Turning Africa’s divided past into a cohesive future

Image: Prof. Hiroyuki Hino addresses participants of the colloquium where the book From Divided Pasts to Cohesive Futures: Reflections on Africa was launched. Photo: Kim Ingle.

Throughout history up to the present day, African countries have been facing inequalities and social division that undermine cohesion and contribute to instability on the continent. But how can Africa build on its ethnic and other differences as strengths and drivers of growth and development, rather than sources of division and instability?

This is the key question addressed in a new book, From Divided Pasts to Cohesive Futures: Reflections on Africa, edited by SALDRU affiliates Prof. Hiroyuki Hino and Prof. Arnim Langer (University of Leuven), Prof. John Lonsdale (Cambridge University) and Prof. Frances Stewart (University of Oxford). The book was launched this month at a colloquium hosted jointly by SALDRU, UCT’s Poverty & Inequality Initiative and the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) who funded the work.

The publication brought together historians, economists and political scientists, each an authority on Africa, to explore the continent’s divided histories, to understand where Africans stand now, and to reflect on how they might work towards a more trusting society. Numerous case studies, statistical expositions and theoretical reflections bring conceptual clarity to the often poorly understood processes and contexts of social cohesion, not only in Africa, but across the developing and developed world.

The event was structured to present highlights and key arguments from the different chapters, with a substantive part of the programme dedicated to social cohesion in South Africa.

The keynote address by Stanley Henkeman, the Executive Director of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, reflected on the country’s past, present and future. His input was followed by a panel discussion titled “A cohesive future for South Africa? A dialogue with the book”, moderated by Prof. Justine Burns from the UCT School of Economics. The panel addressed provocations on whether a common citizenry was emerging in South Africa (by Crain Soudien, Chief Executive Officer of the Human Sciences Research Council); what true reconciliation would require (Prof. Ciraj Rasool, University of the Western Cape); perspectives on land reform in South Africa (Hiroaki Shiga, Executive Senior Research Fellow at JICA); and what the evidence says about the recent decline in social cohesion in South Africa (Prof. Arnim Langer).

Wrapping up the day’s proceedings were Prof. Hino who contributed perspectives on policies for social cohesion, and Prof. Stewart on social cohesion lessons from countries across the globe.

From Divided Pasts to Cohesive Futures was published by Cambridge University Press and can be ordered online.

Read about the keynote address which Stanley Henkeman gave at the colloquium in this UCT news feature.