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Pursuing an International Strategy to Promote and Protect Indigenous Peoples’ Land Rights in Brazil

November 17, 2022
By 26115

Bruno Pegorari, a 2017 Sylff fellow, has been proactively involved in advocating for the rights of Indigenous peoples, including the Guarani Kaiowá in Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil. He has contributed a brief article providing an overview of the situation that the Guyraroká community of the Guarani Kaiowá faces in Brazil.

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In 2019, I was very fortunate to be awarded a Sylff Leadership Initiative (SLI) grant to continue my legal work with members of the Guyraroká community of the Guarani Kaiowá Indigenous people and their allies in Brazil. This SLI project helped me to carry out specific legal actions oriented at strengthening the community engagement with international human rights institutions in the face of Brazilian institutions’ evasive responses to the community’s attempts to recover their traditional territory. As a matter of law, the Brazilian Constitution and international treaties protect the right of Indigenous peoples to their traditional lands, among them the Guarani Kaiowá. However, it is important to highlight that this SLI project touched upon only a fraction of the broader political and legal struggle of the Guarani Kaiowá from Guyraroká. In this short article, I introduce some aspects of the Guyraroká Guarani Kaiowá’s battle for their traditional territory and explain why this struggle is not only representative of similar experiences faced by other Indigenous communities but also central to the resolution of the legal problem concerning all Indigenous peoples in Brazil.

 

Dona Miguela Vilhalva, a Guarani Kaiowá, greets the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Rapporteur for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Antonia Urrejola during her 2019 Brazil visit. (Source: CIMI 2019)


Guyraroká is part of the Guarani Kaiowá territory located in today’s Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul. Although Guyraroká is not officially recognized as Guarani Kaiowá territory today, its occupation by the Guarani Kaiowá goes far back, to before the arrival of settler colonizers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Guarani Kaiowá call their territories Tekohá. Guyraroká is a Tekohá, which combines the notion of land and life in a holistic, symbiotic manner. Teko means “mode of living” while means “physical place.” So, according to Kaiowá cosmology, Tekohá is the land where the mode of living of Guarani Kaiowá takes place. One does not go without the other. The teko is profoundly affected if the há (the land) is taken from them.[1]

During most of the twentieth century, the Brazilian government incentivized settlers to occupy Indigenous lands in the Midwest. During this period, settlers seized Guyraroká and expelled their inhabitants from the land. For many decades, members were banned from their traditional land, which had been turned into monoculture farmlands aimed at export. This massive land expropriation created severe consequences for the Guarani Kaiowá people. For many, the only alternative to ensure survival was to “integrate” into settler society and detach from their former Indigenous identity and territory or to stay around and work for the settlers running their stolen traditional lands under precarious labor conditions.

In the 1990s, the Guarani Kaiowá initiated a movement to take back their stolen territory. In 1999, community members finally reoccupied Guyraroká and brought the Guarani Kaiowá mode of living back to the land. The movement sought inspiration and legitimacy in the Brazilian Constitution.[2] Although anchored in a solid legal foundation, the take-back movement clashed with the economic interests of settler occupants, who had developed a stable agriculture export economy out of Indigenous lands and labor. As a result, the Brazilian Indigenist Agency (FUNAI) initiated demarcation procedures to resolve the issue. If successfully demarcated, Guyraroká would finally return to the community. However, in the final stages of the demarcation, settler landowners filed a lawsuit against FUNAI, claiming that because community members were not physically occupying Guyraroká at the date the Brazilian constitution was enacted (1988), the Guyraroká community and others under similar circumstances were to be deprived of their right of land restitution. The Supreme Court accepted the settlers’ argument in a biased and controversial decision. It ruled that, in the case of Guyraroká, the right to private property should override Indigenous rights to traditional land. Because of this case’s success, many farm owners across the country started to bring legal claims against ongoing Indigenous land demarcation procedures, producing a cascade effect. This is why the Guyraroká case is so important. It represented a large-scale backlash against Indigenous territorial rights that affected the Guyraroká community and many others all over the country.

Because the highest instance of the Brazilian judiciary had failed to protect the inherent land rights of Indigenous peoples, the Guyraroká community, under the guidance of the Guarani Kaiowá Great Assembly (Aty Guasu) and their allies, decided to appeal to international human rights institutions that have a legal mandate to oversee states under its jurisdiction, including Brazil. This is where this SLI project comes into play. The project helped to advance the international action plan to pursue reparations for the harms committed by the Brazilian judiciary against the community (that is, not protecting their land rights). So far, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Washington, DC) has granted a Precautionary Measure to the community based on the rights enshrined in the American Convention on Human Rights, to which the Brazilian government is a party.[3] Among other things, the commission requested that Brazil take measures to stop surrounding farmers from dumping aerial pesticides over the community.

While the case does not reach the Inter-American Court of Human Rights—the institution that holds the legitimate authority to order final, binding reparations to Brazil—the community and its allies continue to advance their international strategy to expose Brazil’s violation of the fundamental land rights of Guyraroká community members.

 

[1] Tonico Benites, “Recuperação dos territórios tradicionais Guarani-Kaiowá. Crónica das táticas e estratégias,” (2014) 100 Journal de la Société des américanistes 100, no. 2 (2014): 229–40. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24606548.

[2] The 1988 Brazilian Constitution switched from the paradigm of assimilation to one of protection and respect of Indigenous distinctiveness through the recognition of their rights. Article 231 recognizes Indigenous peoples’ “social organization, customs, languages, creeds and traditions, . . . as well as their original rights to the lands they traditionally occupy.” The same article also established that “The Federal Union has the responsibility to demarcate [their] lands and to protect and ensure respect for all their property.”

[3] A press release on the commission’s decision is vailable here:  https://www.oas.org/en/iachr/media_center/PReleases/2019/244.asp.

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Mechanisms for Conflict Resolution in Employment Relations at a Multinational Company in Nigeria and South Africa

November 14, 2022
By 29628

Western and Southern Africa is a hub for multinational companies to operate their business. Olaniyi Joshua Olabiyi, a Sylff fellow in 2019 and SRA awardee in 2021, conducted his PhD fieldwork in Lagos and Cape Town. This led to research on the mechanisms available for multinational enterprises to avert industrial conflict in their host community.

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Introduction and Background

The existence of labor disputes is inherent in all labor relations systems (ILO 2001). Collective bargaining breakdowns usually occur when the process of collective bargaining reaches its breaking point and then results in industrial actions, such as strikes or lockouts. Sound labor relations policy, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO 2001), is based on a system for preventing and settling labor disputes. Employee-employer relationships are characterized by divergent interests and deferred objectives from each party that frequently lead to conflict (Venter 2003). 

Photo by rawpixel.com from PxHere.


Methodology of the Study

The study focused on the assessment and effectiveness of conflict resolution mechanisms in Nigeria and South Africa, two host countries of the multinational company Huawei. It focused primarily on collective bargaining mechanism processes. A portion of this work was devoted to applying and interpreting mechanisms that can be used when disputes arise between employers and unionized workers.

In addition, the study conducted a comparative analysis of conflict resolution mechanisms used in South Africa and Nigeria to improve our knowledge of how conflict resolution works in South Africa’s labor relations environment compared to the conflict resolution mechanism in Nigeria. In this study, we investigated the tools and frameworks of legislation that facilitate reconciliation and peace in employment relationships and result in fewer disputes in South Africa and Nigeria.

The study employed a nonexperimental descriptive research design based on a survey approach. For data collection, a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods was applied. In both Nigeria and South Africa, a questionnaire was distributed to 200 employees of the group in that country. After compiling the aggregate data generated from the responses of employees across Huawei group companies in both countries, 363 responses were obtained for data. The data collection activity took place over the course of three-plus months.

 

Data Analysis Procedure

The methods of data collection and analysis used in this study include both quantitative and qualitative approaches. Interviews and questionnaire surveys were conducted to determine the process followed in addressing industrial conflict. 

For qualitative data analysis, 20 senior managers from Huawei multinational were interviewed face-to-face. We asked each manager to describe two or three specific incidents that have mandated the implementation of conflict resolution processes, procedures, and mechanisms within the organization. We then followed how the conflict was resolved by learning what measures were taken to that end. The interviewer asked participants a follow-up question, and they answered according to their knowledge, thus generating sufficient data to meet the research objective. The responses were analyzed using software program called NVivo and ATLAS.ti. 

For the quantitative arm, a closed-ended structure questionnaire was used to select a total of 400 employees from the Huawei multinational enterprise group in Nigeria and South Africa as the optimal sample for the quantitative arm. Of the 200 employees who were given the survey at the Nigerian site, 177 completed the survey, 14 did not respond, and 9 were excluded due to undisclosed information. Thus, 177 employees were part of the data collection in Nigeria.

A questionnaire was likewise provided to 200 employees of the company by the South African counterpart of the study. A total of 186 employees responded and 14 refused to respond, so 186 responses were taken as the final sample. In all, 363 responses were gathered from Huawei group employees in Nigeria and South Africa for the study’s data analysis.

To analyze the quantitative data collected using descriptive and inferential statistics, we used the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) version 19.0 for Windows, as it offers a variety of parametric as well as nonparametric statistical tests. A demographic analysis was conducted to determine the demographic composition of the sample. The data was presented in graphs, charts, and tables.

Data Coding and Cleaning

The data collected from Huawei group companies in South Africa and Nigeria needed to be coded and cleaned. Babbie and Mouton (2015) describe how social science data can be manipulated and read by computers and similar machines based on quantitative and qualitative data analysis. By using closed-ended questions with limited answers, data could be analyzed unpretentiously and directly, along with graphs.

There were two sections for demographics and research questions. For the researcher to perform a credible analysis, demographics and research questions were collected independently. Data analysis was performed on the quantitative data to analyze the theme and subject of the research. To ensure that the cleaning and coding processes are free of error, they were systematically observed several times at random.

Findings and Results

The mechanism for resolving conflict was more successful in South Africa than in Nigeria. Moreover, the study showed that industrial conflicts in Nigeria were not well managed. The reason for this was the Nigerian government’s spineless approach to labor legislation and resolution of labor disputes. The lack of intent to improve employment relations was due to the volatile labor relations environment in Nigeria. Within the South African space of labor relations, meanwhile, the labor policy was highly regulated, and the procedures were properly followed and implemented.

A total of 4.0% of respondents agreed that Nigeria’s organization had an appropriate and efficient conflict resolution mechanism. The majority of 44.1% disagreed that there was an effective and efficient mechanism for resolving conflict. In the South African organization, 58.6% of respondents agreed that an effective and practical conflict prevention device exists in their organization, while 2.2% disagreed. The Nigerian organization demonstrated through the low percentage of positive responses to both statements that it did not have a functioning dispute resolution mechanism.

In the survey of South African employees, 58.6% of respondents believed that formal mechanisms are necessary to explain how conflict should be handled within an organization. Another 21.0% strongly agreed that a conflict resolution device is present within the organization, adding up to 79.6%. Conflict resolution mechanisms were perceived as prevalent by approximately 2.2% of respondents and strongly so by 0.5%. The positive responses from 79.6% of employees indicate that a just conflict resolution mechanism is present in South Africa’s organization. This conclusion comes from the fact that if unbiased conflict resolution mechanisms exist between management and labor, it automatically enhances harmony in the workplace.

Of the Nigerian respondents, 44.1% disagreed with the assertion that the organization enforces or ratifies international labor standards. Since the largest percentage of employees disagreed with the statement, it appears that the Nigerian organization disallowed internationally accepted standards of work practice regarding conflict management. In total, 79.7% of respondents agreed with organizations upholding and promoting the international labor framework for conflict resolution, while 4.5% disapproved, 0.6% strongly agreed, and 15.3% said they were neutral about it.

In the South African survey, 82.3% of respondents approved of and accepted international labor standards for managing conflicts in employment relations; 3.2% said they did not, and 14% said maybe or unsure. There was a significantly higher percentage of employees who answered “yes” than those who answered “no.” This is because the organization consented to the worldwide framework for adjudicating workplace conflicts. In view of the foregoing, it is clear that organizations within South Africa use the mechanisms of international labor standards for conflict resolution. This is because they resolve conflict whenever it arises within the organization. Consequently, that organization would practice labor relations in a way that is fair, equitable, and equal in terms of conflict resolution mechanisms.

Concluding Remarks

The study concludes by recommending that host countries of multinational corporations in Africa constantly review their conflict resolution frameworks. This is so that the frameworks serve as a guide for multinational companies operating within their borders. As part of such mechanisms, the study points out that there needs to be a process of sincere dialogue between employers and employees. This must be accompanied by effective channels of communication between them. The study suggests that a nonviolent workplace environment can be facilitated by encouraging accommodating and congruent conflict resolution strategies among employees.

The report from the study revealed a case in which a multinational company that originally intended to infuse the international standard of employment relations into its host country’s conflict mechanisms abandoned and neglected the prevailing international practices of employment relations. In such a circumstance, the host country may have regressed from its labor relations legislation standard regarding conflict resolution. The multinational company has been able to sidestep the normal dispute resolution process by following the easiest route, disregarding normal protocol. Consequently the development of the host country, such as Nigeria, has been adversely affected. If a foreign corporation fails to observe the labor laws of the host country, how will the government sanction this behavior? Is there a procedure or regulation for dealing with such transgressions in the host country’s legal framework? It is common for governments to lack mechanisms to keep them in check.

As is evident from the findings presented in the study, multinational companies believe that they have influenced the host country’s environment by using the appropriate international standard for labor relations practice. This has resulted in the development of mechanisms that limit conflict among members of the workforce. Employees of the company in Nigeria, as well as reports of operations and actions of a multinational company in Nigeria, provide some support for this assertion. Even though multinational enterprises reap a tremendous number of economic and financial benefits, they have served as contrarian vehicles for capital flight from their host nations, exclusively in Africa (Allen-Ile and Olabiyi 2021).

 

References

Allen-ILE, C. O. K., and J. O. Olabiyi. 2021. “A Preliminary Comparative Perspective on the Role of Multinational Enterprises in Influencing Labour Relations of Their Host Nation.” Advances in Social Sciences Research Journal 6, no. 12 (December 2019): 298–318. https://doi.org/10.14738/assrj.612.6980.

Babbie, E., and  J. Mouton. 2015. The Practice of Social Research. South Africa ed. Oxford University Press Southern Africa (Pty) Ltd.

ILO (Internationa Labour Organization). 2001. “Substantive Provisions of Labour Legislation: Settlement of Collective Labour Disputes.” Chap. 4 in Labour Legislation Guidelines. International Labour Organization. Available online at http://www.ilo.org/public/english/dialogue/ifpdial/llg/index.htm (accessed November 20, 2019).

Venter, R. 2003. Labour Relations in South Africa. 2nd ed (revised). Cape Town: Oxford University Press Southern Africa.

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The Role of Education on the Labor Market and Unequal Educational Opportunities: An Empirical Analysis for the CEE Countries

October 12, 2022
By 29630

Nemanja Vuksanovic, who received a Sylff Research Award grant in 2021, conducted an empirical analysis of the economic role of education in the labor market and unequal opportunities in education in the Central and Eastern European countries. While policy makers in these countries need to increase the availability of higher education, financial resources must be primarily directed to the poorer segments of society, notes Vuksanovic; over-subsidizing post-primary education could increase income inequality rather than reduce it.

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Subject, Aim, and Motivation

The subject of my research was the analysis of the economic role of education in the labor market, observed from the aspects of human capital theory and signaling theory, as well as the analysis of unequal opportunities in education in the Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries. The aim was to empirically determine the extent to which, in the CEE countries, education improves productivity or represents a characteristic that signals productive capabilities, as well as to empirically examine the degree to which selected countries are characterized by unequal educational opportunities.

There are several basic motivating factors for choosing the research topic.

Firstly, this research contributes to the development of scientific and professional literature related to the economics of education in the CEE region. It is pioneering research that addresses the economic role of education in the labor market and unequal educational opportunities among the CEE countries. No attempts have been made thus far to evaluate the premium on education, the effects of diplomas, and the influence of factors limiting the achievement of a certain educational level in this region by means of the proposed theoretical and methodological framework. I chose this topic because this research can contribute to a better understanding of the transition paths of Serbia and selected CEE countries in the segment related to the educational process.

Secondly, the research conducts a detailed and systematic overview of theoretical models developed to explain the economic role of education and unequal educational opportunities, by looking at the historical development of these models and the most significant results of previous research. Special emphasis is given to describing the problems that researchers encounter in empirical studies when assessing the rate of return on investment in education and the effects of diplomas. In a broader context, the significance of the research lies in general contribution to the development of scientific and professional literature in the field of economics of education. My intention was to present through the research an appropriate theoretical and methodological framework for future research on topics in the domain of this economic field.

Another scientific contribution of the research lies in the empirical results, which could help policy makers in the CEE region to create a more complete picture of the education system and, based on that, to develop guidelines for improving the education process. The findings of the research should make more visible the problem of inequality in income distribution, which arises from circumstances beyond the control of the individual. The study of unequal opportunities in education has gained in importance in recent years as a result of the increasing attention that researchers are paying to the problem of income inequality. The study of factors limiting equitable access to education is important because it can clarify the effects of education as a mechanism for reducing inequalities in income distribution. So my main motivating factor is that the research results can provide a better understanding of the segment of demand for education and distribution of education and be helpful to education policy makers among the CEE countries.

Figure 1. Relationship between ratio of share of high-educated and share of low-educated population (x axis) and GDP per capita (y axis) among CEE countries

Education boosts the living standard of a country.

 

Basic Findings and Public Policy Implications

Seen from the social aspect the significance of the research results is manifold, since it can provide several guidelines for policy makers.

The results of my empirical study assessing the rate of return on investment in education indicate that in all CEE countries the positive return on investment in tertiary education is higher than the negative return on investment in primary education. That is, the link between education and earnings is convex, suggesting that in the CEE countries the highest rate of return is tied to the highest level of education. This tendency of the rate of return on investment in education—whereby the premium on education does not decrease with educational levels, so that it is highest in primary and lowest in tertiary education—has already been noted in a number of other studies.

In all CEE countries apart from Hungary, the positive premium on higher education is six to nine percentage points higher than the negative premium on primary education. points out that the relatively high rate of return for tertiary education may be because rates of return on investment in tertiary education are higher in those countries where the supply of more educated individuals grows at a slower pace than the demand for such individuals. Acemoglu (2008) argues that the gap in supply and demand for highly educated individuals may reflect the specificity of the country’s institutional framework or differences in changes in the openness of the economy and changes in the field of technological progress. Consequently, the present gap may have negative implications for the country’s economic development, as it leads to underutilized human resources. This implies that a country like Serbia, where the rate of return on investment in tertiary education is among the highest in the CEE region, is characterized by a significant gap in supply of and demand for highly educated individuals. This situation indicates the need for policy makers in Serbia to take appropriate measures to increase the supply of highly educated people.

Figure 2. Returns to high education in CEE countries

An investment in high education pays the best interest.

 

For policy makers, the observed pattern of returns on investment in education in CEE countries may also mean that a significant rise in the percentage of the population with lower levels of education will not greatly increase the earnings of individuals with these levels of education. The convex link between education and earnings suggests the possibility that over-subsidizing post-primary education may increase rather than reduce income inequality. Many international agendas, such as the Millennium Development Goals, have focused on increasing the share of the population with primary education. But when the link between education and earnings is convex, public investment aimed at increasing the coverage of the population with lower levels of education will not significantly increase the earnings of low-educated individuals. Moreover, Schulz (2003) points out that in countries where public subsidies in tertiary education are high—as is the case in many African countries—the convex link between education and earnings means that large amounts of public transfers to individuals in higher education, if not targeted, benefit most those whose families are of better socioeconomic status. In this case, such a public policy will not be very effective in reducing inequalities in income distribution. Both facts indicate that a successful public policy in Serbia must be directed toward more efficient allocation of educational investments; in other words, that special attention must be paid to distributing these investments by levels of education and targeting appropriate socioeconomic groups.

The results of the second empirical study show that every additional year of schooling over the years necessary for obtaining a university degree has a negative effect on earnings. This finding has significant implications for education policy. If some individuals benefit more from gaining a certain level of education, then policy makers need to recognize such different influences. This is especially important in the case of less developed countries of the CEE region, such as Serbia, where children from families of lower socioeconomic status face greater financial constraints. Namely, when education plays the role of a signal, it is important that highly gifted individuals be able to reach the highest levels of education to prevent the quality of the signaling role of education in the labor market from collapsing. Caplan (2018) points out that excessive public investments in education that are not directed toward appropriate groups devalue the importance of the role of education as a signal. Generous and untargeted public investment in the education system may jeopardize the importance of education as a means of overcoming the problem of information asymmetry between workers and employers. A nonselective policy of over-subsidizing higher education could lead to inflation of diplomas, which would greatly weaken the role of education as a signal. This is especially true in Serbia and Romania, where the signaling role of education is relatively weak among the CEE countries. Public policy makers in Serbia and Romania must therefore take care that financial resources are primarily directed to children from poorer families, with a focus on the talented ones, so that those children can reach the highest levels of education.

Improving the availability of higher levels of education through increased and well-targeted public investment is particularly important given the results of the third empirical study, which indicate the existence of unequal opportunities in education among the CEE countries. Increasing the proportion of the population with higher education may represent an appropriate public policy aimed at reducing income inequality, in line with the demonstrated link between education distribution and wage distribution. Pikkety et al. (2020) point out that this is important because the significance of implementing appropriate predistribution measures has recently been emphasized in the international agenda. Predistribution, which can influence the distribution of income before redistributive measures—taxes and social transfers—take effect, is based on the view that a country’s institutional framework through the legal and social system can contribute to reducing income inequality. Appropriate public policy in the CEE countries should be aimed at increasing the availability of higher education, while care must be taken to ensure that this coverage primarily affects individuals of lower socioeconomic status. A well-targeted predistribution policy oriented toward creating a fairer education system and a society characterized by equal opportunities can contribute to the country’s economic development and to the reduction of poverty and income inequality.

References

Acemoglu, D. 2002. “Technical Change, Inequality, and the Labor Market.” Journal of Economic Literature 40, no. 1 (March 2002): 7–72.

Caplan, B. 2018. The Case against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Piketty, T., A. Bozio, B. Garbinti, J. Goupille-Lebret, and M. Guillot. 2020. “Predistribution vs. Redistribution: Evidence from France and the U.S.” WID.world Working Paper, 10.

Schultz, T. P. 2003. “Higher Education in Africa: Monitoring Efficiency and Improving Equity.” In African Higher Education: Implications for Development, 93. New Haven, CT: The Yale Center for International and Area Studies.

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Religion, Caste, Social Mobility: Researching Precolonial Bengal

October 7, 2022
By 27497

As a 2016 Sylff fellow and 2019 SRA awardee, Abhijit Sadhukhan has studied how religious philosophy and attitudes toward the caste system interact, focusing on a Hindu sect called Chaitanya Vaisnavism. As his thoughts on the subject evolved over time, for his doctoral studies he set out to challenge the conception of the caste system as a static structure and proposes a ‘grammar of change’in the mobility pattern. His findings, based in part on archival documents in the British Library, contextualizes social mobility in precolonial India.

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Background

While studying as a Sylff fellow at Jadavpur University in the MPhil program back in 2016–17, I was particularly focused on exploring the interaction between religious philosophy and attitude toward the caste system in a particular religious sect. To be specific, I was working on Chaitanya Vaisnavism, a devotional religious sect propounded by Chaitanyadeva in sixteenth-century India. This school, highly popular in Bengal as well as in other parts of the country, has a distinct orientation toward the caste system. Caste is a kind of social stratification unique to India and is a hierarchical model based on the principle of hereditary occupation, restrictions in marital relations and commensality, and rank-based privileges and discriminations. It is often seen as a “closed system of stratification” that offers very little opportunity for change in and of society. The caste system has its own historical, sociological, economic, anthropological, philosophical, and religious underpinnings. I explored how religious philosophy shaped the attitude toward the caste system of a group of followers in the Chaitanya Vaisnava school in medieval Bengal. At the time, I mainly worked on normative texts (such as scriptures), philosophical texts, and literature to find out the importance of religious philosophy in shaping attitudes toward the caste system in the theoretical and partly practical spheres. But my attitude to this topic gradually changed, and after being enrolled in the PhD program, I began focusing more on the practical sphere of the caste system and tried to locate the idea of change in this “static” structure.

In my doctoral thesis, therefore, I have handled a wide range of sources (literature, scriptures, inscriptions, travel accounts, administrative records, census reports, and so forth) and interacted more and more with sociological and anthropological research and works on economic history along with my disciplinary training in literature. I have chosen to work on the process of upward mobility of three hitherto marginalized groups (Subarnabanik, Bagdi and Sadgop)in the caste hierarchy in medieval Bengal and the role of Chaitanya Vaisnavism in this process. Essentially, the idea was to propose a “grammar of change” in this hierarchical model through the investigation of three cases and confront the age-old idea of a “static” precolonial India. The research also intended to analyze the varying importance of ritual status in the process of upward mobility from precolonial to modern times. My work has focused on the interaction between the religious ideology of Chaitanya Vaisnava schools, the economic condition of a particular subregion in Bengal, the aspirations of upwardly mobile groups, and dominant Brahmanical ideology seeking sustainability in the existing hierarchical system.   

 

Choice of Methodology

As I had a plan to propose a “grammar of change” in the process of mobility, I set three different markers: cause of change, register of change, and intensity of change. These markers demand a diachronic study of the entire process; this is especially applicable for the latter two markers. Here I diverge from the research of the sociologists and the anthropologists. The sociologists and the anthropologists, because of their disciplinary training and limitations, tend to focus on the “product.” They do not always have the opportunity to probe into a diachronic study, as they are mainly concerned with the contemporary field view. I therefore took the opportunity to reveal the shifting connotations of the register of change as well as the change in intensity across time. For example, the Subarnabaniks, an upwardly mobile group, achieved legitimate rights in rituals and social customs through their economic supremacy and started to gain higher ritual status in one of the eminent Chaitanya Vaisnava schools in sixteenth-century Bengal. But no claim was made in the community then to wear the “sacred thread” to prove their mobility, while the same group was eager to wear the “sacred thread” in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a marker of their higher ritual status. This is evident from their activities and writings to the census administrators and is an example of how register of change can take a new turn over time.

I have always had a dialogue with the “process” and the “product” in my research and tried to assimilate both historical and sociological-anthropological insights in my writing. This also means handling a wide range of primary sources across time. In particular, I was able to access unpublished documents available in the India Office Records of the British Library with the support of a Sylff Research Abroad (SRA) award. These documents were very helpful in getting a clear idea of the ongoing process of mobility and common perceptions regarding the attempts of upward mobility of a few aspirant groups, which allowed me to substantiate my arguments even more boldly.

 

An unpublished letter written to Mr. H. H. Risley, census commissioner of British India, in 1901, available at the India Office Records, British Library.

 

Major Findings

My research has yielded a number of observations. Firstly, upward or downward mobility of any group was not a pan-Indian phenomenon. Mobility is in most cases very limited spatially and temporally. Hence local economic factors, dominant religious ideology, and local caste hierarchy must be studied very carefully. This is why each and every case study is unique and important for the discourse. These case studies, in my research, also signify that the marginalized groups were trying to seek upward mobility within the caste structure. They were not interested in conversion in any other religion and achieving a better status. These studies suggest that these groups preferred upward mobility within the structure because of some context-specific economic and political benefit and didn’t consider conversion much as an alternative.  

Secondly, I have also discovered through this work that economic supremacy was not the only factor in establishing higher status in precolonial Brahmanical society. Ritual status was probably even more important, and almost all of the upwardly mobile groups tried to forge “ritual status” with the help of economic and political power. This suggests that one cannot just straitjacket precolonial India into a Marxist mode of interpretation.

Thirdly, a religious school can accommodate and legitimize the mobility of a certain group within its own domain. This is an indication of the autonomy of the religion. However, no two schools will have the same positive inclination to this process of mobility. The inclination varies depending on the material situation as well as the religious philosophy of a particular school. Some Bhakti schools may seem reluctant to accelerate the mobility. They may have a reluctance to mere adjustment within the hierarchy, likely striving toward annihilation of the caste structure at least in their philosophical realm. Some other schools are not so nonconformist in nature and allow the mobility of a few groups if necessary to sustain the structure. This point bridges my earlier research with this one.

Lastly, mobility is also a way to sustain a structure. Instead of annihilation, this process actually gives the system a new lease on life every time. However, mobility is not necessarily progressive; it has its own trajectory associated with discrimination and exploitation. The process of climbing up the ladder probably cannot avoid that either.

This research, on one hand, examines the factors of sustainability of the caste system and its relative flexibility, and on the other, provides a framework to conceptualize mobility in general.

 

Suggested Readings

Chakrabarty, Ramakanta. Vaisnavism in Bengal 1486–1900. Calcutta: Sanskrit Pustak Bhandar, 1985.

Kane, P. V. History of Dharmasastra. 5 vols. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1977.

Sanyal, Hitesranjan. Social Mobility in Bengal. Calcutta: Papyrus, 1981.

Srinivas, M. N. Social Change in Modern India. New Delhi: Orient Black Swan, 1995.

 

 

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A Robust India-Japan Partnership is Largely Courtesy Shinzo Abe

September 28, 2022
By 21705

As visiting Japan Foundation scholar in 2011, Madhuchanda Ghosh, a Sylff fellow from academic year 2004-05 to 2006-07 at Jadavpur, had the privilege of conducting a one-on-one research interview with then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on his vision for the evolving Japan-India relationship. This article, reprinted from Sunday Guardian Live, is her tribute to the late prime minister, who left a lasting and formidable legacy in rejuvenating Japan-India relations.

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Abe’s push for a much closer security relationship between the two countries has continued robustly in the post Abe period as well.

The assassination of Japan’s longest serving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stunned the world. Abe leaves behind a formidable legacy in Asia of a visionary leader inspiring the formation of the expansive geostrategic construct, the Indo-Pacific. He authored the free and open Indo-Pacific concept through his articulation of the “Confluence of the Two Seas” in his historic address to the Indian Parliament in 2007 which has been embraced by the US, Australia, India, New Zealand and several other democracies. Abe’s further expanding the concept, during his second term as Prime Minister, by talking about a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” which calls for connecting the “two oceans”—the Indian and the Pacific and the “two continents”—Asia and Africa, was another visionary initiative of Abe to link Africa and Asia together as a single economic and strategic entity.

Winning six electoral contests, Abe gave Japan the political stability which the nation was desperately seeking. As the architect of Japan’s foreign policy vision, the FOIP, Abe played a critical role in expanding Japan’s strategic profile at the regional and global levels. Amidst the changing regional geopolitical scenario, his concerns over China’s growing military assertiveness factored in his intent and endeavour to “normalise” the Japanese approach to country’s national security. He also attempted to revitalise the stagnant Japanese economy through his signature strategy of “Abenomics” and sought to transform Japan into a more internationally engaged power. One of the most important highlights of Abe’s legacy was, perhaps, his enduring passion to consolidate Japan’s ties with India which brought about a massive transformation of Indo-Japanese relations during his premiership.

Abe was, perhaps, the most Indophile Japanese leader who recognised the importance of India even before he became Prime Minister in his book, “Towards a beautiful country: A confident and proud Japan” (Utsukushii kuni e: jishin to hokori no moteru Nihon e). During his maiden visit to India as the Japanese Prime Minister, Abe was given the rare honour to address both Houses of Indian Parliament when he pointed out that “a strong India is in the best interest of Japan, and a strong Japan is in the best interest of India.”

Japan’s robust strategic partnership with India has been largely shaped by Abe’s concerted efforts towards forging close ties with the Indian leadership. Abe’s bonhomie with Prime Minister Narendra Modi culminated in some unprecedented developments in the bilateral relationship. The nuclear issue, which was a longstanding irritant in the bilateral relations, was resolved with the conclusion of the landmark civilian nuclear agreement between the two countries in 2017. Abe led large business delegations to India and committed huge investments focusing on India’s infrastructural needs. Tokyo’s massive infrastructure investment in India, Japan’s permanent membership in the Indo‐US Malabar exercises, the nuclear deal, institutionalisation of a robust defence dialogue inter alia transformed the low-intensity Indo-Japanese relationship into one of the fastest growing bilateral relations, acquiring new strategic and economic dimensions. While Japan played a critical role in building India’s industrial corridors, railway and freight corridors and urban metro, the Abe administration also increased its focus on connectivity initiatives in India’s northeastern states. India’s Northeast has emerged as a pivot area of New Delhi’s Act East Policy as the Indian government considers the Northeast as the gateway to its greater engagement with the Indo-Pacific region. Infrastructural upgradation of the Northeast is, therefore, vital for New Delhi as it will build a connectivity continuum that will help strengthen India’s linkages with the Indo-Pacific region, especially the ASEAN countries including the South China Sea. New Delhi’s welcoming Japanese investments in boosting connectivity in the ANI and the northeast is quite symbolic. It indicates that New Delhi perceives Tokyo as a key strategic partner whom India is prepared to trust when it comes to its strategically sensitive border regions where New Delhi has not allowed other countries to invest.

The Abe government’s important strategic conceptualisations like the “Confluence of the Two Seas,” the “Quadrilateral Initiative,” the “Arc of Freedom and Prosperity,” Asia’s “Democratic Security Diamond” and the latest FOIP, all referred to India as a key partner of Japan in the region. Abe’s push for a much closer security relationship between the two countries has continued robustly in the post Abe period as well. Japan’s holding regular maritime exercises with India for promoting regional security in the Indo-Pacific, bilateral mechanisms as the Annual Defence Ministerial Dialogue, annual summit meetings, 2+2 Dialogue, the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA), all have deepened the strategic depth and scope of the bilateral security and defence cooperation.

Abe also attached much importance to the US factor in India-Japan relations. In course of a research interview with the author, Abe noted that Washington’s efforts to rejuvenate US-India strategic partnership and put US relations with India on a more solid foundation helped bring about a change in Japan’s perception of India as well. Abe viewed that this trilateral framework would be a powerful factor in consolidating the Quadrilateral Initiative. Abe also pointed out that people-to-people contact needs to grow between Japan and India in the manner they have grown between the US and Japan and between India and the US.

At a personal level, during the research interview with the author, Abe reminisced his grandfather Nobusuke Kishi’s close ties with India, stating that it shaped his perception towards India during the formative years of his life. India conferred Abe with its second-highest civilian honour, the Padma Vibhushan, for exceptional and distinguished service in public affairs. Few relationships among the major powers have undergone such a remarkable turnaround as that between Japan and India and Japan’s longest serving leader Abe had been instrumental in harnessing the potential of these two natural allies. Abe’s rich legacy and his vision for an enduring India-Japan strategic and global partnership will have a lasting impact in shaping the future course of India-Japan relations.

Meeting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his office in Tokyo during one-to-one research interview.

Reprinted from Sunday Guardian Live https://www.sundayguardianlive.com/news/robust-india-japan-partnership-largely-courtesy-shinzo-abe.

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The Changing Landscape of Shenzhen: Displacing the Urban Village from the City’s Memory

August 19, 2022
By 29645

Mengtai Zhang, a 2018 Sylff fellow, utilized an SRA without Overseas Travel grant in 2021–22 to explore the fate of Hubei and other urban villages in Shenzhen, China, which are on the brink of demolition—and oblivion. Faced with COVID-19 travel restrictions, Zhang enlisted a research assistant to conduct fieldwork and interviews on his behalf. What emerges is the dilemma between economic development and such considerations as social justice and preservation of culture.

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Due to China’s rapid rural urbanization in the last forty years, urban villages have become a common phenomenon, where the expansion of urban areas physically enclose rural lands operating under different land tenure. What makes urban villages unique in Shenzhen is that they are a product of segregated policies but have been restructuring the segregation from within over the last few decades. This segregation manifests in a rural-urban division and the resulting unequal allocation of institutional resources.

This division is embedded in the evolution of Shenzhen’s urban villages. With Shenzhen’s rapid economic development as a Special Economic Zone since China’s Reform and Opening Up in 1979, urban villages evolved with a level of self-organization to accommodate the large influx of migrant workers, providing them with access to superior urban resources in an affordable way, while bringing wealth to local rural collectives that own the land. This dynamics shifted from the mid-2000s, when many urban villages began to be demolished and rebuilt by mega real estate developers, often into skyscrapers and large shopping malls, under government planning. By the 2010s, more and more people in Shenzhen had started advocating for the protection of urban villages. Many wanted to preserve the urban villages for migrants and working families who were still suffering from unequal resource distribution. They also believed the urban villages bore historical significance to the rise of Shenzhen.

 

Collective Memory and the Case of Hubei

In July 2016 Hubei 120, a leaderless movement of artists, scholars, and architects, initiated a series of activities against the demolition of Hubei, an urban village in the Luohu district in central Shenzhen. As Hubei has existed for hundreds of years, participants of Hubei 120 argued that destroying Hubei would destroy Shenzhen’s shared memories and cultural assets. At the end of 2017, Hubei 120 curated a prominent art exhibition at the Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture. I participated in the exhibition and presented two works, a soundscape composition of Hubei and a performance, both of which began during my 2016 art residency in Shenzhen. Both works used sound to create contexts about the impact of urbanization on people’s living conditions. Having captured the soundscape of Hubei when the place was facing demolition, I utilized the SRA without Overseas Travel grant to continue the research on Hubei at the end of 2021, now that demolition and reconstruction were well under way. 

 

Landscape view of Hubei, demolition in progress, Shenzhen, December 2021. (Photo courtesy of Lemon Guo)

 

During the research period in 2021 and 2022, I explored how collective memories were impacted by other systems in the process of migration. I was interested in what urban villages meant to different groups of people in Shenzhen and what we could hear from the diverging voices on what should happen to Hubei. With the support of an SRA without Overseas Travel award from the Sylff Association, I hired research assistant Lemon Guo to conduct fieldwork and interviews in Shenzhen, since I was unable to travel to China due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

Guo visited urban villages in Shenzhen, including Shangwei, Baishizhou, Shuiwei, Caiwuwei, and Hubei, and took field recordings and photographs. She mainly interviewed anthropologist Mary Ann O’Donnell, who is an expert on the urban villages in Shenzhen, and theater maker Yang Qian and filmmaker Shi Jie, both of whom were significant contributors to Hubei 120. We asked questions regarding the demolition process of Hubei, the characteristics of urban villages, and their memories of Shenzhen’s reform.

O’Donnell told us about the history of evolution of urban villages from spontaneous communities to planned communities and her memories of this process, having lived in several urban villages for most of her two-decades-plus of life in Shenzhen, since before they were even known as “urban villages.” She left us with a heavy comment—that the era of urban villages had reached its end. Yang Qian believed that urban villages such as Hubei symbolized the collective memories of Shenzhen people, which is what they are losing as a city. This was part of his motivation to join Hubei 120 and advocate for Hubei’s preservation. He told us about his role in Hubei 120 and how it operated as a leaderless movement. He also made an interesting observation about the shifting image of rural people in China’s popular culture, from farmers to migrant workers, gradually losing a concrete face and identity.

Shi Jie told us about how he became involved in Hubei 120, the growing number of artists creating socially engaged art in the urban villages, and their tensions and strategies in coping with the economic and political realities. As the conversations went on, we noticed that questions about shared memories and belonging often drew answers about loss and segregation. 

 

The Shifting Value of Urban Villages in Shenzhen

When viewed from the perspective of Shenzhen’s development, it seems the city struggles to remember, prone to forgetfulness. Shenzhen issued the Urban Renewal Method for revamping its image as a world-class metropolis in 2009 by calling on real estate developers to bid on original proposals for remodeling urban villages, which over the years have led to their large-scale demolition (Liu et al. 2017, 7). On the one hand, the large-scale project drew from urban villages the “useful” aspects, that which is solid and lasting, while the other aspects were considered redundant and disposable, destined for oblivion. In Hubei, what has been deemed useful are the shrines and ancient landscape, which could be transformed into consumable sites of spectacle, while , appear to be defined as something transitional and thus not worth keeping, despite their vital role in the residents’ livelihoods and historical significance in Shenzhen’s development.

On the other hand, what is considered useful by the city could also be volatile and ephemeral when viewed from a longer, historical perspective. As recently as the 1990s, urban villages—still known as “new villages” at the time—were praised as the essential, useful parts of the city. The transformation from “old villages” to “new villages” and the construction of large numbers of handshake buildings were a self-organized innovative solution that helped address a city-wide housing shortage as well as other issues brought about by the city’s reform. Ironically, although new villages had been recognized as valuable resources and celebrated as a huge success of Shenzhen’s development, their title of “new” was shortly downgraded in the mid-2000s (O’Donnell 2021, 58). The name “urban village” replaced “new village,” and what followed were demolition, renovation, and the social stigmas of filth, disorder, and substandardness. At the end of the day, the new, the solid, and the useful in Shenzhen tend to have transient qualities, sometimes decaying quickly from the city’s collective memory. 

 

Zhang’s shrine, on the outskirts of Hubei, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Shi Jie)

 

Alongside disappearing memories of the villages are unfulfilled dreams of belonging. In recent years, Shenzhen had been advertising its dedication to social inclusion by promoting the slogan, “If you come, you are a Shenzhener” (Shenzhen Government Online 2022). But the demolition and renovation of urban villages and the resulting massive displacement of their residents make this slogan ring increasingly hollow. Urban villages had provided affordable living conditions to most rural migrants to Shenzhen from the 1980s (Hao 2011, 217–18). Due to hukou, a household registration system intended to keep people in place by dividing them into rural and urban categories based on their place of origin, migrants who held rural hukou had for decades faced segregation in the city, including limitations on job opportunities, restrictions in the housing market, and exclusion from many social welfare programs (Cheng 1994, 644–45). Inexpensive and convenient urban villages were essentially shelters for rural migrants, providing access to urban-level resources such as economic opportunities, educational institutions, hospitals, and cultural institutions. 

Ironically, in a promotional video in 2020 by China Central Television, the largest state-owned broadcaster in China, the authorities presented the renovation of Nantou Gucheng, an ancient village in Shenzhen, as a successful materialization of the slogan (China Central Television 2020). The city created discourse portraying the construction of a symbolic identity, which supposedly can be achieved by refurbishing old neighborhoods and ancient landscapes. As the refurbishment continues, countless urban villages in central Shenzhen have been transformed into high-end residential areas, glossy consumer destinations, and grandiose landmarks, displacing vast numbers of lower-income communities in the meantime. This identity-building process redefines who is actually treated as Shenzheners, leaving many migrants who have contributed significantly to the city’s economic development out of the picture. 

 

Buildings over People

This renovation method reflects a fixation on buildings over people who live in them. Both the local government and the real estate developers claimed to be protectors of the ancient village in Hubei, notwithstanding their plans to displace entire communities and demolish two-thirds of the ancient village. Even the strategies of Hubei 120 ended up prioritizing preserving the old architecture of Hubei over protecting the communities, despite conflicting voices within the group. It fought with the government and real estate developers over the precise square meter of ancient villages that would be preserved (Yang 2017).

As I went through the footage and interviews of this research trip, I caught a glimpse of how the city might remember itself in the future. It would consist of a solidified past that is over hundreds or thousands of years old, symbolized by renovated ancient villages like Nantou and Hubei, as well as a forever-new present, encapsulated in the skyscrapers that grow taller and taller—yet nothing in between. 

 

References

Cheng, Tiejun, and Mark Selden. “The Origins and Social Consequences of China’s Hukou System.” The China Quarterly 139 (1994): 644–68. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0305741000043083.

China Central Television. “Xianxing: Episode Five [先行 第五集].” Accessed May 10, 2022. https://tv.cctv.com/2020/10/19/VIDEQx2rjSiFM0zzlTT4yehU201019.shtml?spm=C55924871139.PT8hUEEDkoTi.0.0.

Hao, Pu, Richard Sliuzas, and Stan Geertman. “The Development and Redevelopment of Urban Villages in Shenzhen.” Habitat International 35, no. 2 (2011): 214–24. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.habitatint.2010.09.001.

Liu, Guiwen, Zhiyong Yi, Xiaoling Zhang, Asheem Shrestha, Igor Martek, and Lizhen Wei. “An Evaluation of Urban Renewal Policies of Shenzhen, China.” Sustainability 9, no. 6 (2017): 1001. https://doi.org/10.3390/su9061001.

O’Donnell, Mary Ann. “The End of an Era?: Two Decades of Shenzhen Urban Villages.” Made in China Journal 6, no. 2 (2021): 56–65. https://search.informit.org/doi/10.3316/informit.287948270260541.

Shenzhen Government Online. “You Are a Shenzhener Once You Come to Shenzhen.” Accessed May 10, 2022. http://www.sz.gov.cn/en_szgov/news/infocus/visa/expat/content/post_7900720.html.

Yang, Qian. “Hubei Observation 3 [湖贝观察 3].” The Paper, August 17, 2017. https://www.thepaper.cn/newsDetail_forward_1762649_1.

 

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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.

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“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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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.

* * *

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.

  * * *

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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Othering Britain: The Czech Quest for a New Role in the Radically Changing World of World War II

February 15, 2022
By 27520

As part of her dissertation on “The Image of Britain in Czechoslovak Media Discourses between 1939 and 1948,” 2018 Sylff fellow Johana Kłusek—with the help of an SRA award—reconstructed a “test” discourse on the British image of Czechoslovaks based on resources at the British Library. Among her findings is that whereas Czechs admired just about all things British, the Brits did not reciprocate that interest.

 *  *  *

The origins of thinking about the Other as “the other culture” (and only more recently “the other nation”) can be traced back to medieval times. Any travelogue or chronicle would include remarks on the Others, whether the inhabitants of a faraway country, citizens of a nearby city, or members of a different ethnic or religious group. For a long time, stereotypical images were perceived as objective categories through which one could reconstruct an ethical and aesthetic worldview of different cultures or nations (Leerssen 2016). In Europe this tendency was accelerated in the nineteenth century. The continent witnessed a rise of three phenomena: the birth of mass media, self-determination of nations, and antagonistic understanding of international relations (Hahn 2011). The combination of these factors led to a deepening of both heterostereotypes (opinions that a group holds about other groups) and autostereotypes (opinions that a group holds about itself). However, a full realization of the threat that these often dangerously ingrained mental concepts pose to intercultural and international relations emerged only as a result of World War II and the Holocaust.

Despite the fact that outright stereotypes are today less present in public discourses, they keep influencing interactions in milder forms between individuals as well as groups. People tend to generalize about various outgroups based on deep-rooted preconceptions, distorted individual experiences, and media images propagated by different power groups. By observing and analyzing the making of stereotypes in history, we can better understand how dangerous othering can be when propelled by negative sentiments as well as by positive ones. On a more general note, research focused on discourses about the Other can reveal the mechanisms through which we naturally orient ourselves in the world.

Conciliation of Conservatism and Socialism in the Czechoslovak Image of Britain

In my dissertation research I examine Czechoslovakia in the period of its major existential crisis. Britain is studied as a significant Other, onto which Czechs projected their visions and hopes as well as fears and frustrations during World War II. The image of Britain between 1939 and 1945 is prevalently appellative and corresponds with the main features of the traditional European stereotyping of the country, as described by Ian Buruma (1998). Czechs admired British conservatism, adherence to principles, rule of law, tradition, and taste, as well as their humor, friendliness, and openness to other cultures. The history of ascribing those qualities to the British is long, and the Czech discourse (created mostly by the exile community in London) does not come with any radical novelties.

The image also proves Buruma’s thesis about the utilitarian usage of Anglophilia, as continental observers tend to attach themselves to British culture when they get disappointed with old referential Others. In this way Anglophilia allowed for the liberation of Czechs from the German-Russian geopolitical captivity. Also, Churchill’s “sweat and tears” mentality provided a much-needed role model in the time of the debilitating German occupation.

Most importantly, though, the image illustrates a strong need to find a new role in the radically changing world. During the quest, Czechs were interestingly able to combine admiration for the classic conservative features of British culture (or its distorted images) with admiration for the new left-wing ideas and policies born from the war circumstances. In this way, they could easily look up to the West and the East at the same time. One can thus confidently claim that the road to the embrace of the Soviet Union (as seen in the Communist Party’s victory in the parliamentary election of 1946, followed by the communist coup d’état of February 1948) was simplified by the conciliation of highly contradictory discourses that are seemingly unrelated. Britain serves here as a polarizing projection screen.

SRA and a “Test”Discourse

To conduct the prime research briefly discussed above, I use discourse analysis of a number of Czech newspapers of the time (including Čechoslovák, Nová svoboda, and Mladé/Nové Československo). However, to interpret the data correctly and precisely, I needed to reconstruct a “test” discourse on the British image of Czechoslovaks. Sylff Research Abroad allowed me to do that and to gather relevant articles from resources of the British Library. The findings helped me to partly answer such questions as: Did the British share the affection that Czechs felt—or expressed in the media discourse—toward them? Was their relationship in any way special?

Cover of the Czechoslovak in England, featuring President Masaryk and a combined panorama of Prague, London, and Paris.

In the end, three major sets of observations were made. Firstly, the British interest in Czechoslovaks and their culture changed over time. At the beginning of the war, coverage of the cultural output of Czechs living in the country and general interest in the recent as well as older history of Czech lands was strong, but it decreased in later phases of the war. A broader wartime spirit of allyship played a significant role in these dynamics. The spirit was massively encouraged by the propaganda of both the British government and the Czechoslovak government-in-exile, primarily during the bombing of Britain in 1940 and 1941. Secondly, there is no evidence that the British were interested in Czechoslovakia disproportionally more than in other allied nations. Thus, if there was any “special relationship” between the two nations, it was rather one-sided. Thirdly, articles collected from British wartime newspapers (The Times, Manchester Guardian, and Daily Telegraph) prove that British discourse regularly used stereotypes about Czechs. The image consisted of highly idealized concepts of the country defined by a love of liberty, as a country that has always bravely striven against the threats from outside. The positive nature of those stereotypes is comparable to the nature of the stereotypes expressed at the time by Czechs when referring to the British and British culture.

Studies of opposite discourses such as the one I have just presented allows us to observe the efficiency of national propagandas, the longevity of stereotypes, and changes in their understanding as well as their usage.  Their value also lies in the fact that they allow us to look at things from less obvious angles. As discourses are often influenced by many subconscious motives of many individuals, they tend to reveal tendencies of whole societies that would otherwise remain unnoticed. The Czechs’ largely blind admiration of everything British is good proof of that. 

 

References

Hahn, H.H. 2011. Stereotypy—tożsamość—konteksty: Studia nad polską i europejską historią. Poznań: Wydawnictwo poznańskie.

Leerssen, J. 2007. “Imagology: History and Method.” In Imagology: The Cultural Construction and Literary Representation of National Characters, edited by M. Beller, and J. Leerssen, 17–32. Leiden: Brill.