Book Launch: 'When Peace Kills Politics'

29 July 2021


Reported by Anna Kliampa, CSaP Policy Intern

In June 2021, CSaP hosted an online event with Dr Sharath Srinivasan who discussed his new book 'When Peace Kills Politics '. Dr Srinivasan has a law background and holds a PhD in international development from Oxford University. He currently teaches international politics at the department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS) in Cambridge. In his book, which emerged from his long experience with international politics in Africa and research in Sudan, Dr Srinivasan examines the role of international peace-making in reproducing violence and political authoritarianism in Sudan and South Sudan.

The book aspires to shed some light into the recurring failure of peace negotiations and the underlying causes of this failure. Dr Srinivasan presented the books’ three major aims. First, drawing from the Sudan case, he empirically asked the questions of why peace interventions often fail. Second, he developed the argument that this failure might be inherent in civil war negotiations and not reducible to other factors, such as inept designs or chance. Third, through his critical analysis he offered new insights into the process of peacebuilding in civil wars.

When Peace Kills Politics stretches across the period of two decades, from the early 2000s to 2020, with Dr Srinivasan adopting an ‘episodic approach’ by exploring different moments of the conflict throughout this period. Throughout the book, Dr Srinivasan explores cases including the north-south peace process that achieved the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, where he argues that how these negotiations fuelled war in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile and contributed to political instability and civil war in Sudan and South Sudan respectively. Here, Dr Srinivasan has posited that there had been a ‘contradictory’ logic behind the process of aspiring to make peace in Sudan while at the same time ‘freezing’ the conflict in Darfur, and that this in turn prolonged armed conflict, civil war, and political chaos.

Key Messages on Peace, Politics and Conflict Resolution:

Ultimately, Dr Srinivasan has argued that we need more holistic approaches to conflict resolution, and that peacemaking must be aimed at significantly increasing the prominence of non-violent civil politics. Based on this point, he has developed key messages for those seeking to foster peace and create the conditions for creating non-violent civil domains:

  1. With respect to external intervention, peacemaking is about the politics of ‘make-do’, trying to balance different and conflicting ideas. Thus, the politics of peacemaking are currently being made more and more ‘pragmatic’, while repeatedly undervaluing civil political action in favour of focusing on the technocratic side of conflict resolution. According to Dr Srinivasan, this lack of focus on civil political action is likely to create the conditions for continued civil resistance and the resurgence of unrest.
  2. Drawing form Hannah Arendt’s peacemaking theory, Dr Srinivasan has maintained that the same instruments that are used to make peace often end up using violent methods. Refraining from casting the fault to any specific actor, he fosters the idea that ‘it is in the making that the pursuit of peace may reproduce violence’. With this statement, Dr Srinivasan takes the significance away from the instrumental ways of thinking about peace and places it to the deeper causal mechanisms of peacemaking that are characterized by an overall tension between ends and means.
  3. Following the above, Dr Srinivasan came to argue that peacemaking interventions in Sudan failed in three main ways. First, they failed by silencing and simplifying civil political action, which caused the polarization and depoliticization of civil society. This way political space shrunk while at the same time violent actions expanded. Second, peacemaking politics overemphasized the ends of building an edifice for civil democracy with everything that this may entail, journalism, elections, juridical system, and forsaken the importance of process of democratic enunciation, occupying the space for direct civil action and fabricating the future of the country. Finally, external peacemaking interventions had been met with renewed civil resistance in the Sudan, as people resisted the means that were intended for peace, as they had been instituted in a coercive way.

Concluding remarks

Closing his presentation, Dr Srinivasan pointed to the rather inherent expediency of policy making processes. This is to say that in every attempt to construct institutions, laws and policies there always be a form of exclusion of some groups, ideas, and actions. Having said that and having accepted the messiness of peacemaking, Dr. Srinivasan argued that new institutions should strive to include to the max political voices from civil actors rather than exclude them from the institutionalization of peace. Key messages from the discussion that followed are the realization of complexity and precarity of intervening and the making from the very start of more open-ended, proactive, and inclusive peacemaking processes. At the end, Dr Srinivasan stressed the importance for more research in area of tensions and contradictions between the ends and means of policy making, which can help further democratize peacemaking processes.