Internal displacement as a research agenda in Africa

by Romola Adeola

With the growing population of persons internally displaced within state borders and the challenges relating to protection, the importance of giving attention to the plight of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has emerged. Globally, this agenda has led to the emergence of a standard on internal displacement in the form of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement which was developed in 1998. In the last two decades, there have been significant progressions in the law and policy landscape attributable to the emergence of the Guiding Principles.

At the African continental level, the African Union Convention on the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention) was adopted in 2009. Considered the first binding continental framework on internal displacement, the Kampala Convention has defined the regional landscape on internal displacement in Africa over the last decade. On the heels of this instrument, advocacy and research on internal displacement has flourished. While these instruments have brought significant spotlight to IDP issues, there are still gaps in research on internal displacement in Africa. It is useful to identify some of these gaps briefly.

First, is multidisciplinary engagement on issues of internal displacement. There are evident benefits to research that is holistic on internal displacement, not least, given the fact that the issues often embedded in the narrative cut across various spheres. A practical example is with the COVID-19 situation. Thinking of what protection entails from a legal standpoint requires a critical reflection on the health dimensions. Moreover, understanding how IDPs are to be protected in the context of armed conflict requires a reflection on the laws of armed conflict. Consequently, the narrative that emerges from these paradigms is the fact that there is need for cross-cutting research that leverages on various vantage points to the discussion on internal displacement.

Second, is discussion on the root causes of internal displacement. This is an area where research is still needed, particularly in view of the fact that there are contemporary causes of internal displacement that are yet to be significantly explored. For instance, the issue of climate change, harmful practices and development projects. These are causes that have emerged in practical instances. However, with limited engagement on the nature of these challenges. What is telling is the significant work done in the area of conflict given its prevalence. But conflict is not the sole cause of internal displacement. And indeed, this is also evident from the frameworks on internal displacement. Having research in these areas is useful in order to develop result-oriented solutions to the challenges of internal displacement in Africa.

Third, is reflection on national level experiences. This is useful, particularly in understanding what obtains at the national-level in terms of protection and assistance of IDPs and how these experiences can be used to develop effective responses to internal displacement challenges across the continent. Such experiences may be used to advance law and policy formations. But importantly, such reflections can shape the mode of engagement with stakeholders at various governance levels on what needs to be done in the protection and assistance of IDPs.

But if responses will be durable, there is an evident need to leverage on the lived experiences of those that are internally displaced to build solutions that are focused and durable. And in this context, it is useful to note that within the IDP group are pertinent categories including women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons. As such, a holistic reflection on these categories within the group is required.

Early research on internal displacement was significantly advanced by the Brookings Institution. However, this somewhat waned with the end of the project. As such, the need for sustained attention has become an imperative. Sustaining this momentum will ultimately require deliberate efforts towards advancing IDP issues. The Global Engagement Network on Internal Displacement in Africa (GENIDA) seeks to bridge the gap in research and policy engagement on internal displacement in Africa. GENIDA links with other networks in Latin America (led by Beatriz Sánchez), the Middle East (led by Hana Asfour) and Europe (led by David Cantor).

About the author:
Romola Adeola is the coordinator of the Global Engagement Network on Internal Displacement in Africa. She is the author of the Internally Displaced Person in International Law (2020) and Emerging issues of internal displacement in Africa (2021).

This blog forms part of research of the Global Engagement on Internal Displacement in Africa (GENIDA) (EP/T003227/1) projects supported by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

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