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The First Hijra as a Model for Migration Justice: Ethiopia’s Legacy and Future in Regional Peacebuilding

August 4, 2022
By 27320

In the seventh century, followers of the prophet Mohammed migrated from Arabia to Abyssinia—in modern-day Ethiopia and Eritrea—where they sought asylum in an ancient Christian state. Known as the First Hijra, this episode represents a legacy of interreligious and interethnic respect, notes 2018–20 Sylff fellow Sara Swetzoff. Ethiopia, whose parliament passed one of the world’s most integrative refugee laws in January 2019, could be an anchor of justice for all of Africa and the Middle East, Swetzoff surmises.

* * *

“If you have to migrate, migrate towards Habash.” —Prophet Mohammed, pbuh (from Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasulillah)

Understanding the Recent Conflict in Ethiopia

In November 2020, conflict between national forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) touched off a war in Ethiopia. By late 2021, the ongoing violence had reached headlines around the world. The United States pulled all nonessential staff from the embassy in Addis Ababa and revoked trade privileges, sparking protests in Ethiopia and the diaspora. Meanwhile, Tigrayan civilians and human rights advocates documented urgent famine conditions in the region and implored the international community to do more. According to a joint investigation conducted by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the United Nations, both the Ethiopian Defense Forces and TPLF committed ethnically targeted mass atrocities.

To the great relief of the global community, the Ethiopian government lifted the state of emergency in early 2022 and shortly thereafter reached a humanitarian truce agreement with Tigrayan political authorities. The conflict continues, but an ever-expanding proxy war and regional crisis have thankfully been averted.

And yet, the root causes of the conflict still must be addressed. Although there are allegations of outside intervention, many experts agree that the war in Tigray originated internally from a power struggle between national political elites following the major changes to government in 2018. As each camp rallied its social base and escalated military operations, the resulting human rights atrocities transformed the political confrontation into an all-out interethnic conflict, fanning the flames of numerous historical grievances. Until these historical grievances are addressed and robust peacebuilding work takes place, civilians of all ethnic groups will continue to pay the biggest price in every ongoing political conflict.

Seeking the Future in Our Knowledge of the Past

Yet despite the suffering brought upon so many Ethiopians—especially women and children—hope is not lost. From the exciting day in 2018 when Abiy Ahmed first came to power, Ethiopian intellectuals and civil society organizers from all regions and religions have been pushing for a national reconciliation process. In many ways, they predicted this war that has so thoroughly exposed the fragility of the Ethiopian state. In the same vein, they know how to fix it: the recipe for peace is not new, but rather consists of age-old cultural matrices of tolerance, unity, and justice that have sustained Ethiopia throughout the eras.

Pan-Africanists might mention as examples the famous anticolonial victory against Italy at Adwa in 1896 or Haile Selassie’s role in preserving the fragile Organization of African States in 1964. But Muslims around the world are likely familiar with a much earlier example of Ethiopian peacebuilding: the Migration to Abyssinia, or the First Hijra.

In the year 7 Hijri (613 CE), a group of the Prophet’s first followers (al-Sahabah) including Umar Ibn Afnan sought asylum in the Christian kingdom of Axum at the invitation of the Negus, or King, referred to as “Al-Najashi” in Arabic sources. Two years later, they were joined by a second, larger group; according to Tafsir Ibn Kathir, the 117 Muslims residing in Ethiopia outnumbered those who stayed in Mecca by almost threefold at the time of their arrival. Within a decade, most of the group returned to Arabia and headed to Madinah. Others settled in what is now Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia, and still others set sail for various destinations across southeast Asia.

One might argue that the survival—and subsequent growth—of the early Muslim community was due to the Axumite Kingdom’s generosity and tolerance. In Muslim traditions, Al-Najashi was not just a passive host; he wept at the recitation of the Holy Quran, provided feasts for special events (such as the long-distance marriage of Um Habibah to the Prophet), and facilitated the migrants’ return journey.

In gratitude, the Prophet declared Axum a “favored land.” Many years later, when news of Al-Najashi’s passing reached Madinah, the Prophet honored the Christian king with a Muslim funeral prayer. Today, Ethiopia is about 35% Muslim. The eastern city of Harar, or “City of Saints” in Arabic, is often referred to as the fourth holiest city of Islam owing to its many mosques and shrines dating back to the tenth century.

A fourteenth-century manuscript illustration by Persian painter Rashi ad-Din. The scene depicts Al-Najashi refusing the demands of a hostile Meccan delegation that traveled to Abyssinia to apprehend the Muslim refugees. (Source: Wikimedia Commons <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hijra_Abyssinia_(Rashid_ad-Din).jpg>)

Ethiopia and the Red Sea Region Today

Ethiopia’s current status as a host country for millions of refugees hailing from across East Africa and the Red Sea region echoes the First Hijra story. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of June 2021 there were nearly a million registered refugees and asylum seekers in the country, making it the third-largest host in Africa and tenth worldwide. For a reference of comparison, the United States accepted 0 Yemeni refugees during the 2021 fiscal year and only 50 during the Trump years. By contrast, Ethiopia has hosted more than 3,000 Yemeni refugees since 2015 and continually welcomes more.

Furthermore, in January 2019 Ethiopia’s parliament passed one of the most integrative refugee laws in the world. While the law has yet to be comprehensively implemented—due in part to challenges at the institutional level in the run-up to the current war—its provisions grant refugees property rights, recognition of their degrees and certifications from their home country or previous country of residence, the right to attend school and work, freedom of movement, and more expansive eligibility for asylum.

The First Hijra represents the legacy of interreligious and interethnic respect both within Ethiopia and among its indigenous peoples, as well as for those beyond its borders. The story therefore presents a precedent that is not just helpful to resolving the current domestic conflict, but also speaks to how and why a peaceful Ethiopia could be an anchor of social and political justice for all of Africa and the Middle East: overcoming divisions to forge genuine political solidarity is the only way to build people power strong enough to bring about justice. When people are pitted against each other on the basis of religion or ethnicity, or any other identity grouping, it makes a region or country continually vulnerable to elite agendas, warmongers, and extractive foreign interests.

The Yemen War and the Ethio-Yemeni Migrant Community

Unfortunately, the people of Yemen are all too familiar with this equation. Yemeni refugees number around 3,000, but they are part of a larger blended migrant community including Ethiopian nationals who repatriated with their Yemeni-citizen children, spouses, friends, or relatives. Since the beginning of the war in Yemen, the International Organization for Migration has evacuated tens of thousands of Ethiopian nationals from the conflict zone. This population includes recently arrived migrants heading for Saudi Arabia overland, as well as thousands of Ethiopian nationals who were longtime residents of Yemen.

A photo from the early Ethiopian evacuation missions during the Yemen War shows piles of suitcases, a testament to the settled lives that so many had to leave behind.

Over the past three years, I interviewed over fifty Yemeni refugees and Ethiopian returnees residing in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. While interviews usually started by addressing migration experiences, economic challenges, and bureaucratic hurdles to accessing services, they always wandered toward thoughtful conversations on opportunities for intercultural understanding and unity. Yemeni refugees mentioned the hospitality and acceptance of the Ethiopian people, while Ethiopian returnees spoke nostalgically about the quiet safety and general quality of life they experienced in pre-war Yemen.

Many interviewees then broadened their reflections to regional and deep historical analyses: If the precarity and opportunism of war deepens every type of fanaticism and intolerance, how can Yemen heal? What is the vision for a liberated and unified Yemen, and what role might religion and culture play in that future? How did many faiths and peoples live together in past eras, when Arabia was home to equal numbers of indigenous Christians, Jews, and Muslims?

The special relationship between Ethiopia and Yemen is an ancient one extending back nearly a millennia before the revelation of the Holy Quran, to the time of Prophet Sulayman and the Queen of Sheba. In fact, at the height of Axumite power, Yemen was most likely a province of the African kingdom. All of this history was common knowledge to the majority of my interviewees of every educational background. In one meandering afternoon of chewing qat with a North Yemeni refugee elder and his Ethiopian returnee wife, we might cover Najran, the Himyarites, Surat al-Fil, the First Hijra, Oromo identity politics, and the 1977 Red Sea “quadripartite summit” in Taiz. Based on this rich shared history, one interviewee even recommended that Yemen seek membership in the African Union.

Nearly all interviewees who had been in the country for more than a year concurred that Ethiopia’s multifaith national identity provides a compelling model for coexistence in Yemen. In reality, religion is already a complex and intimate vehicle for solidarity and belonging; there are converts to both Islam and Christianity among refugees and returnees. A small group of Yemenis host a Bible study in Arabic every week; some participants identify as converts to Christianity, while other attendees join the sessions out of a desire to better appreciate the religious beliefs of their Christian neighbors and colleagues in Addis Ababa.

The Larger Vision for Peace

In response to the Muslim travel ban imposed by the Trump administration, such organizations as the Arab Resource and Organizing Center in San Francisco rallied around the migration justice call: “Freedom to Stay, Freedom to Move, Freedom to Return, Freedom to Resist.”

For Ethiopian lawyer Abadir Ibrahim, the Hijra to Abyssinia exemplifies this call. Referring to Ethiopia as “the birthplace of the Hijri model of migrant rights,” Dr. Ibrahim underscored the model’s “deep symbolic significance” to both Ethiopians and Yemenis, as evidenced by its “positive impact on the lives of migrants on both sides of the Red Sea.” He elaborated: “Packed in that history one finds discourses and values connected with justice, liberty, and nondiscrimination; the freedom of thought, religion, expression, and association; due process rights; and the rights of refugees to a hearing and to social services. Due to their historic and symbolic significance, these were values that easily found a home in Dimtsachin Yisema, a Muslim-based grassroots human rights movement in Ethiopia that was widely supported by the North American Ethiopian Muslim community.” (Note: Islamic Horizons previously covered Dimtsachin Yisema in its September/October 2018 issue.)

The interrelationship between migrant justice and domestic civil liberties described by Ibrahim gets at the core of how the First Hijra can open up our political imagination to global prospects for justice. The word democracy has become hollow in our times, but the national imperative, described as follows, transcends terminology: to establish universal assurances that the core interests of diverse groups are secure, regardless of electoral turnover between various formations of the political elite. As one of the most diverse and multilingual democratic federations in the world, the only country in Africa that was never colonized, and a leading host of refugees and asylees, Ethiopia can, and must, find a pathway to sustainable peace—for the sake of the Ethiopian people, the larger Red Sea region, and the world.

In the Footsteps of the First Muhajirun: Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia

Three historic mosques in the Horn of Africa chart the path of the first group of Muhajirun: Eritrea’s Sahaba Mosque, Ethiopia’s Al-Najashi Mosque, and Somalia’s Mosque of the Two Qiblas.

The Sahaba Mosque, located in the town of Masawa on the Red Sea coast, was built adjacent to the famous ancient port of Adulis, where the Muslim refugees likely landed. In fact, many consider it the world’s oldest mosque. There is some uncertainty, however, as to whether or not it predates the Quba Mosque on the outskirts of Madina.

The current structure is of later construction and now in disrepair, but the mosque retains its original qibla facing Jerusalem. Prayers are still held there occasionally, of course, with the worshippers facing the Kaaba in Makka.

From the coast, the Muhajirun traveled about 190 miles (305 kilometers) southwest to Negash in current-day Ethiopia. The Christian Axumite king presumably permitted them to settle in that area, about 125 miles (201 km) east of his capital city, Axum. Axum is a sacred place for Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Christians, who believe that the Ark of the Covenant remains in its oldest church. Both Axum and Negash are in Tigray, one of the country’s eleven ethnic states.

Negash is therefore widely recognized as the Muhajirun’s first settlement, as evidenced by the excavation of a local seventh-century cemetery. The name of the local mosque, Al-Najashi, is the Arabic transliteration of “Negus,” which means “king” in ancient Geez. The king who hosted the Muslim refugees is buried within the mosque’s compound, as are several of the Sahaba who remained in Ethiopia.

 

(Source: Amitchell125, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aksumite_empire.svg>)

Most of the Muhajirun returned to Arabia to rejoin their community and then relocated to Madina; however, a small group settled in Zeila, one of the northernmost towns in contemporary Somalia. There, they found a home with the local Somali Dir clan family and together constructed the Mosque of Two Qiblas in 627. Widespread conversion to Islam across the Somali region took place over the century following the mosque’s construction.

To honor the Dir clan, the tomb of Sheikh Babu Dena resides in the mosque. In keeping with other early mosques, the structure has two mihrabs: the first facing Jerusalem, and the second one facing Makka. Unfortunately, this mosque is now in ruins and is more of a historical landmark than a functioning house of prayer.

Preserving Heritage: Challenges and Achievements

In early 2018, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency completed a multiyear restoration of the Al-Najashi Mosque for a very specific purpose: in July, Ethiopia and Eritrea signed a joint declaration of peace and reopened their shared border for the first time in decades, and Eritrean Muslims celebrated on the 10th of Muharram by holding a gathering in the thousands at the mosque.

Unfortunately, the mosque was damaged by shelling and reportedly looted during the current war. In December 2020, reports trickled out that Ethiopian and Eritrean troops were responsible for the damage. In an interview with BBC Amharic soon after, Abebaw Ayalew (deputy director of the Ethiopian Heritage Preservation Authority) stated that a professional team was on its way to document the damage to both the Al-Najashi Mosque and a nearby church and to chart a plan for repairs. He stated, “These sites are not only places of worship. [They are] also the heritage of the whole of Ethiopia.”

Indeed, one might argue that this mosque—as well as the two other early mosques highlighted above—are part of the spiritual heritage of Muslims worldwide. Perhaps in coming years the international ummah will fund the restoration of both the Mosque of Two Qiblas and the Sahaba Mosque, as Turkey did for the Al-Najashi Mosque.

The Legacy of the First Hijra in the United States

Meanwhile, diaspora communities commemorate the First Hijra’s significance worldwide. In 1986, Ethiopian Muslims established the First Hijra Muslim Community Center in Washington, D.C. Located on Georgia Avenue just a mile north of the nation’s preeminent historically black college, Howard University, this mosque has become an important part of Washington’s Pan-African landscape.

The website of the foundation that established the community center explains the significance of its name:

“The meaning and the significance of ‘Hijra’ is embodied in the Islamic calendar. Since its inception, the Islamic calendar represents a history of perpetual struggle between truth and falsehood, freedom and oppression, light and darkness, and between peace and war. The migration to Ethiopia and generous offer of political asylum to the oppressed companions of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was the birth of freedom of expression and beliefs, whereas the Second Migration of the Prophet Muhammad to Madinah celebrates the end of oppression.”

An edited version of this article was published in the March/April 2022 issue of Islamic Horizons.
https://issuu.com/isnacreative/docs/ih_march-april_22?fr=sZTI0MzI0NzY3Mw

References:

Abdul-Rahman, Muhammad Saed, trans. 2009. Tafsir Ibn Kathir Juz’ 16 (Part 16): Al-Kahf 75 to Ta-Ha 135, 2nd ed. London: MSA Publication Ltd. (The section on Surat Maryam discusses the al-Habash [p.34].)

Abu Huzaifa. n.d. “Negash, Ethiopia.” IslamicLandmarks.com. https://www.islamiclandmarks.com/various/negash-eithiopia.

“Migration to Abyssinia.” 2022. Madain Project. https://madainproject.com/migration_to_abyssinia.

“IOM Evacuates 250 Most Vulnerable Ethiopian Migrants from Yemen.” 2016. ReliefWeb, March 15, 2016. https://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/iom-evacuates-250-most-vulnerable-ethiopian-migrants-yemen.

Insoll, Timothy, and Ahmed Zekaria. 2019. “The Mosques of Harar: An Archaeological and Historical Study.” Journal of Islamic Archeology 6, no. 1 (2019): 81–107. https://doi.org/10.1558/jia.39522.

Girmachew Adugna. 2021. “Once Primarily an Origin for Refugees, Ethiopia Experiences Evolving Migration Patterns.” Migration Information Source, October 5, 2021. https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/ethiopia-origin-refugees-evolving-migration.

“UNHCR Ethiopia Fact Sheet, June 2021.” 2021. ReliefWeb.com, July 19, 2021.

https://reliefweb.int/report/ethiopia/unhcr-ethiopia-fact-sheet-june-2021.

On the new refugee law: Maru, Mehari Taddele. 2019. “In Depth: Unpacking Ethiopia’s Revised Refugee Law.” Africa Portal, February 13, 2019. https://www.africaportal.org/features/depth-unpacking-ethiopias-revised-refugee-law/.

“About Us.” n.d. First Hijrah Foundation. https://firsthijrah.org/our-work/.

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Office Closed August 8 to 12

August 1, 2022

Sylff Association secretariat office will be closed from August 8 to 12, 2022, for the summer holidays. We will resume our operations on August 15.

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What the Global North Owes Refugee Youth in Protracted Displacement

July 8, 2022
By 27526

Opened in 1991, the Dadaab refugee camps in northeastern Kenya have seen two generations of Somali refugees born or grow up within their confines. According to 2016–19 Sylff fellow Mohamed Duale, who conducted his PhD research there, protracted refugee situations like this have become increasingly common. But the West’s recent response to Ukrainian refugees suggests that there is more to the story than the Global North’s professed inadequate capacity to resettle refugees, says Duale.

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In by-gone times, forced displacement was considered a short-term emergency. In recent decades, displacement has taken an increasingly protracted nature as contemporary wars have lingered for many years, sometimes decades. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), also known as the UN Refugee Agency, explains that “protracted refugee situations are those in which at least 25,000 refugees from the same country have been living in exile for more than five consecutive years.”[1] It estimated in 2018 that “78% of all refugees are in protracted refugee situations.”[2] About 85% of the 20.8 million refugees registered with the UNHCR in 2021 lived near their countries of origin in the Global South.[3] UNHCR policy recognizes three durable solutions to forced migration: resettlement to a third country, local integration in the host country, and voluntary repatriation to the country of origin.[4]

I did my PhD research on Somali refugee youth in the Dadaab refugee camps of northeastern Kenya, one of the world’s largest and longest sites of protracted displacement. Since opening in 1991, two generations of Somali refugees were born or grew up in the Dadaab camps under harsh social, economic, and political conditions. Somali refugees have historically been seen as a thorn in the side of the Kenyan state, especially as it battled the Somalia-based Al-Shabaab extremist group in recent years. The Dadaab camps were unfairly blamed as harbouring terrorists, and in 2013 Kenya concluded a tripartite agreement with Somalia and the UNHCR to close them.[5] As Somali refugees are predominantly Muslim, the global war on terror has stigmatized and deleteriously impacted their resettlement in the Global North. Today, most Somali refugees in Kenya find themselves confined to refugee camps and deprived of relocation to a third country with an indeterminable return to their conflict-affected homeland. Refugees in other parts of Africa and much of the Global South find themselves in similar situations of being stuck in displacement and facing an uncertain future.

A refugee camp in Dadaab. (Photo by Nichole Sobecki/GroundTruth, source: The GroundTruth Project https://thegroundtruthproject.org/somalia-conflict-climate-change/reportage_sobecki073/)

Young people living in the difficult social milieu of refugee camps are particularly interesting to me considering their simultaneous vulnerability and resilience. Though categories of youth vary among agencies and governments, figures suggest that young people constitute most refugees in the world. For example, 51% of refugees are thought to be under 18 years of age, 33% between 10 and 24 years old, and 35% between 15 and 24 years old.[6] Despite their demographic majority, refugee youth have sometimes been called an “invisible population.”[7] Nevertheless, there is no shortage of ambition among refugee youth living in protracted displacement. Sagaro, a young Somali refugee man in the Dadaab camps, recalled: “I was born in this camp nineteen years ago. At the age of twelve, I had to leave school to start my own business to feed my family. . . . I must succeed and become rich. I want to become a big businessman. But for now, I don’t have a lot of money, so I will continue to work hard until I do.”[8] 

As I previously argued elsewhere, global refugee policies discuss refugee youth based on the neoliberal precepts of self-reliance.[9] Global refugee policies also seek to contain refugees to their regions of origin in the Global South, mostly in neighboring countries where 73% of the world’s refugees reside.[10] For Somali refugees in Kenya, host state and international refugee policies have narrowed access to local integration and resettlement whilst encouraging voluntary repatriation to their home country. Given ongoing instability in Somalia, young Somali refugees in the Dadaab refugee camps find themselves without the usual rights of civilian life. Jamale, a young Somali refugee man in Dadaab, explained a few years ago that “[Not] many countries are welcoming refugees and migrants because they don’t see refugees as normal human beings. They may see you as a terrorist or as a beggar. What can I do to change that narrative? What can I do [for] people to allow me to realize my dreams?”[11]

Global North states, as powerful actors in the international refugee regime, increasingly prefer to keep African and other racialized refugees in refugee camps in Global South countries, possibly condemning them to decades, even a lifetime, of displacement and obscurity.[12] The West’s positive response to the recent refugee movement from Ukraine has for critical observers upended Global North self-narratives of inadequate capacity to resettle refugees and donor fatigue regarding so-called refugee crises. These supposed lacks and lethargies may have been smoke screens for more nefarious shortcomings: the undesirability and disposability of racialized refugees in Global North politics. Most refugees are from the Global South and are thus mainly people of color. Sequestering them in refugee camps is neither just nor politically tenable if humanity is to forge a shared future in the aftermath of centuries of colonialism. For the most part, young Somali refugees must largely rely on themselves to find their own durable solutions, learning for and building a better future that is yet unknown. But surviving the social stagnation of protracted displacement is not a struggle that individual refugee youth should have to wage alone; the odds are stacked against them. If states in the Global North are abandoning their obligations to African and other racialized refugees, civil society in these countries must—if they desire a common future with the rest of the world—show refugee youth, and all refugees, living in protracted displacement in Kenya and elsewhere in the Global South the concern and solidarity they have so rightly given Ukrainian refugees.    

 

[1] “Protracted Refugee Situations Explained,” USA for UNHCR, January 28, 2020, https://www.unrefugees.org/news/protracted-refugee-situations-explained/.

[2] “Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2018,” UNHCR, June 20, 2019, https://www.unhcr.org/globaltrends2018/.

[3] “Refugee Data Finder,” UNHCR, updated June 16, 2022, https://www.unhcr.org/refugee-statistics/.

[4] UNHCR. (2003, May 1). Framework for Durable Solutions for Refugees and Persons of Concern. UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency. https://www.unhcr.org/partners/partners/3f1408764/framework-durable-solutions-refugees-persons-concern.html

[5] S. Allison, “World’s Largest Refugee Camp Scapegoated in Wake of Garissa Attack,” The Guardian, April 14, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/14/kenya-garissa-dadaab-scapegoat-al-shabaab.

[6] E. A. Marshall, T. Roche, E. Comeau, J. Taknint, K. Butler, E. Pringle, J. Cumming, E. Hagestedt, L. Deringer, and V. Skrzypczynski, Refugee Youth: Good Practices in Urban Resettlement Contexts (Victoria, BC: Centre for Youth and Society, University of Victoria, 2016).

[7] Marshall et al., Refugee Youth.

[8] “Dadaab: Growing up in the world’s largest refugee camp,” report by M. Guiheux, France 24 English, January 7, 2017, https://youtu.be/LE6H0GGWrq8.

[9] M. Duale, “‘To Be a Refugee, It’s Like to Be without Your Arms, Legs’: A Narrative Inquiry into Refugee Participation in Kakuma Refugee Camp and Nairobi, Kenya,” Local Engagement Refugee Research Network, May 5, 2020, https://carleton.ca/lerrn/2020/to-be-a-refugee-its-like-to-be-without-your-arms-legs-a-narrative-inquiry-into-refugee-participation-in-kakuma-refugee-camp-and-nairobi-kenya/.

[10] “Refugee Data Finder,” UNHCR.

[11] AJ Plus, “Finding Hope in Africa’s Largest Refugee Camp,” December 10, 2019, https://youtu.be/61VLuz5e0co.

[12] M. Dathan, “Home Office Anger over ‘Racist’ Rwanda Policy,” The Sunday Times April 22, 2022, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/home-office-anger-over-racist-rwanda-policy-vp8gzbw2q; and O. M. Osman, “The Somali Refugees Whose Lives Were Halted by Trump’s Travel Ban,” Al-Jazeera, July 2, 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2019/7/2/the-somali-refugees-whose-lives-were-halted-by-trumps-travel-ban.

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Dismantling While Preserving the Pastoral Commons in Olderkesi, Southern Kenya

June 16, 2022
By 19806

The Maasai community of Olderkesi in southern Kenya is in transition from the traditional pastoral commons to individual land tenure. Kariuki Kirigia, a 2012 Sylff fellow and 2016 SRA awardee who conducted his doctoral fieldwork in Olderkesi, writes about what prompted this shift, what the process entailed, and the community’s efforts to avoid the shortcomings of such a change, as well as potential areas for concern.

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Introduction

When I arrived back home in Kenya in 2017 from Montreal, Canada, to conduct my doctoral fieldwork, I often found myself imagining what kind of place Olderkesi would be. Constituting the southern border between Kenya and Tanzania and neighboring the iconic Maasai Mara National Reserve and the Serengeti National Park, Olderkesi looked every bit the nucleus of biodiversity conservation that attracts safari tourists, nature scientists and enthusiasts, and conservationists from all corners of the globe. My efforts to get to Olderkesi virtually, however, fell short owing to the limited information available online about Olderkesi. In the current digital age where a click on a web page or a tap on a smartphone unveils superfluous information, Olderkesi seemingly ignored the clicks and the taps.

What Olderkesi had heeded to and espoused was the push to transition from pastoral commons to the private individual tenure. I set out to conduct an ethnographic study on the process of land subdivision in Olderkesi, which is one of the few remaining Maasai commons in Narok County and southern Kenya. In this piece I focus chiefly on the important ways that the Olderkesi community has sought to preserve the welfare of the commons despite efforts to transition to individual landholdings and on the imaginaries of life under individual tenure. 

Sheep grazing on the Olderkesi commons. (Photo by the author)

Kenya’s Maasai rangelands have for long constituted the quintessential site for the coexistence of humans and wildlife. But increased fragmentation of the rangelands in the push to confer private individual tenure has left a mosaic of fenced parcels on its trail, curtailing the mobility of both wildlife and pastoralists in the process. As pastoralists are forced to pasture livestock within their individual plots, thus fencing out other pastoralists and wildlife, grave concerns have arisen regarding the likely future of wildlife, primarily because the majority of wildlife in Kenya is found outside the state-protected areas (Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association 2020). Meanwhile, whither pastoralism?

Wildlife in Olderkesi. (Photo by the author)

My interest in land governance stems from living and, later, conducting research in rural Kenya, a time when I learned and appreciated how invaluable land is to people’s lives in Kenya’s countryside. The primacy of land to rural lives only increased as I expanded my geographical focus across sub-Saharan Africa, including conducting research among smallholder farmers in the Ashanti region in Ghana and southern Ethiopia. For rural dwellers to reap maximum rewards from their land, De Soto (2000) strongly argues, it is imperative to ensure the security of tenure through rendering land a private commodity. As Manji (2006) asserts, the privatization of tenure in Kenya in particular, and sub-Saharan Africa in general, has been motivated by the quest to liberalize land markets in the region. With its external, market-driven genesis that fails to account for local pastoral conditions, the private individual tenure has often negatively impacted pastoral livelihoods including by loss of land through the market, reduced pastoral mobility, unfair land allocations, and local land accumulation through dispossession (Galaty 2013; Mwangi 2007; Riamit 2014). It is following such negative impacts that Leeson and Harris (2018) refer to the individualization of tenure in the pastoral rangelands of Kenya as a form of “wealth-destroying private property rights.” Given these ominous realities, why then have the people of Olderkesi chosen to dismantle the commons in favor of private individual tenure?

 

Experiences, Expectations, and Negotiations

Propositions to subdivide the Olderkesi commons started in the late 1990s, but it was only in 2010 that formalized discussions began at the community level. Community meetings led by the community land adjudication committee[1] were held in different villages in Olderkesi. The meetings were primarily attended by men, and women were only invited to attend if they were widowed.

Having seen Maasai communities near and far subdivide land, the residents of Olderkesi felt it was just a matter of time before Olderkesi went through a similar process. Subdivision around Maasailand effectively restricted access to pasture by Olderkesi residents. At the same time, Olderkesi remained accessible to non-Olderkesi residents, thus becoming a wet-season grazing area for many pastoralists from outside Olderkesi, which limited pasture in Olderkesi during the dry season. Faced with this external demand for pasture, Olderkesi residents felt that the only way they could regulate external access to the Olderkesi land was through subdivision and individualization of tenure, where each individual could regulate access to their plots. This push toward private individual tenure echoes Tania Li’s (2014, 591) argument that “to turn it [land] to productive use requires regimes of exclusion that distinguish legitimate from illegitimate land users, and the inscribing of boundaries through devices such as fences, title deeds, laws, zones, regulations, landmarks and story-lines.” In this regard, the private individual tenure became a tool not only to render Olderkesi residents legitimate within Olderkesi, but also to render non-Olderkesi residents illegitimate as the landowner saw fit.

Following community-wide agreement to subdivide the Olderkesi land, the registration of the bona fide members of Olderkesi started. The bona fide members were to be males born by the closure date of the registration process (year 2015), and there would be a maximum of three male children per household. If the household head had passed away, the spouse (widow) would be registered as the household head. Olderkesi comprises 25 villages, and each village has a representative member in the land adjudication committee. Each of the 25 village leaders was tasked with verifying that the persons registered from a given village were indeed bona fide members of Olderkesi.

The government of Kenya had promised to facilitate land subdivision across the country, but upon requesting funds for land subdivision, Olderkesi leaders were informed that there were no finances for subdivision. The community land adjudication committee was then given the green light to proceed with land subdivision by employing a private surveyor. Land subdivision is an expensive undertaking, and every member registered to be allocated land was required to pay 23,500 KES (approximately 235 USD), termed as the surveyor fee. The next step was to search for a private surveyor to carry out land demarcation. The community land adjudication committee conducted interviews with three potential candidates before settling on a surveyor who had ample experience demarcating land in other areas in Maasailand.

 

Indigenizing Land Privatization in Olderkesi

The private individual tenure is largely a foreign concept in the Maasai rangelands, and the Olderkesi community has made efforts to indigenize the privatization process to account for local realities, culminating in a hybrid of land ownership and governance strategies that both uphold and challenge the idea of privatization in a pastoral context. The first phase of land subdivision entailed the identification of communal resources, which included water sources, schools, health centers, churches, a wildlife conservancy, and salt licks. By setting aside these resources, it ensures their access by Olderkesi residents even after relocation to individual plots. Olderkesi in this regard charts a different path from many other areas where land subdivision entailed individualization of communal resources, whether by design or illegitimately. Olderkesi therefore demonstrates an art of communal governance that has proved elusive in many other parts of Kenya’s Maasailand. This mode of governance generates optimism in that, on the one hand, it can be adopted by other groups transitioning from the commons to private individual tenure in the future and, on the other hand, it can form a firm basis for challenging earlier subdivision processes where individuals illicitly appropriated communal resources.

While the Olderkesi community has made efforts to avoid various shortcomings that come with the transition from the pastoral commons to private individual tenure, potential challenges remain. One such challenge stems from the land adjudication committee members having been vested with complete adjudicative powers over land allocation. This means that individuals having weaker social networks in the community could be allocated plots of land with less potential to support livestock and farming. This was the experience of Mr. Tulei, who now resides in Olderkesi but hails from another Maasai community. As Mr. Tulei narrated, “They gave me a piece of land that is on a hill full of rocks. You cannot graze or do anything with that piece of land. It is as if I am landless because I cannot use the land for any meaningful purpose.”

Asked why he thought he had been allocated such a low-quality piece of land, he responded, “Maybe it is because I have been spending most of my time in Olderkesi and not in that community. Also, you need to know people for you to get a good plot.”

 

Conclusion

The subdivision of the Olderkesi commons demonstrates the complexity of land privatization processes in the Maasai rangelands of Kenya. As one of the last areas to subdivide land, Olderkesi positions itself as having learned from the mainly “wealth-destroying” transition from the pastoral commons to the private individual tenure. While these lessons have been upheld and institutions put in place to correct for potential land injustices, there remain critical areas for concern. For instance, the expectations that life under the private individual tenure will secure the future of the Olderkesi community fails to account for the reduction in the mobility that has been instrumental in supporting life in the Maasai rangelands. At the same time, subdivision elsewhere resulted in reduced pasture access by the Olderkesi residents, underscoring the need for individualized control over pasture access. As these land privatization dynamics become indigenized in Olderkesi, they are at the same time couched within global dynamics of capital flows that have largely liberalized land markets in sub-Saharan Africa.

 

References

De Soto, H. 2000. The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else. New York: Basic Books.

Galaty, J. G. 2013. “The Collapsing Platform for Pastoralism: Land Sales and Land Loss in Kajiado County, Kenya.” Nomadic Peoples 17, vol. 2 (December): 20–39. https://doi.org/10.3167/np.2013.170204.

Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association. n.d. “Overview.” Conservacies. Accessed June 1, 2020. https://kwcakenya.com/conservancies/.

Leeson, P. T., & C. Harris. 2018. “Wealth-Destroying Private Property Rights.” World Development 107 (July): 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2018.02.013.

Li, T. 2014. “What Is Land? Assembling a Resource for Global Investment.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 39, no. 4 (October): 589–602. https://doi.org/10.1111/tran.12065.

Manji, A. 2006. The Politics of Land Reform in Africa: From Communal Tenure to Free Markets. London: Zed Books. http://catdir.loc.gov/catdir/enhancements/fy0659/2006045280-t.html.

Mwangi, E. 2007. “Subdividing the Commons: Distributional Conflict in the Transition from Collective to Individual Property Rights in Kenya’s Maasailand.” World Development 35, no. 5 (May): 815–34. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2006.09.012.

Riamit, S. 2013. “Dissolving the Pastoral Commons, Enhancing Enclosures: Commercialization, Corruption and Colonial Continuities amongst Maasai Pastoralists of Southern Kenya.” Master’s thesis. McGill University. https://central.bac-lac.gc.ca/.item?id=TC-QMM-123174&op=pdf&app=Library.

[1] The locally elected group ranch committee morphed into the land adjudication committee following the community-wide agreement to subdivide the Olderkesi GR.

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Sylff@Tokyo: Bulgarian Fellow Investigating Japanese Policy toward the Balkans

June 10, 2022

The Sylff Association secretariat was pleased to receive a visit on May 17, 2022, from Evgeniy Kandilarov, a 2003 Sylff fellowship recipient at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” in Bulgaria and currently a member of the university’s Sylff steering committee.

Having a visitor from abroad was very special for us, given that COVID-related restrictions have yet to be completely lifted.

Kandilarov, second from left, during his visit to the Sylff Association secretariat.

Kandilarov is an associate professor in the Japanese Studies Department at his alma mater and is staying in Tokyo through March 2023 to conduct research on the Japanese government’s policy toward Central and Eastern Europe, with a focus on the Balkans, from the Cold War to today. The research is being funded by the Japan Foundation.

He has published several books relating to his current research topic. During his stay, he hopes to analyze data from documentary sources and conduct interviews with specialists, policy makers, and practitioners to gain a better understanding of the driving factors and goals of Japan’s Balkan policy and the major outcomes of that policy.

During his visit to the secretariat, he also updated us on the recently renewed Sylff Program at Sofia University, which is being managed in an exemplary manner by Kandilarov and other members of the university’s steering committee.

We hope that his stay in Japan proves to be very productive.

 

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Preliminary Registration for Sylff Research Grant (SRG) Now Open

June 1, 2022

Sylff Research Grant (SRG)

The Sylff Association secretariat is pleased to announce the launch of Sylff Research Grant (SRG), aimed at supporting high-quality academic research and career development among doctoral students and recent doctorates amid COVID-related restrictions. The program provides a grant of up to US$5,000 to each successful applicant.

All Sylff fellows who are currently enrolled in a doctoral program at any institution of higher learning or who received a doctorate on or after April 1, 2019, are eligible to apply. SRG may be used to support research conducted between October 15, 2022, and September 30, 2023.

Before submitting a formal application, fellows are required to complete online preliminary registration procedures before 11:59 p.m., June 30, 2022 (Japan Standard Time). Please carefully read the Call for Applications for details on eligibility, research activities for which the grant can be used, and application requirements and schedule.

We hope that eligible fellows will make most of this opportunity to advance their research activities. We look forward to receiving your application.

 

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Prestige and Dominance in Finland and Colombia

May 30, 2022
By 27764

In her PhD project, 2020 Sylff fellow Maija-Eliina Sequeira combines ethnographic and experimental methods to explore how the sociocultural environment shapes children’s understanding of social hierarchies. Following a study in Finland, she is currently conducting further research in Colombia using an SRA grant. The outcome of the comparative study will shed light on how children in the two countries differ in their preferences for prestige or dominance and how they develop these preferences.

* * *

Humans must be understood as both social and biological beings; a focus on nature or nurture alone is not enough to explain both the diversities and the consistencies in how humans across the globe structure and live their lives. Instead, underlying universal human cognitive tendencies and capacities, such as the capacity to learn language or the tendency to ascribe agency to nonhuman beings at a certain age, are shaped by various factors including the sociocultural environment within which a child is socialized. This socialization occurs through active processes such as teaching, as well as through more passive exposure to norms, structures, and patterns in the world around them. Certain tendencies and capacities might be taught, encouraged, or nurtured in the growing child, while others are stifled or simply not given attention, depending on local norms, values, and customs—which themselves vary between individuals and across time periods. In short, I consider that children learn what it means to be human within a certain historical setting and in the context of specific social groups—such as their local community, family, and the wider society—and that these factors shape and direct their development throughout their lives.

With this in mind, I took on a PhD project that allowed me to combine “bottom-up” exploratory ethnographic methods—and generate the deep, nuanced understandings of social relationships that they lend themselves to—with the more structured “top-down” experimental methods that enable fruitful comparisons between two groups. Having lived in Colombia for several years before moving to Finland in 2019, I was struck by just how different the two countries are at the societal, familial, and school levels. I knew that such stark differences would provide an interesting and informative backdrop for a comparison of the socialization of children.

 

Children painting. (Source: Canva)

Basis of Social Status: Dominance or Prestige

My research explores how children’s sociocultural environment shapes how they understand, use, and navigate through social hierarchies in their everyday lives. Human societies tend to be stratified; they have certain people with more power or influence than others, although such stratification takes many different forms, ranging from more systematized and explicit caste or class systems to very subtle differences in influence according to age, gender, or some other marker of status in a relatively egalitarian society. Research from psychology suggests that an individual’s high status can be built on two different processes: dominance processes, a coercive process based on fear, strength, or intimidation and threat, and prestige processes, which are based on merit and knowledge or on skill in a locally valued domain.[1] Dominance processes are found in many nonhuman primates and other animals, whereas prestige processes appear to be a uniquely human phenomenon, and it has been suggested that prestigious imitation—the tendency of humans to choose to learn from and copy prestigious individuals—might serve as an important social learning mechanism for cultural transmission in human social groups.[2] It is therefore very interesting to consider how and when children learn to identify dominance and prestige and to determine how their sociocultural environment shapes the way in which they react to prestige and dominance.

 

A scene from the experiments, showing the dominant, prestigious and subordinate characters.

Research from developmental psychology suggests that children start to develop a basic ability to reason about rank, and particularly to identify dominance, from when they are just months old, which suggests that there are universal cognitive mechanisms underlying the ability. This is supported by the fact that cues of dominance appear to be similar cross-culturally and are also consistent with dominance cues found among nonhuman primates, such as “squaring up” behavior. Prestige, meanwhile, is dependent on local cultural value placed on different skills and behaviors, since what is valued and considered to be an important ability or knowledge varies dramatically across different societies: in one it might be the ability to hunt a specific large animal and in another to sing in a particular pitch, while in others it might be associated with the accumulation of highly specific knowledge about local fauna and flora. Therefore, as children grow and are socialized within a specific sociocultural environment, they must develop a much more nuanced and locally specific understanding of how power and influence are distributed in their society, and they must learn to navigate within these complex systems.

There is cross-cultural variation not only in the understanding of what behaviors are considered prestigious, but also in people’s preference for dominant and prestigious leadership. In societies characterized by instability and resource inequality, dominant-style leadership is considered to be more acceptable and, in some cases, preferable to prestigious-type leadership.[3] In my PhD work, I use a combination of ethnographic and experimental methods to explore and compare how children in Finland and Colombia—two extremely different sociocultural environments—learn, use, and navigate social hierarchies. Colombia has high levels of insecurity and extreme socioeconomic inequality, making it a very different social environment from the equality, stability, and safety net of a generous social security system that Finland is known for. Interestingly, despite these differences, both Colombia and Finland have been named “happiest country in the world” depending on the measures of happiness that are used.[4]

 

Tents at the summer camps where I carried out ethnographic fieldwork in 2021.

 

Conducting Research in Helsinki and Santa Marta

In 2021 I carried out 12 months of ethnographic research with children and families in Helsinki, Finland. This was followed by a series of experiments to investigate whether children (i) infer high social rank from cues of dominance and prestige, (ii) differentiate between prestigious and dominant individuals, (iii) show a personal preference for prestige or dominance, (iv) assign leadership skills to prestigious or dominant individuals, and (v) choose to learn from a prestigious or dominant individual. I tested over 170 children aged 4 to 11 years over a series of weekends from December 2021 to March 2022, basing myself at Heureka science museum. The experimental data are still in the process of being checked for validity, and so analysis has not yet started, but through ethnographic research I have identified a strong aversion to dominant behavior among children living in Helsinki, which I expect to be reflected in the experimental results.

 

Research assistants during testing at Heureka museum in Finland.

The SRA grant allowed me to hire a research assistant, Valeria Aza Barros, and to collaborate with the research group on cognition and education at the Universidad de Magdalena, Colombia, to replicate the same experiments with children in Santa Marta. After undergoing training and pilot studies via Zoom and checking the translations of the experiments to ensure that they were locally valid, Valeria conducted the experiment with 160 children—our required sample size—between the ages of 4 and 11. Although I am still coding the data, after which they will undergo validity checking and then be analyzed in the coming months, they show signs of very different patterns compared to the data from Finland.

Upcoming ethnographic fieldwork in Santa Marta from August to December 2022 will allow me to contextualize the findings within local norms and hierarchies. This combination of ethnographic and experimental data allows me to interpret the experiments while considering contextual information that might influence the choices and answers of the children during the experiment. Future analyses will reveal whether the children in Colombia really do show a greater preference for dominance over prestige and allow me to determine whether they trust in and prefer dominant individuals to a greater extent than the children in Finland do.

Research in hierarchy is relevant to ongoing debates in many academic fields, such as those related to the evolution and nature of cooperation and morality. However, this project is not just of academic interest; it also holds important societal lessons about the lifelong impact that the early socioeconomic environment can have on individual people and wider society. A preference for dominance in the face of insecurity may have been highly adaptive when the insecurity stemmed, for example, from small-scale warfare with neighboring groups. In such circumstances, dominance may indeed have been the best strategy to ensure survival and prosperity for a community. But such a preference may be maladaptive in modern industrialized societies where a dominant-type leader, who depends on threats and intimidation to gain and maintain power and influence, is unlikely to provide any genuine benefits to people living in situations of insecurity and economic inequality. If individuals raised in more insecure, unequal societies are more inclined to prefer and ultimately choose dominant leaders (such as in elections), they may ultimately be doing more harm than good to themselves and their communities. Dominant leaders are not necessarily the best placed to improve the circumstances of the average citizen and instead might serve to simply perpetuate the cycle of insecurity and inequality that leads to them being selected as leaders and given power in the first place.

[1] J. T. Cheng, “Dominance, Prestige, and the Role of Leveling in Human Social Hierarchy and Equality,” Current Opinion in Psychology 33 (June 2020): 238–244, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2019.10.004.

[2] M. Chudek, S. Heller, S. Birch, and J. Henrich, “Prestige-Biased Cultural Learning: Bystander’s Differential Attention to Potential Models Influences Children’s Learning,” Evolution and Human Behavior 33, no. 1 (January 2012): 46–56, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2011.05.005.

[3] R. Ronay, W. W. Maddux, and W. von Hippel, “Inequality Rules: Resource Distribution and the Evolution of Dominance- and Prestige-Based Leadership,” The Leadership Quarterly 31, no. 2 (May 2018), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.leaqua.2018.04.004.

[4] D. Roos, “Colombia, Not Finland, May Be the Happiest Country in the World,” HowStuffWorks.com, March 26, 2018, https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/emotions/colombia-not-finland-may-be-happiest-country-in-world.htm.

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India Should Be a Human Rights Concern for Japan

May 16, 2022
By 28804

Amit Singh, a 2020 Sylff fellow, is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Coimbra in Portugal. In this article, he discusses how Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s March 2022 trip to India was paradoxical in the light of the latter’s poor human rights situation. But Japan has the potential to influence that situation by using its financial leverage, he says.

*   *   *

The recent visit by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to India was a normal diplomatic trip that occurred under abnormal circumstances, given that the Indian government is waging an indirect war against its own citizens—the Indian Muslims, seculars, and liberals. Indeed, these are not normal circumstances for democracy and human rights in India. And signing trade agreements with a country that is currently on the list of countries at risk of genocide brings the human rights commitment of the Japanese government under question. Japan supports the idea that protecting human rights is the most fundamental responsibility of any nation and affirms that the human rights of all people should be respected, regardless of their countries’ cultures, traditions, and political and economic systems. In addition, it recognizes the importance of a thriving civil society and attaches great importance to dialogue with it. But even as Kishida shook his hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India’s scathing assault on human rights and civil society continued unabated.

Narendra Modi and Fumio Kishida in New Delhi 19 March 2022, Source: Government of India

 

Japan and India

Relations between Japan and India go back to the sixth century, when Buddhism was introduced to Japan. Since then, with the exception of some intervals, their relationship has continued to today.

In principle, both Japan and India are committed to taking bold measures to tackle challenges to sustainable development and global peace. But this task becomes even more difficult than it already is when democracies around the world are gradually overtaken by authoritarian and populist rulers who could seriously undermine the rule-based international order. Without strong democracies, it is hard to imagine a fair and just world. As such, the dismantling of Indian democracy should be a concern for Japan, an old ally of India that is connected with the latter through shared values of human rights, democracy, and the Buddhist precepts of nonviolence and peace.

Labeled as “partially free” and an “electoral autocracy,” India is currently governed by Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was once shunned by Western governments due to his complicity in the Godhra massacres. Even though India’s being a secular democracy provides constitutional safeguards to religious minorities, Hindu nationalists do not support the idea of religious equality. Hindu nationalism is radically far right, and given its belief in Hindu supremacy, it is a dangerous mix of religion and politics; it supports the discriminatory caste system, negates racial and religious equality, and disregards the discourse of human rights. Since 1925, The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has been India’s staunchest proponent of Hindu nationalism. The RSS is a parental organization of the current ruling party of India, the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP). Modi was a full-time RSS worker in the past, notorious for his complicity in the Godhra communal riots when he was the chief minister of the Gujarat state in 2002. Since Modi’s ascendance to power in 2014, a consistent move to curtail freedom of speech, the right to dissent, freedom of press, and religious freedom has descended India into a state of “elective despotism.”  


Kishida’s Human Rights Diplomacy

Against this background, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida landed in India on March 19, 2022, to strengthen Japan’s special relation with its old ally, ignoring ongoing human rights violations in India. Interestingly, Kishida wrote an article in an Indian newspaper highlighting the commonality between two countries, noting that they are “linked by universal values such as freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.” During his visit, however, there was no scrutiny of the current human rights situation in India or constructive dialogue on the subject with the Indian government. Even though Kishida supports a forceful brand of human rights diplomacy and firmly believes that the promotion and protection of all human rights is a “legitimate interest” of the international community, dialogue on this “legitimate interest” was absent in his India visit, as if his government did not want to offend the Indian government. His human rights concerns seem limited to China, Tibet, and Hong Kong.

There is a strange paradox between the two countries: whereas Japan has consolidated its democratic political structures and developed policies for the promotion and protection of human rights, the Indian government is in the process of dismantling democratic structures, vandalizing independent institutions, and vaporizing constitutional safeguards meant to protect its citizens. In the 2020 Human Freedom Index, which ranks countries based on civil, economic, and personal freedom, India was ranked 111th. Another report by the Economic Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index highlighted the “democratic regression” and “erosion of civil liberties” in India. In the land of Mahatma Gandhi—who introduced “civil disobedience,” a method of peaceful protest, to the world—the criminalization of peaceful expression is becoming a legal norm intended to stifle democratic dissent.

Procession of Hindu religious nationalists during the Hindu festivals often turns violent.


Potential for Japanese Influence

Using its financial leverage, though, Japan can support human rights in India. As Japan is currently India’s largest aid donor, it could positively influence the Indian government’s hostile attitude toward human rights by adding human rights conditionality (in trade negotiations), that is, providing that preferences can be withdrawn in case of systematic violations of human rights. In this context, Japan could follow the example of mainstreaming of human rights in European Union trade policy. To make human rights more effective, Japanese academic Maiko Ichihara suggests that human rights assistance to non-state stakeholders  could play an important role in supporting human rights abroad. It should be noted that Japan’s entire international aid apparatus is currently built around government-to-government assistance, excluding civil society and the human rights community of the beneficiary country.  

Observing Prime Minister Kishida’s efforts to promote human rights domestically and globally, however, his silence on the human rights situation in India has seriously impacted Japan’s positioning as a trustworthy and credible supporter for human rights worldwide. His reticence on the human rights situation in India also questions his noble intention to promote freedom and democracy as a universal value.

While Japan had hitherto been reluctant to intervene into the human rights affairs of other countries, this is likely to change under the Kishida government with the creation of a new cabinet-level position of special adviser on human rights, who would coordinate mainstreaming human rights issues across Japan’s ministries and in its foreign relations. But in order to promote and protect human rights abroad, Japan’s human rights diplomacy must go beyond realpolitik in its foreign relations, and the country needs to be more assertive in matters of human rights, particularly with its old ally India. Without a “serious commitment to human rights,” Japan’s human rights diplomacy will be ineffective in bringing any real, intended change.  

 

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COVID Vlogs from 49 Fellows Offer a Snapshot of Pandemic-Affected Lives

April 25, 2022

The Sylff Association secretariat wishes to thank the 49 fellows from 25 universities who participated in the COVID Vlogs project.

All the videos we received were highly illuminating, not only describing the COVID-19 experiences of each fellow in 21 countries but also shedding light on the impact of the coronavirus on their respective communities and potential future global implications, as well as elucidating fellow’s initiatives to be of help to others.

The fellows’ contributions to the COVID Vlogs project will become a repository of valuable lessons from the pandemic and a source of strengths and encouragement for the Sylff community.

*Listed in order of posting date 

Name Sylff Institution Title
Amit Singh University of Coimbra The Call of Duty to Help Humankind
Jan Schulz-Weiling University of Deusto Shifting moral baselines: the Covid crisis is also a values crisis
Jennifer Dysert York University Take Care of Each Other
Noloyiso Vondo University of the Western Cape This Pandemic Too Shall Pass, When It Does We Will Be Stronger
Herve Roland Memiaghe University of Oregon Rethinking International Research under Crises
Keith Tachiana Tashu University of Western Cape Opportunities and Threats of Citizen Participation in Local Governance Due to Covid-19.
Hailay Reda University of Oregon The Impact of COVID-19 on My Dissertation Research
Khaliun Enkhsaikhan National Academy of Governance Pandemic Condition in Mongolia
Cosmo Takagi Keio University Changes Brought About by COVID-19 in Japanese Local Governments
Nhung Nguyen Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific Unniversity Video Message from Nhung Nguyen - APU Fellow
Othman Belkebir Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies Covid and reflexivity on the field
Alex Kihehere University of the Western Cape Worsening the Vulnerabilities of the Vulnerable
Eliska Ullrichova ( 旧姓Cernovska) Charles University PhD Research during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Zuzana Lobling Charles University Rule of Law in Pandemic Times
Rocio Soledad Guajardo University of Chile Going through the Pandemic
Nicholas Michael C. Sy Ateneo de Manila University Savoring Moments amidst Difficulties Here in Manila
Taniya Chakrabarty Jawaharlal Nehru University We Are All in This Together
Gabriele Slizyte Conservatoire national superieur de musique et de danse de Paris Culture and the Role of Community during the Pandemic
Noe Nillni Conservatoire national superieur de musique et de danse de Paris To Reflect on Expanding Our Imagination
Masa Miskovic University of Belgrade Everything Is Possible Even during the Pandemic
Sirarpi Movsisyan University of Leipzig Stay Healthy and Get Vaccinated
Anna Bednarczyk Jagiellonian University Impact of COVID-19 in Argentina
Badamlyankhua Boldbaatar National Academy of Governance I Wish All of You Happy and Healthy New Year!
Ivana Hay Charles University Between Deaf and Hearing Worlds - We Can Do It!
Erni Kurnia Putri Gadjah Mada University COVID as a Revealer of Who We Are
David D. Sussman Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University Perspectives on Teaching in Japan During the COVID-19 Era
Bilal Alnemr Conservatoire national superieur de musique et de danse de Paris A Hope Message for Sylff
Liven Mutokosi University of the Western Cape Implications of COVID-19 to the Academic World
Priyanshi Chauhan Jawaharlal Nehru University This Too Shall Pass!
Rima Amalia Eka Widya Gadjah Mada University Message from Indonesia - Don't Give Up. We Will Soon Recover
Uuriintuya Batjargal National Academy of Governance COVID Pandemic Not Only Changed My Life, Pandemic Changed the Whole World
Leon Poshai University of the Western Cape COVID-19 and the Boom of Technology Based Research
Dorjkhand Sharavjamts National Academy of Governance Don’t Let Pandemic Steal Your Joy
Katrien Belen Ateneo de Manila University Better Days Ahead
Maija-Eliina Sequeira University of Helsinki Finding the Silver Linings in Two Years of COVID
Vivian Castro Villarroel University of Sao Paulo Artistic Research in Pandemic Times
A. Faidlal Rahman Gadjah Mada University New Normal is New Habit of Traveling in Pandemic
Sunil Kumar Jawaharlal Nehru University Never Disconnect!
Carl-Emmanuel Fisbach Conservatoire national supérieur de musique et de danse de Paris A Peaceful World without Epidemic?
Zozan Tarhan Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski“ Even in the Darkest of Darkness, There is Always a Light.
Elvisa Frrokaj National and Kapodistrian University of Athens The Impact of COVID-19 in Mental Health: The Situation in Greece
Chifon Godlove Ngek University of the Western Cape Courage, Covid-19 will Soon be Over
Nurlatifah Hartojo University of Indonesia We Can Face this COVID-19 Pandemic Together
Paula Caroline de Oliveira Souza University of São Paulo Social Changes and Vital Responses
Buaban Jesada Gadjah Mada University Being Loyal to the Government: A Case of Covid-19 in Indonesia
Amrit Kour Jawaharlal Nehru University Be Strong, Because Things will Get Better
Karnika Jain Jawaharlal Nehru University The Silver Lining Leading To The Brighter Future
Anwesha Sengupta Jadavpur University Being a Grad-student Mother During a Pandemic!
Roman Cazal Conservatoire national supérieur de musique et de danse de Paris The Brightness of Debussy as a Prayer for the End of the Pandemic

 

 

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New Support Program to Be Launched for Doctoral and Postdoc Fellows

April 18, 2022

The Sylff Association secretariat is pleased to announce its plan to launch Sylff Research Grant (SRG) in June 2022 to provide financial assistance for fellows who are either doctoral students or postdoc researchers.

SRG is aimed at supporting fellows who need to conduct high-quality research with a view to career development despite the restrictions imposed on their activities by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The details are still under development, but SRG will offer grants for academic research conducted by fellows who are currently enrolled in a doctoral program and those who, having received their doctorate within the past three years, are currently conducting postdoc research. To support fellows’ development as socially engaged leaders, SRG will provide assistance for not only academically oriented research but also activities that can be expected to lead to social betterment.

Please look forward to the official announcement of the program’s launch on the Sylff website and through the Sylff newsletter!

Note: The Sylff Association secretariat is not able to answer questions regarding the details of SRG, including eligibility, application procedures, and application documents, until its official launch in June 2022.