POMEPS Studies 40: Reflections on Africa and the Middle East

This blog is excerpt from the Concluding Reflections of the Project on Middle East Political Science (POMEPS) Studies 40 – Africa and the Middle East: Beyond the Divides.

If ‘Africa’ straddles the vast desert of the Sahara, the Kenyan historian Ali Mazrui once provocatively asked, why should it not also cross the narrow waterway that is the Red Sea? The cultural similarities between the two shores of the Red Sea are such, Mazrui contended, that we should also consider the Arabian Peninsula as part of Africa’s civilization.[1] The authors in this collection are, like Mazrui, predominantly Africanists, and are asking comparably intriguing and expansive questions. Rather than seeking to assimilate one region to another, the essays ask a set of questions that allow us to pose fruitful critique of the traditions of scholarship—and policy paradigms—across both regions.

These concluding reflections are grouped into two sections. First, I will examine areas in which Middle Eastern studies can benefit from African studies, and vice versa, and some of the policy implications that might follow a more productive dialogue. Next, I turn to themes that particularly gain from trans-regional comparative study, including identity issues, political Islam and resistance and revolution.

You can read the full Concluding Reflections by Alex de Waal here.

[1] Ali Mazrui, The Africans: A triple heritage. Boston, Little, Brown & Co. 1986, pp. 28-9

Photo: “EGYPT – CIRCA 1961: stamp printed by Egypt, shows Patrice Lumumba and map” by rook76 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Alex de Waal is a Research Professor at The Fletcher School, Tufts University, and leads the WPF research programs on African Peacemaking and Mass Starvation.

Considered one of the foremost experts on the Horn of Africa, his scholarly work and practice has also probed humanitarian crisis and response, human rights, pandemic disease, and conflict and peace-building. His latest book is New Pandemics, Old Politics: Two Hundred Years of War on Disease and its Alternatives. He is also author of Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine and The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa (Polity Press, 2015) Following a fellowship with the Global Equity Initiative at Harvard (2004-06), he worked with the Social Science Research Council as Director of the program on HIV/AIDS and Social Transformation, and led projects on conflict and humanitarian crises in Africa (2006-09). During 2005-06, de Waal was seconded to the African Union mediation team for Darfur and from 2009-11 served as senior adviser to the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan. He was on the list of Foreign Policy’s 100 most influential public intellectuals in 2008 and Atlantic Monthly’s 27 “brave thinkers” in 2009 and is the winner of the 2024 Huxley Award of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Professor de Waal regularly teaches a course on Conflict in Africa at the Fletcher School, Tufts University.  During this course, students should gain a deeper understanding of the nature of contemporary violent conflict in Africa. Students will be expected to master the key theoretical approaches to violence in Africa, and to become familiar with a number of important case studies. The focus is on the origins and nature of violence, rather than policy responses and solutions. The course is inter-disciplinary and involves readings in political science, international relations, and social anthropology, while also touching on economics, environmental studies, and history. 

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