

Katharina Döring (SFB 1199)

Katharina Döring is a doctoral student at the Leipzig University (Germany) and researcher at the SFB project B7 investigating new regionalisms and violent conflict in Africa. She studied within the Erasmus Mundus MA programme “Global Studies – A European Perspective” at the universities of Leipzig, Addis Ababa, and Roskilde and focused on international studies, new political geography, and global history. Currently, she explores the potential of a space-sensitive perspective for understanding the responses of the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) towards the Malian crisis in 2012.

Jens Herpolsheimer (SFB 1199)
Jens Herpolsheimer is a doctoral student at the Leipzig University (Germany) and researcher at the SFB project B7 investigating new regionalisms and violent conflict in Africa. His research focuses on the interventions in Guinea-Bissau by the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union. He received his BA and MA at Leipzig University (Germany) in the field of African studies during which he completed a semester abroad at the Science Po in Bordeaux (France) and interned at the Centro de Estudos Internacionais of ISCTE-IUL in Lisbon (Portugal). His research interests include peace and security, African politics, new regionalisms, and lusophone Africa.