mural of refugees returning home after conflict

The Politics of Return

An AHRC/ESRC funded Partnership for Conflict, Crime and Security Research (PaCCS) project

Exploring the dynamics of return and reintegration of refugees in Central and Eastern Africa

Today, one in every 122 people is either a refugee, displaced or seeking asylum



In 2015, the United Nations Refugee agency (UNCHR) reported that world-wide displacement hit an 'all time high' as conflict-related violence and persecution increased and threat environments become more diffuse and complex.

Quite shockingly, it was calculated that today, one in every 122 people is either a refugee, displaced or seeking asylum. Across huge swathes of the globe, people are uprooted as they try to negotiate profoundly difficult conflict circumstances, involving not only state armies, but non-state armed groups, criminal gangs, drug traffickers, and jihadists. To make matters more complex, individuals often occupy ambiguous victim-perpetrator statuses, moving between combatant and civilian roles,either through coercion or through choice.

Central Africa has witnessed prolonged and repetitive forms of displacement for many, many years. In 2015, the UNHCR described forced displacement figures related to this region as 'immense'. To date, international organisations have prioritised 'going home' as the most durable solution to this crisis. Processes of 'return and reintegration' represent a huge practical and policy challenge for world governments and are therefore a critical international policy issue. The Politics of Return research project, funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, aims to study precisely these dynamics in the central and eastern African countries of Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and South Sudan through an inter-disciplinary, multi-sited ethnography of 'return'.

By analysing how refugees, internally-displaced persons and former combatants negotiate and experience 'return', we aim to fill a large gap in current knowledge on the 'lifecycle' of conflicts in some of the world's most difficult places. Drawing on anthropology, comic journalism, history, heritage studies and political science, we will focus on the everyday experiences of those attempting to build or re-build communities in central Africa, contributing to a better understanding of how conflict-affected societies constitute or re-constitute themselves.

The Politics of Return is a three-year project, running from 2017 to 2019 and hosted at the Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Research Questions

Our research is framed around three central questions:

1. In circumstances of return, following and during armed conflict, how does social repair become possible and what are the critical conditions, common patterns and features? 

2. How do international and national projects and programmes aimed at facilitating return, repair and peacebuilding relate to and become entangled with realities of lived experiences on the ground? 

3. What generalised insights emerge from a comparison between sites in Central Africa and literature on return and repair in other parts of the world both recently and historically? 



Professor Tim Allen is the inaugural Director of the Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa and the Head of the Department of International Development at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Tim has expertise in the fields of complex emergencies, ethnic conflict, forced migration, local conceptions of health and healing, controlling tropical diseases, humanitarianism and development aid. Much of his field research has focussed on East Africa.


Professor Melissa Parker is a medical anthropologist at the Department of Global Health and Development, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

She has worked on a range of global health issues in Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda including: mental health and well-being among war-affected populations; the control of neglected tropical diseases; emerging infectious diseases; the anthropology of evidence and public policy.

In 2014, she helped to establish the Ebola Response Anthropology Platform.


Professor Koen Vlassenroot (@kvlassenis  the Director of the Conflict Research Group (CRG) at Ghent University and the Africa Programme at Egmont Institute in Brussels.

He is an international expert on conflict dynamics in Central Africa and conducts research on armed groups, conflict and governance, with a particular focus on eastern Congo. 


Dr Tatiana Carayannis (@TCarayannis) is director of the Social Science Research Council’s new Understanding Violent Conflict Initiative and deputy director of the Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum.

She also leads a project on China’s engagement in Africa, The China-Africa Knowledge Project, convenes the DRC Affinity Group, a small brain trust of leading Congo scholars and analysts, and serves as a research director of the Conflict Research Programme and senior fellow at LSE. 


Dr Anna Macdonald joined the International Development department in 2013 as an LSE Fellow. She holds a BA in modern history from the University of Oxford; an MSc in the Theory and History of International Relations from the LSE and a PhD in War Studies from King’s College London.

Anna's research interests are in conceptions of law, justice, statehood and social order in central Africa. She is currently in receipt of a Leverhulme British Academy research grant and also works as a research fellow on the DFID-funded Conflict Research Programme (CRP), which examines violence and political markets in Africa and the Middle East and the new ESRC-funded Centre for Public Authority and International Development (CPAID).  Her recent research has been published in Development and ChangeAfrica, and the International Journal on Minority and Group Rights


Dr Holly Porter is a Research Fellow in the Department of International Development at the London School of Economics and holds a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship with the Institute of Development Policy and Management (University of Antwerp) and the Conflict Research Group (Ghent University).

Holly's research has focused on gender, sexualities, violence, and local notions of healing and justice in northern Uganda where she has lived for more than ten years.

She is the author of After Rape: violence justice and social harmony in Uganda published by Cambridge University Press. Her work has also been published in journals including Africa, the Women's Studies International Forum, and the Journal of Eastern African Studies.

Profile photo of Dr Jose Bazonzi

Dr. José Bazonzi is the Politics of Return local coordinator for the western DRC research team, and specialises in local dynamics in the Kongo Central province.

He is based at the Université de Kinshasa in the faculty of social sciences, administration and politics and is also a researcher and teacher in the sociology department at the Centre d'Etudes Politiques.


Aaron Pangburn is the Program Manager of the Social Science Research Council’s new Understanding Violent Conflict Initiative (UVC).

Previously, he served as a program coordinator for SSRC’s Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum’s special projects in Africa, including the Justice and Security Research Programme, DRC Affinity Group, and Accommodation of Justice for Displaced in DRC research consortium. He joined CPPF in January 2013 and also supports CPPF’s Africa programming with the United Nations. 

Profile photo of Jose Ndala

José Ndala is a Politics of Return researcher in the western DRC sites of Gbadolite and Gemena in Nord and Sud Ubangi provinces.

He is also a lecturer at the Université de Gbadolite in the faculty of law, and will be essential to the project as an interviewer of demobilised combatants in the region, and in his engagements with the Central African Republic refugee community in and around Inke. 


Kara Blackmore is an anthropologist, curator and writer who works at the intersections of arts, culture and social repair after conflict.

She has more than a decade of experience working directly with NGOs, governments, corporate entities, cultural institutions and local communities across East and Southern Africa. In her practice, she uses exhibitions as an arena to promote dialogue around challenging issues such as war, peace and reconciliation.

To critically reflect on this work, she is pursuing a PhD at the London School of Economics and Political Science, focusing on the relationship between memorialization and transitional justice.


Liz Storer (@lizziestorer) is a PhD student in the Department of International Development, London School of Economics. She is currently based in Arua, West Nile.

Working with Lugbara speaking communities, her research seeks to ascertain how individuals and groups in the region define wrongdoing, injustice and danger, and the various forms of public authority which become entangled in associated dispute resolution.

Liz is also involved in research with South Sudanese refugees in West Nile. She has previously received an M.Phil in Development Studies and a BA in Geography, both from the University of Cambridge. 



Profile Photo of Kash

Thembo Muhindo Kashauri, or better known in the artistic community as KASH, is one of the premier cartoonists, caricaturists and advertising designers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He created the logo for Politics of Return, and will provide additional political cartoons and artistic commentaries to help display the findings of the  project.

Born in Butembo in the northeast of DRC, KASH went to primary and secondary school in Beni and, after receiving his state diploma, moved to the capital Kinshasa to enroll in the Academy of Fine Arts in 1987. After receiving his degree in Graphic Arts, KASH began his freelance career in advertising design, and in parallel became the first and most prominent political cartoonist in one of Kinshasa's largest newspapers, Le Phare and later in Le Potentiel.  

His cartoons have also been published internationally in Congo-Brazzaville in Talatala, in Belgium in Le Soir, in France in Jeune Afrique, in Switzerland in Hebdo, and exhibited in DR Congo, Congo - Brazzaville, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Morocco, Niger, Vietnam, Mauritius, Isle of Réunion, Algeria, Cameroon and Guinea-Conakry. KASH has also published a number of comic books, which have raised awareness on a number critical issues (environmental protection, education, prevention of STDs and HIV/AIDS), and organised five editions of the African Fair of Comic Strips and Reading for Youth.  





Action Pour la Promotion Rurale (APRU) is an association NGO. APRU participates in the reconstitution of basic social services. It participates in the rehabilitation of social infrastructures including bridges, schools, and health and maternity clinics.

It also contributes to struggles against AIDS through sensitisation and in the promotion and protection of women’s and children’s rights. Lastly, it is conducts research on access to justice and security. 


The African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET) is an independent national NGO in Uganda. AYINET has implement several important projects on post conflict recovery, paying much attention to transitional justice and healing among the growing youth populations in Uganda.

AYINET's director, Victor Ochen, was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and currently serves as an ambassador to the UN on Sustainable Development Goal 16, Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. 


The Centre for Political Studies (CEP) is a research centre operating in the School of Social, Administrative and Political Sciences of the University of Kinshasa. CEP brings together some fifty researchers; maintains activities in five main areas: research, training, studies, surveys and appraisals, publication and documentation; and institutionally it privileges collective and interdisciplinary research.

Logo of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is a world-leading centre for research and postgraduate education in public and global health, with more than 4,000 students and 1,000 staff working in over 100 countries. The School is one of the highest-rated research institutions in the UK, is among the world's leading schools in public and global health, and was named University of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards 2016. Our mission is to improve health and health equity in the UK and worldwide; working in partnership to achieve excellence in public and global health research, education and translation of knowledge into policy and practice.

The Conflict Research Group (CRG) is a multidisciplinary research unit at Ghent University (Faculty of Political and Social Sciences). We are primarily interested in the micro-level dynamics of civil conflicts and concentrate both on the impact of civil conflicts on local communities, and on the links between local and global dimensions of conflict.

CRG's crosscutting analysis has led to the comparison of different geographical case studies, from Asia and sub-Sahara Africa to Latin America. Our research centres around three clusters: resources, governance and humanitarian aid.

ISP Bukavu

Institut Supérieur Pédagogique de Bukavu is one of the leading teaching institutes of South Kivu and is based on Bukavu.

It was created in 1961, and houses the Centre de Recherches Universitaires du Kivu, which promotes local research activities and invests in local research capacity.


The Social Science Research Council is an independent, international, nonprofit organization founded in 1923.

Governed by a board of directors, it fosters innovative research, nurtures new generations of social scientists, deepens how inquiry is practiced within and across disciplines, and mobilizes necessary knowledge on important public issues.