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


Central Africa has witnessed prolonged and repetitive forms of displacement. 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.


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.

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? 

Arts and Heritage

The arts and heritage component of the Politics of Return project is embedded in both an arts residency and exhibition.

These components become the pathways to impact that research seeks out to inform host communities and policy change. The translation of research findings into contemporary art makes space to abstract dense narratives and illuminate personal stories. Visual and performative representations are the avenues that lead to rippling impacts. 

Three artists are invited to be in residence at 32º East in Kampala, Uganda. From June to September, Willy Karekezi, Kusa Kusa Maska Gael, and Bathsheba Okwenje will respond to the research put forward by investigators on the Politics of Return collaborators. Each strain of research is hinged by the idea that displacement and return between Uganda, Central African Republic, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of the Congo are integrally linked; and through multidisciplinary research they can be comparatively understood. The task set forth for the artists is to be in conversation with the research. Curator Kara Blackmore will mediate the conversations and collaborate with the African Youth Initiative Network to thread the narrative for the final exhibition. 

To activate the residencies, we will host a series of dialogues that address key issues around displacement and return. For example, a session on the language of images that addresses the disparity between humanitarian representation and artistic portraiture. Therefore, audiences and artists will be in dialogue with the questions of humane ways for seeing suffering and resilience. The artworks in progress will be showcased during the KLA ART public festival during August 2018. In 2019, an exhibition of the residency artworks, commissioned cartoons and other research materials will be showcased in Gulu, Uganda.  



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.


Dorothy Atim beset

Dorothy Atim
 is a researcher in northern Uganda. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in education from Makerere University and a post-graduate diploma in Project Planning and Management from Gulu University.

She has over five years experience doing clinical inter-personal psychotherapy with formerly abducted ex-LRA children 14-18 years old. Since then she has been involved in various research projects. Her interests are on mental health, gender-based violence, and reintegration of ex-combatants.


Jacky Atingo best300x300

Jacky Atingo
 is a researcher in northern Uganda. She holds an MSc in Development Studies with a major in Human Rights and social justice from Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands, a post-graduate diploma in Peace and Conflict Management from Gulu University, as well as a Bachelor’s Degree from Makerere University in Development Studies

Her expertise is in the areas of sexual and gender-based. violence, children born into rebel movements, conflict, land issues, transitional justice and reintegration of ex-combatants. She is also interested in the accountability of the missing persons [re-burial of the missing person].



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. 


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.



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.


people-Emery Mushagalusa Mudinga

Emery Mushagalusa Mudinga
(@EmeryMudinga)  is a lecturer, researcher and consultant based at the Institut Supérieur de Développement Rural de Bukavu (ISDR Bukavu) in the DRC. He holds a PhD in Political and Social Sciences from the University of Louvain-la-Neuve and a Masters degree in Development Studies.

Emery's research focuses on land grabs dynamics and local resistance in Africa, armed groups dynamics, resource conflicts, peacebuilding and research ethics.

Alongside his work for CPAID, Emery is the scientific coordinator of the Land Rush project based at ISDR Bukavu and Université catholique de Louvain. Prior to ISDR-Bukavu, Emery worked as a Technique Advisor in Conflicts Transformation, Peacebuilding, Civil Society Organizations Capacity building and Advocacy at the Life and Peace Institute in DR. Congo.



Chrispin Mvano 
works as a journalist, photographer and researcher in North-Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo. Chrispin holds a Masters in Social, Political and Administrative science from the University of Goma (UNIGOM).

Chrispin is specialised in the armed militias active in the region. In the past he has worked for numerous organisations including Reuters and Flemish news platform MO. 


Dr Anna Macdonald
 is a Senior Visiting Fellow at the LSE Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa. 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


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.


Tony Odda 
 holds a Masters in Development Studies from Bugema University, where his research focused on  morality and resilience in Arua district.

Alongside his research role with the Politics of Return project, Tony is a Sub County Chief of Moyo district, and has previously held similar administrative management roles in Arua district. Tony has also worked with UNHCR as a verification officer, recording data on refugees in the region. 


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. 



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.



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.



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. 


Joe Trapido, FLCA academic researcher

Dr Joe Trapido is a Research Officer on the the Politics of Return project based at the LSE Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa.  He holds a PhD in Social Anthropology from University College London. He has worked at several universities, including the University of Pretoria in South Africa and at SOAS in London, where I am currently, teaching in the Anthropology department.

He recently published a monograph entitled Breaking Rocks: Music, Ideology and Economic Collapse, from Paris to Kinshasa.

His most recent research is about city politics in Kinshasa, looking in detail at very small, ethnographic scale but also connecting this to national and international dimensions.



Professor Koen Vlassenroot
(@kvlassen) is  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. 




Artist Willy Karekezi

Willy Karekezi is an artist-in-residence at the 32º East, Ugandan Arts Trust as part of the Politics of Return project.

He is a self-taught Rwandan visual artist. Karekezi is interested in everyday lives of people around him and wants to portray the dynamics of human realities. He uses painting, live making and sculpture to express himself. Karekezi works in Kigali. 


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.  


Artist in Residence,Gael Kusa Kusa Masky

Gael Kusa Kusa Maski is an artist-in-residence at the 32º East, Ugandan Arts Trust as part of the Politics of Return project.

He was born in Kalemie, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The experience of conflict and fleeing to Kinshasa as a child has inspired his work in the study of his society. Through collage, Maski asserts that the world is a confrontation of several simultaneous realities that allows us to identify questions and observations around memory, conflict and social oppression. 


Resident Artist, Bathsheba Okwenje

Bathsheba Okwenje is an artist-in-residence at the 32º East, Ugandan Arts Trust as part of the Politics of Return project.

She is an interdisciplinary, researcher-artist working at the intersection of information practices and aesthetics. Her work explores the hidden histories of people, their interior lives and the interactions between them. Okwenje is also part of a collective called Radha May that has recently undertaken to investigate issues of aesthetic censorship. She is based in Uganda.




Enduring Exile Photo Exhibition

The Enduring Exile photo project documents efforts by displaced South Sudanese refugees trying to achieve a measure of normality in a foreign land. The project is the result of ethnographic research conducted by Politics of Return researcher, Elizabeth Storer. The Enduring Exile photo exhibition was on display at the Uganda National Musem from May 26 to June 30 2017. It is currently on display in the offices of the Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa at LSE.

When We Return artwork catalogue

When We Return is a catalogue of the artwork and literature produced over the course of the Politics of Return project, featuring artwork by Bathsheba Okwenje, Willy Karekezi, Gael Maski Kusa Kusa, Tom Dai, Gloria Kiconco and Victor Ndula.

Please view the catalogue here.


  • 14 September 2019 - Contemporary and Historical Trauma in Post-Conflict Places- Politics of Return workshop, LSE  
  • 26 May-June 2017 - Enduring Exile & Beyond the Statistics- the dialogue and exhibition at the Uganda Museum  
  • 30 November, 2017 -   Understanding South Sudan - dialogue, exhibition and workshop, LSE 
  • 16 June to 15 September 2018 - Artist in Residency program  
  • 22 August 2018 - The Grammar of Images: When Art Speaks Back, Uganda Museum, Kampala - A day of artistic interventions to reveal a language beyond humanitarianism, aid and the misrepresentation of suffering
  • 25 July to 26 July 2019 - Politics of Return Conference, TAKS Arts Centre, Gulu- A two day conference bringing together the Poltics of Return research team, artists, cartoonists, etc to mark the end of the project
  • 25 July 2019 to 14 August 2019 -  Politics of Return Exhibition, TAKS Arts Centre, Gulu



32 degrees East Ugandan Arts Trust
32º East | Ugandan Arts Trust is an independent, non-profit organisation focused on the creation and exploration of contemporary art in Uganda.

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.