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National Policy in the Local Context
Exploring the Influence of “Guest” Workers in Fernie, British Columbia

November 12, 2013
By 19635

How do national immigration policies influence local communities? Laurie Trautman, a geographer who received a Sylff fellowship from the University of Oregon in 2012, explores how “guest” workers in rural resort economies in the United States and Canada are reshaping local labor markets and community dynamics. In the summer of 2013 she conducted fieldwork in British Columbia, Canada, using a Sylff Research Abroad award, and here she highlights some of her preliminary findings.

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The importation of foreign labor is becoming an increasingly common strategy used by advanced industrial economies to maintain global competitiveness. While guest worker programs are designed to import foreign workers on a temporary basis, such policies have a lasting impact on local economies and communities. Despite these impacts, the bulk of literature on immigration has largely overlooked guest workers, who are perceived as having little long-term influence in the communities in which they work.

While guest worker provisions have been a major source of conflict in the United States since World War II, recent Canadian immigration policies have made a decisive shift away from an emphasis on multiculturalism towards a strategic focus on meeting temporary labor needs. As these changes are occurring, they are producing fundamentally different results that have yet to be extensively examined and compared. Yet, as comprehensive immigration reform is pending in both the US Congress and Canadian Parliament, it is essential that the changing nature of immigration policy—and guest worker programs in particular—is systematically and thoroughly analyzed in a cross-national context.

This article explores the influence of guest worker policy on both the local labor market and community interaction in the Canadian resort town of Fernie, British Columbia. Based on qualitative interviews conducted during the summer of 2013, this project aims to provide a better understanding of this understudied, yet increasingly controversial, element of immigration policy.

This research is part of a broader dissertation project that links national policy discourse and community experience to understand how guest worker policies are evolving in different national contexts in the United States and Canada—a critical issue given current debates over immigration reform in North America.

At the national level, this project analyzes narratives in the United States and Canada over nation, race, and labor, as reflected in federal legislation since 1990. At the local level, qualitative and in-depth research in two case-study “receiving” communities (Fernie, British Columbia, and Sun Valley, Idaho) shed light on how these national dynamics intersect with local economies, leading to a new understanding of the influence of guest workers on local labor markets and social interaction.

Case Study of Fernie, BC

The town of Fernie is located in the Elk Valley of southeast British Columbia and has a population of roughly 6,000 and an economy highly dependent on amenity-based tourism. With a high cost of living, small population base, and seasonal fluctuations in labor demand mirroring the tourist season, Fernie is unable to meet its labor needs locally. In the past several decades, Fernie’s reliance on importing labor from abroad has continued to increase.

Fernie Art Depot

Fernie Art Depot

At the same time, the cost of living in Fernie has skyrocketed alongside second home ownership, which has also created an increased demand for low-wage, low-skilled service-sector jobs. The result is an extremely tight labor market for low-wage labor in a rural location with a high cost of living, which has pushed many local businesses to develop retention strategies ranging from a free ski pass to medical benefits. However, for particular positions, some businesses have gone beyond established channels of recruitment and turned to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) to meet their labor needs.

During my research time in Fernie, I conducted 44 interviews and two focus groups with employers, employees, community members, and government officials in order to assess how the presence of temporary foreign workers (TFWs) is shaping the local labor market and community dynamics. I was also involved in participant observation and analyzed local media publications to determine how these dynamics were represented both spatially and socially.

From ferniefix.com

(Photo from ferniefix.com)

I found that, while most employers relied on workers coming with a working holiday visa (primarily from Australia and New Zealand), a small handful of employers are turning to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program as the tourist season is extending to include both winter and summer seasons. Up until just a few years ago, most employers were able to meet their labor needs during the peak winter season with young workers coming for the ski season with a working holiday visa, who would then leave in spring, when most businesses either go on vacation or reduce hours. With the demand for labor beginning to switch from a peak season in the winter to more year round needs, employers are searching for a more stable and longer term labor force which, ironically, they are able to find through the TFWP.

Unlike the working holiday visa, which does not tie workers to specific employers, workers coming on the TFWP need to establish employment prior to obtaining a visa, and thus solidify a relationship with an employer who essentially sponsors them. Upon arrival, they are in a committed relationship with their employer. In Fernie, TFWs are occupying specific positions in the labor market that have become increasingly difficult for employers to fill—namely housekeepers, chefs, and fast food workers. At this time, several fast food restaurants and cleaning companies are employing TFWs from the Philippines, establishing a division of labor along both national and racial lines.

Preliminary Findings

As part of my broader dissertation project, I am analyzing 20 years of national policy discourse in both the United States and Canada. A recurrent theme in both Parliament and Congress is the exploitation and victimization of guest workers, who are often described as being “unfree labor.”

This sentiment is echoed in academic literature, much of which highlights a fear that as Canadians increasingly rely on workers with temporary status who have few avenues to permanent residency, “a US-style underclass defined by precarious status and labour market vulnerability” may be emerging (Goldring et al, 2009: 257).

Help Wanted

Help Wanted

A preliminary analysis of my findings illustrates that TFWs in Fernie are not victimized by their status, nor do they lack agency, which complicates the overriding sentiments evident in both political discourse and academic literature. In fact, they are able to negotiate the immigration system through the relationship with their employers to remain in Canada beyond the original duration and purpose of their visa. In some instances, TFWs obtain residency and move into higher paying positions. This is surprising, as technically speaking, there is no path to residency for low-skilled TFWs.

I also found that workers coming on a working holiday visa will utilize the TFWP as a strategy to remain in Canada after their visas expire. Thus, while the TFWP is constructed as a national policy aimed at addressing temporary and acute labor market shortages, in Fernie it is actually a strategy used by both employers and foreign workers to achieve stability and long term employment relationships. For employers, it fills a chronic labor shortage, and for employees it is often a path to longer-term residency. Both of these outcomes are almost the polar opposite of the stated purpose of the policy.

Despite the agency on the part of TFWs, there remains a real materiality to the different categories of TFWs and ”international visitors” on a working holiday visa (WHV), which is evident at the local level. TFWs in Fernie are increasingly Filipino, while those on a WHV are almost exclusively young, white, and middle class. Those on a WHV have both social and labor market mobility, as they are able to change employers and come to Fernie with enough disposable income to enjoy the amenities. Above all else, they are not visibly different from the local population.

On the contrary, the geographic and labor market mobility of Filipinos coming as TFWs is extremely limited both by their employment in low-wage positions, their commitment to their sponsoring employer, and perhaps by their obvious position as ”minorities” in this small, rural mountain town. This quote from one interviewee highlights this lack of mobility:

“People say that there’s this big Filipino community that's growing, but I don't really see it, it’s not out there, you don't see them walking around, hanging out at the bars and coffee shops, so I don't know. They might be serving you a coffee when you drive through Tim Horton’s, but that’s about it.”

The preliminary findings from this case study will be compared with research in Sun Valley in the United States, in order to assess how guest worker policies are influencing both labor markets and community dynamics in different national contexts. The final stage of this dissertation project will analyze national policy discourse in the United States and Canada since 1990, comparing how 'guest worker' policy is constructed within the context of broader immigration objectives.

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Bulgaria and Japan: From the Cold War to the Twenty-first Century

August 14, 2013
By 19617

The following article is based on Bulgaria and Japan: From the Cold War to the Twenty-first Century, an exhaustively researched 2009 book by Evgeny Kandilarov—a Sylff fellow at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski,” who used his fellowship to conduct research at Meiji University in Japan in 2005. The Tokyo Foundation asked the author, who is now an assistant professor at his alma mater, to summarize his findings, which have revealed intriguing patterns in the history of bilateral ties and international relations over the past several decades.

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The book Bulgaria and Japan: From the Cold War to the Twenty-first Century is almost entirely based on unpublished documents from the diplomatic archives at the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In order to clarify concrete political decisions, many documents from the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party, Comecon, and State Committee for Culture were used. These documents are available at the Central State Archives of the Republic of Bulgaria. For additional information, memoirs of eminent Bulgarian political figures and diplomats who took part in the researched events were also used.

This article aims to give a brief overview of the political, economic, and cultural relations between Bulgaria and Japan during the Cold War and the subsequent period of Bulgaria’s transition to democracy and a market economy.

Exhaustive research on the bilateral relationship between Bulgaria and Japan have revealed specific reasons, factors, and causes that led to fairly intense economic, scientific, technological, educational, and cultural exchange between the two countries during the Cold War. Furthermore, the study raises some important questions, perhaps the most intriguing one being: Why did the relationship rapidly lose its dynamics during the transition period, and what might be the reasons for this?

The study also poses a series of questions concerning how bilateral relations influenced the economic development of Bulgaria during the 1960s and 1980s, throwing light on the many economic decisions made by the Bulgarian government that were influenced by the Japanese economic model.

Five Distinct Stages of the Relationship

The analysis of Bulgaria-Japan relations can be divided into two major parts. The chronological framework of the first part is defined by the date of the resumption of diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and Japan in 1959 and the end of state socialism in Bulgaria in 1989, coinciding with the end of the Cold War. This timeframe presents a fully complete period with its own logic and characteristics, following which Bulgaria’s international relations and internal policy underwent a total transformation at the beginning of the 1990s.

The second part of the analysis covers the period of the Bulgarian transition from state socialism to a parliamentary democracy and market economy. This relatively long period in the development of the country highlighted the very different circumstances the two countries faced and differences in their character.

The inner boundaries of the study are defined by two mutually related principles. The first is the spirit of international relations that directly influenced the specifics of the bilateral relationship, and the second is the domestic economic development of Bulgaria, a country that played an active role in the dynamics of the relationship. In this way, the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s (through 2007, when Bulgaria joined the EU), and the years since 2007 represent five distinct stages in the relations between Bulgaria and Japan.

The first stage began with the resumption of diplomatic relations in 1959. This was more a consequence of the general change in international relations in the mid-1950s than a result of deliberate foreign policy. After the easing of Cold War tensions between the two military and political blocs and the restart of dialogue, the whole Eastern bloc began normalizing its relations with the main ideological rival, the United States, as well as with its most loyal satellite in the Asia-Pacific region—Japan. From another point of view Japanese diplomatic activity toward Eastern Europe, including Bulgaria, was motivated mostly by the commercial and economic interests of Japanese corporations looking to extend their markets.

This period in Bulgarian-Japanese relations in the 1960s was characterized by mutual study and search for the right approach, the setting up of a legislative base, and the formulation of main priorities, aims, and interests.

Analyses of documents from the Bulgarian state archives show that Bulgaria was looking for a comprehensive development of the relationship, while Japan placed priority on economic ties and on technology and scientific transfer.

Budding Commercial Ties

One of the most important industries for which the Bulgarian government asked for support from Japan was electronics, which was developing very dynamically in Japan. In the mid-1960s Bulgaria signed a contract with one of Japan’s biggest electronics companies, Fujitsu Ltd. According to the contract, Bulgaria bought a license for the production of electronic devices, which were one of the first such devices produced by Bulgaria and sold on the Comecon market. The contract also included an opportunity for Bulgarian engineers to hone their expertise in Japan.

In the 1960s the first joint ventures between Bulgaria and Japan were established. In 1967 the Bulgarian state company Balkancar and the Japanese company Tokyo Boeki create a joint venture called Balist Kabushiki Kaisha. Another joint venture that was established was called Nichibu Ltd. In 1971 these two companies merged into a new joint venture, Nichibu Balist, engaged in trading all kinds of metals and metal constructions, forklifts and hoists and spare parts for factories, ships (second hand), marine equipment, spare parts, electronics, pharmaceuticals, and chemical products.

Bulgarian prime minister Todor Zhivkov and Japanese Prime minister Eisaku Sato, 1970, Japan.

Bulgarian prime minister Todor Zhivkov and Japanese Prime minister Eisaku Sato, 1970, Japan.

In 1970 Bulgaria and Japan signed an Agreement on Commerce and Navigation, which was the first of its kind signed by the Bulgarian government with a non-socialist country. According to the agreement, the two countries granted each other most-favored-nation treatment in all matters relating to trade and in the treatment of individuals and legal entities in their respective territories.

At the end of this stage of Bulgarian-Japanese bilateral relations, by participating in the Expo ’70 international exhibition, Bulgaria already had a clear idea of the “Japanese economic miracle” and how it could be applied to Bulgaria’s economic growth.

The Bulgarian government led by communist ruler Todor Zhivkov were very much impressed and influenced by Japan’s industrial, scientific, and technological policy, which led to the so called Japanese miracle. That is why the economic reforms and strategies adopted in Bulgaria over the following few years, although conducted in a completely different social and economic environment, were influenced to some extent by the Japanese model, especially in the field of science and technological policy.

Peak of Political and Economic Activity

The second stage in bilateral relations in the 1970s marked the peak of political and economic activity between the two countries. The goals set during the previous period were pursued and achieved slowly and steadily. The legislative base was broadened, and the number of influential Japanese partners increased. The international status quo in East-West relations, marked by the Helsinki process, presented the possibility for Bulgaria and Japan to enjoy a real “golden decade” in their relations.

In 1972 the Japan-Bulgaria Economic Committee for the development of trade, economic, and scientific and technological ties between the two countries was established in Tokyo. Committee participants included a number of large Japanese manufacturers, financial institutions, and trading companies. The head of the Committee was Nippon Seiko (NSK) President Hiroki Imazato. The same year in Sofia, Bulgaria established the Bulgaria-Japan Committee for Economic, Science, and Technical Cooperation, headed by Minister of Science, Technologies, and Higher Education Nacho Papazov.

In the mid-1970s the Bulgarian government undertook some legislative changes regarding the rules for foreign company representation in Bulgaria. These changes were influenced mainly by the attempt by the Bulgarian government to encourage the further development of Bulgarian-Japanese economic relations. After the legislative changes Japanese companies received the right to open their own commercial representative offices in Bulgaria, and in just a few years 10 Japanese companies opened offices: Mitsubishi, Mitsui, Sumitomo, C. Itoh, Fujitsu, Tokyo Maruichi Shoji, Nichibu Balist, Marubeni, Nissho Iwai, and Toyo Menka Kaisha. In 1977 the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) also opened an office, greatly contributing to the promotion of the trade and economic relations between Bulgaria and Japan.

Historic Summit Meeting

Bulgarian state leader Todor Zhivkov and Japanese Prime minister Takeo Fukuda, 1978, Japan.

Bulgarian state leader Todor Zhivkov and Japanese Prime minister Takeo Fukuda, 1978, Japan.

A political expression of the peak of Bulgarian-Japanese relations during the 1970s was the first official summit visit in the history of bilateral diplomatic relations—the visit by Bulgarian state leader Todor Zhivkov to Japan in March 1978 for a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda.

During the visit, the two sides agreed to establish a Joint Intergovernmental Commission for Economic Cooperation, which has held working sessions every year, engaging both governments to further promote and extend the bilateral economic relationship.

Bulgarian state leader Todor Zhivkov and Japanese Emperor Hirohito, 1978, Japan.

Bulgarian state leader Todor Zhivkov and Japanese Emperor Hirohito, 1978, Japan.

Following the state visit by Todor Zhivkov, the Bulgarian government created a very detailed strategic program for the development of Bulgarian-Japanese relations for the decade up to 1990. The main focus of the program was the following idea: “The strategic direction in the economic relations between Bulgaria and Japan consists in the rational use and implementation of modern and highly effective Japanese technologies, equipment and production experience for the promotion of the quality and efficiency of the Bulgarian economy.”

 The Crown Prince Akihito during his official state visit in Bulgaria, October 1979.

The Crown Prince Akihito during his official state visit in Bulgaria, October 1979.

Another key point was that the Bulgarian government would focus its efforts on strengthening cooperation with leading Japanese companies in such fields as electronics and microelectronics, automation and robotics, heavy industries, chemicals, electronics, and engineering.

In response to the Bulgarian state visit in 1978, the next year, in October 1979, Bulgaria was visited by Crown Prince Akihito and Crown Princess Michiko as the official representatives of Emperor Hirohito.

1980s: Broadening Spheres of Cooperation

During the third period of Bulgarian-Japanese relations, the momentum of the preceding stages still kept the relationship stable and growing. The sphere of cooperation and mutual interest widened, and the Bulgarian government relied more on the Japanese support and the advantages offered by the Japanese economic model.

At the beginning of the 1980s the Bulgarian government undertook another step toward the liberalization of the Bulgarian economy. It gave an opportunity for Western companies to invest in Bulgaria by concluding contracts for industrial cooperation and creating associations. These changes in the Bulgarian economy caused great interest among Japanese economic circles, and within the next few years six Bulgarian-Japanese joint companies were created. The names and activities of the joint companies were as follows:
Fanuc-Mashinex with the participation of Japanese company Fanuc Co: Service and production in the fields of electronics, automation, and engineering.
Atlas Engineering with the participation of Japanese companies Mitsui, C. Itoh, Toshiba, and Kobe Steel: Design, supply, and implementation of projects in Bulgaria and third countries in the fields of mechanical engineering, chemicals, and metallurgy.
Sofia-Mitsukoshi with the participation of Japanese companies Mitsukoshi and Tokyo Maruichi Shoji: Production and trade in the field of light industry as well as the reconstruction of department stores.
Tobu-M.X.: Manufacture and sale of machinery for magnetic abrasive treatment of complex-shaped parts. Production was based on Bulgarian technology, and the products were sold in Japan and in third countries.
Medicom Systems with the participation of Japanese company Tokyo Maruichi Shoji: Research, production, and sale of equipment and software for the medical and education markets.
Farmahim-Japan with the participation of Japanese company Marubeni: Collaboration in the pharmaceutical field.

1990s: Transformation of the Relationship

The subsequent crisis in East-West relations in the 1980s, the growing economic crisis in the Communist bloc, and changes in the political leadership in Moscow brought about the end of the Cold War and the beginning of a new era in international relations. During the 1990s, these new factors completely transformed the relationship between Bulgaria and Japan.

In the next period, during which Bulgaria began a long and arduous transition to a democratic political system and functioning market economy, an abrupt switch came about in the direction of Bulgarian foreign policy. The governing parties during this period made every effort to incorporate Bulgaria into the Euro-Atlantic military and economic structures, namely, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union.

This required a great deal of effort to transform the political and economic systems. The focusing of national energy on these social transformations created a totally different environment for Bulgaria-Japan relations. Bulgaria became a developing country and was placed in an unequal position in terms of the international hierarchy. For a long time, relations between the two countries consisted largely of Japanese disbursements of official development assistance (ODA).

Despite the dialogue between Bulgaria and Japan from 1959 to 1989, the 1990s was a period of steady decline and stagnation in the bilateral relationship, being reduced, to a large extent, to one between donor and recipient.

All this led to a paradoxical situation: economic relations between Bulgaria and Japan were much closer when the countries were politically and ideologically far apart than during the period after 1989, when they stood in the same ideological framework. The underlying reasons for this are related to the question of what were the driving forces of the relationship during the Cold War.

Nurturing a New Partnership

A detailed study of the relationship between 1959 and 1989 shows that for the most part the initiative came mainly from the Bulgarian side, which showed keen interest in and reaped benefits from the relationship. Bulgaria was driven by commercial and economic interests and the need for scientific and technological cooperation. Moreover, Japan was both a good model and a suitable partner for Bulgaria. Japan saw in Bulgaria and other socialist countries an opportunity to expand its export markets and to import cheaper food commodities and raw materials.

At the same time, ties with a highly developed country like Japan provided an opportunity for the Bulgarian government to identify the defects and shortcomings of the closed, centralized, planned economy. This underlined a persistent set of problems, the major one being the lack of competitiveness of Bulgarian products stemming from poor quality, low labor efficiency, poor level of technology, unstable stock exchange, limitations in the number and variety of goods, mediocre design, and the failure to adapt to a highly dynamic and competitive market environment.

As late as January 1, 2007, both countries took a step to set up a new partnership framework on equal terms. After Bulgaria joined the EU, relations between the two countries became almost entirely dependent on the geopolitical, economic, and to some extent cultural interests of the respective counties in the region. From this perspective, the starting points of the relations between Bulgaria and Japan at the beginning of the twenty-first century did not seem very strong. This could be clearly seen in the empirical data on Japanese investment in Bulgaria, financial transactions, the traffic of tourists, cultural presence, and other areas, as well as in the peripheral position of Bulgaria in Japan’s foreign strategy toward the region, underlined by then Japanese foreign minister Taro Aso’s 2006 concept called the Arc of Freedom and Prosperity.

Unfortunately, even almost seven years after Bulgaria joined the EU there has not been any significant change in Bulgarian-Japanese relations, which remain very much below their optimal potential. The reasons for this can be found both in the lack of political and economic stability in Bulgaria as well as in the continuing economic instability of Japan over the last 20 years. Whether Japan and Bulgaria will once again see a merging of interests and revive a mutually beneficial relationship is a matter for another analysis. The most important thing is that there is already a very good base for a fruitful relationship, even though it was set during the Cold War, and it should be used as a starting point in the attempts by the Bulgarian government and its Japanese partners to find a more efficient and beneficial approach in developing bilateral relations.

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Armed State-Response to Internal Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka

March 7, 2013
By 19662

Sreya Maitra Roychoudhury, a Sylff fellow at Jadavpur University in India, conducted research in Sri Lanka using a Sylff Research Abroad (SRA) award. The purpose of her research was to observe the realities in Sri Lanka and deepen her insights into the “securitization” of two armed states—India and Sri Lanka—which is the central theme of her dissertation. Her report below makes clear that the purpose of her research was fulfilled and that the visit to Sri Lanka has become an important asset in writing her dissertation.

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I arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on November 1, 2012, for a field trip essential for my doctoral dissertation, which examines the historical causes and the implications of armed state responses to select internal ethnic conflict situations in India and Sri Lanka and critically analyses their efficacy.

The University of Colombo , which hosted Sreya during her field research

The University of Colombo , which hosted Sreya during her field research

 

I have been fortunate to receive mentoring and support at Jadavpur University, India, where I also had the opportunity to apply and be selected for a Sylff Research Abroad award from the Tokyo Foundation at a very opportune moment of my PhD research. This was not only because my nascent ideas on state approaches to insurgency very much demanded the filling in of ground-level realities but also because Sri Lanka is currently at a very critical juncture of its political history.

National security and socio-political stability can be significantly undermined by violent internal conflict or insurgency in any country. While authoritarian regimes unilaterally use their military to combat such challenges, modern democracies have historically sanctioned the deployment of armed forces on a short-term basis only by declaring them as ”emergencies.” Within the purview of international relations, the latter approach has been delineated by the “securitization theory” à la the constructivist paradigm founded by the Copenhagen school.

India and Sri Lanka have labored to establish consolidated democracies in South Asia, never experiencing any spell of total military rule or a civil-military regime, unlike some of their neighbors. Multi-ethnic democracies are expected to handle internal conflicts with the structural norms and practices of a democratic order. India and Sri Lanka have behaved exceptionally and tackled these by active securitization through much of the post-independence period.

Existing literature does not highlight the reasons for the continuance of conflict zones, and there is hardly any comparative empirical work on the subject. Moreover, insecurities and rebellions persist in most cases, like in India’s Northeast, Jammu and Kashmir, and, until 2009, in Sri Lanka. Additionally, due to India and Sri Lanka’s geographic contiguity and ethnic overlap, the impact of Sri Lanka’s internal conflict has been deeply left by India.

The deployment of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in 1987 and its subsequent failures, together with the cross-border operations of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, have created mistrust, inducing excessive caution in bilateral interactions.

During my month-long stay and extensive interaction with the intelligentsia, activists, and local population in Colombo, I came across a society that has suffered deep scars in its socio-political and economic fabric due to the prolonged war of the state against an ethnic community. However, it was also stated by many quite unequivocally that any challenge to the sovereignty of the state—democratic or authoritarian—must be legitimately resisted with the sanction of force and the armed machinery of the government. Detailed studies and opinions have revealed that the unyielding stance of the leaders of the separatist group precluded any scope for meaningful, peaceful reconciliation.

In the present situation, Sri Lanka has transcended war but not the conflict situation, as underlying grievances of the Tamil community continue to simmer. While ground-level opinions, observations, and reports substantiate the argument that the heavy-handed securitization approach of the state has combated militancy and terrorism with unprecedented success, it is quite clear that it also has further fragmented the already linguistically divided society, alienating the minority Tamils and establishing a ”Sinhala state.”

The field trip was significant in enabling me to collect primary data to corroborate the historical-sociological approach I had chosen for my study to gain an in-depth, comprehensive understanding of a seemingly terrorist-political problem in Sri Lanka. The instrumental role played by the monopoly of the Sinhala language in consolidating ethnic fissures is a much observed phenomenon in Sri Lanka’s history and politics.

The field trip rendered an unmediated exposition into the incremental unfolding of this phenomenon by the ruling political leaders through the turbulent decades (especially the late 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s) and the subsequent, almost obvious deepening of the majority-minority ethnic divide, the virulent manifestation of which was the Tamil demand for secession and autonomy espoused by violent outfits like the LTTE.

The sole documentation of much of the parliamentary debates and official proceedings under the presidency (since 1976) in Sinhala and the conspicuous absence of their translation in English and Tamil languages at the National Archives of Colombo was, to my mind, a significant indicator of the calculated steps taken by the ruling elite to use “language hegemony” in asserting Sri Lanka as a Sinhala state, thereby fuelling the ongoing ethnic politics of the times.

At the National Archives of Colombo

At the National Archives of Colombo

Moreover, the informal and formal interactions at the local level rendered it quite evident that even in postwar Sri Lanka, the most sympathetic Sinhala vis-à-vis the Tamil autonomy movement would not voice any explicit statement against the present process of increasing the geographic isolation of the Tamils in the northern and eastern provinces and the conscious effort to maintain the presidency’s direct control over them by abstaining from establishing functional Provincial Councils.

To my mind, the potential for renewed conflict between communities cannot be ruled out, much less so because of a strong Tamil diaspora that continually foments a sense of marginalization. Any meaningful resolution of the internal conflict situation thus requires fundamental changes in the constitution to include greater accountability of the president, the devolution of power to Tamil representatives at the local level, and the rebuilding of a sense of trust between the ethnic communities that have been brutally eroded and lost in the ravages of the war and the unilateral, authoritarian style of governance.

While the operational political systems of India and Sri Lanka differ (parliamentary versus presidential system), they could actively engage through common multilateral forums like the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to articulate state responses beyond securitization measures that can be implemented to resolve their respective insurgencies on a sustainable basis.

Even though Sri Lanka is a consolidated, democratic nation in South Asia, my field trip rendered stark the realities and nuances of administrative functioning that transpires in a presidential system, as compared to the parliamentary model of India. Divergences in the operational political realities of Sri Lanka, issues in the functions of the constitution, and aspirations of the people were rendered clear only in the course of my studies at the local level. Other interesting and related facets of society like education, community development, and the changing role of the military in postwar Sri Lanka also became vivid, providing a comprehensive overview.

Being an endowed fellow, the credibility of my research was instantly recognized by the interviewees and interested researchers and students.

My research is focused on providing a systematic explanation for the war that prevailed, prescribe ways to avoid the military option on a prolonged basis, and guarantee basic human rights and security to citizens. The insights I gained on the Tamil separatist movement in Sri Lanka also helped me to build a comparative study of armed approaches to insurgency in two democracies, keeping in mind the differences in their operational dynamics.

I also seek to explore possible state responses beyond the military option that can be implemented by the democratic, multi-ethnic countries of India and Sri Lanka to resolve their respective insurgency issues on a sustainable basis. This would hopefully enhance bilateral ties and move regional peace keeping initiatives in South Asia a step forward.

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Elections and Political Order: A Cross-National Analysis of Electoral Violence

August 25, 2011
By 19691

Since the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Eastern bloc, the international community has actively pushed for competitive elections in developing countries. This has led to the rapid proliferation of countries with "democratic systems" in the sense that the holders of public office are filled by means of regular public elections; indeed, by this definition, there are more democracies today than at any other time in history.

Underlying the push for elections were two optimistic beliefs: that they would reduce civil strife by providing a means for peaceful resolution of conflicts within a society, and that they would improve the quality of government by giving citizens the opportunity to replace unsatisfactory leaders. As elections have proliferated, however, these sanguine assumptions have being challenged by harsh reality. Continue reading

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The Mechanism behind the Egyptian ICT Revolution and Its Connotations

May 13, 2011
By 19665

Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled Egypt for 30 years, was forced to step down in a surprising turn of events that no one could have foreseen. He succumbed to the antigovernment protests that suddenly erupted in response to calls via the Internet. Mubarak’s resignation proved to the world that ordinary citizens have the power to overturn a governance structure that had been considered absolute.

The protagonists of the recent revolution were netizens, or citizens embodying the Internet. New information and communication technologies such as mobile phones and the Internet came into widespread use in Arab countries from around 2000. Today, particularly in urban areas, the medium of the Internet has become a natural part of everyday life for Egyptian youths, who comprise more than half of the nation’s population. Thus emerged Arab netizens. (read more)

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Can Aid Change Burma?

July 14, 2008
By 21164

Susan Banki received a Sylff fellowship between 1999 and 2002 while attending the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. She has written numerous articles on Burma. This article, written in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, was originally featured in the May 2008 issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review (Vol. 171, No. 4) and has been posted here by courtesy of FEER.

Activists who promote political reform in Burma have, for years, debated the advisability of allowing international aid into the country. Many groups have argued that Burma's military junta selectively distributes all aid through government channels and hence only strengthens the authoritarian regime. But in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, which has killed as many as 140,000 and displaced as many as 2.5 million, there is a general consensus among even the most strident supporters of aid sanctions that Burma urgently needs international assistance.

It's a bitter irony, then, that when the country needs it the most, Burma's generals have been slow to allow humanitarian aid to enter. While intense pressure from the international community has improved the flow of aid somewhat, only a fraction of international assistance has yet entered the country, and Burma continues to block visas for humanitarian workers.

There is no question that Burma needs more aid. That is the first priority. But some ways of giving aid will be more effective than others, and some even have the potential to induce political transformation in Burma, as the 2004 tsunami served as a catalyst for reconciliation in the Indonesian province of Aceh.

While Aceh and Burma are dissimilar in many ways (foremost among them that the secessionist movement in Aceh was in the process of discussing a peace agreement when the tsunami hit, while the recent referendum in Burma excluded much of the opposition), if the international community can draw on some of the lessons learned in Aceh, it will increase the likelihood of political reform in Burma. Thus, here are some strategies for maximizing the effectiveness of aid immediately and encouraging the possibility of reconciliation in the intermediate term.

First, the international community must continue to push for more aid to enter the country. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's visit to Burma this week is an encouraging sign, and the fact that 10 U.N. helicopters were allowed to fly aid into the country, is hopefully a sign that the junta is loosening its grip. While reliable reports indicate that some aid is being sold on the black market in the capital, Rangoon, the need continues to be so great that whatever aid makes it into the country will improve the lives of some of Burma's terribly impoverished citizens.

Second, aid agencies should get their foot in the door as soon as possible, even if it means compromising the humanitarian principle of independence in the short term. Burma's military-security apparatus is only so large, and the hope is that as aid enters in mass quantities, it literally overwhelms the control of Burma's generals. Thus far, the junta has proved quite resistant to influence, but now that ASEAN has agreed to handle the influx of foreign aid, more agencies may find ways to enter Burma.

Third, and related, agencies should continue to push to place more humanitarian workers on the ground. Any attempt to airdrop aid without obtaining the regime's permission is a poor substitute for the entrance of humanitarian workers. Burma needs more foreign workers not because there aren't enough logisticians and disaster experts in-country at present, as some have claimed, but rather, because foreign workers represent the best possibility of opening up Burma to the outside world. This is precisely what the regime fears, and why it continues to insist that few foreign workers be permitted to enter. Humanitarian workers from India and China, both of which have recently been permitted, is a start, but agencies should continue to lobby for access for as many foreign workers as possible.

Fourth, journalists should continue their attempts to enter Burma so they can deliver firsthand reports and keep Burma in the news. Aceh only gained attention in the international media about 10 days after the 2004 tsunami, when between 300 to 500 journalists finally were able to file onsite reports. If Burma's generals believe that media reports will make the rest of the world more sympathetic to the tragedy, and more willing to help, then they may permit some journalists to enter.

Fifth, agencies should, whenever possible, find unofficial means to work with civil society groups and Buddhist monks to distribute aid. This suggestion will prove difficult since the regime has banned monks from assisting others, has instructed citizens not to seek shelter in monasteries, and insists that all aid go through government channels. But opportunities to bypass official channels will present themselves, particularly in light of the fact some Burmese officials ignored orders to remain in the capital and instead went AWOL in search of family members. Other Burmese officials are rumored to be greatly frustrated by commands from the top that they cease helping villagers in need. These examples represent a breakdown in the military's strict hierarchy and could be a lever for incremental change.

Sixth, agencies should make attempts to build pathways for future longer-term development aid. For example, the timely prevention of cholera would be best accomplished by effective water-sanitation systems, which aid workers should try to introduce as part of their relief provisions. A caveat, however: the Burmese generals are insisting that the disaster relief phase is over and that all aid should now be focused on rehabilitation and reconstruction. Its request for 11 billion dollars must not be separated from the current relief effort, but must instead be linked to it. Linking emergency relief with development aid has two possible positive consequences: first, it sets the stage for a more robust post-emergency phase in which recipients of aid are better off, and second, it will lengthen the "window of opportunity"—the post-disaster phase when the regime is at its most vulnerable and political transformation is most possible.

Finally, all parties to the ongoing conflict in Burma should encourage dialogue and communication among opposing parties in the name of rebuilding Burma. It has been argued that one of the key catalysts for peace in Aceh was the commitment to a ceasefire by the insurgent forces, a move that made the Indonesian military more willing to permit aid into the country. In Burma, a parallel concession by opposition parties would be to refrain from pointing fingers of blame at the junta.

Responses to natural disasters in the context of conflict can initiate phases of cooperation and reconciliation, as occurred in Aceh. Alternatively, and more commonly, disaster responses can entrench current power structures and foster further conflict. This latest tragedy in Burma, must, somehow, be turned into a possibility for political transformation, by using aid carefully and effectively. Through it, the international community can create the opening that the people of Burma deserve.

Ms. Banki is a research fellow at the Institute for Ethics, Governance and Law at Griffith University in Australia. She has written numerous articles on Burmese refugees and migrants, political mobilization directed toward Burma, and aid to Burma.

This article was originally featured in the May 2008 issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review (Vol. 171, No. 4) and has been posted here by courtesy of FEER.


 

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A War-Torn Land Finds a Road to Peace

July 14, 2008
By 20889

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has endured two wars in the last ten years. A peace treaty has been signed, however, and the first free election in more than 40 years has given the country hope.

 

Africa’s First World War

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has seen two wars in the last 10 years, dubbed “the first African world war.” The wars, which were essentially foreign yet fought on Congolese soil, saw military leaders choose violent solutions for seeking control, letting poverty and democratic governance fall by the wayside.

The wars also saw an emergence of international organized crime cells seeking to traffic arms and strategic minerals such as Colombo-tantalite ore, diamond, copper, cobalt, and gold. The cost of human life, as a direct or indirect result of the world war, has been scandalously high.

However, conflicts in central Africa still exist often as the result of poor governance, a characteristic of the condition of postcolonial African states. From the independence period, these states were supported by northern regimes that underestimated the consequences of corruption, human rights abuses, lack of the rule of law, and state and electoral fraud.

A quick look at the current state of Africa shows that the continent is in turmoil:

  • In the east: The conflict in the horn of Africa between Ethiopia and Eritrea has hardly come to an end. It is still going on through a third party in Somalia today.
  • In the north-east: The conflict in Darfur reminds us that Sudan has not yet put an end to its long-standing wars despite some remarkable progress made by the government of Khartoum and the rebel movement in southern Sudan. The extension of this conflict to Chad and the insecurity it brings about in the Central African Republic is a threat to the whole regional peace process.
  • In the south: The question of land ownership in Zimbabwe makes stability precarious in South Africa, which has similar issues. In Angola, the wounds of a long-lasting civil war will still require more time to be healed.
  • In the north-west: The conflict in Western Sahara, which has been forgotten by many countries, and the extremism in Algeria require a rapid solution, or peace will be threatened in this region.
  • In the west: The slow and painful peace building process in the Ivory Coast reminds us that the conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia were not isolated cases.
  • Sporadic fighting between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria and the conflict in the Niger Delta region are a constant cause for concern.

Studies suggest that the main causes of conflicts in Africa are related to the following main points: poor governance, tension around natural resources, ethnic differences, and nationalism.

With regard to governance, studies suggest that the colonial heritage in Africa is one of the primary reasons for the endemic instability on the continent, while the partitioning of Africa at the end of the nineteenth century proved to have had some of the most damaging outcomes.

Post colonial adjustments followed by the Cold War caused flimsy governance structures, with the superpowers worrying more about their own interests rather than those of the African states themselves. Today, the former colonists have become “the international community.” This international community provided means and political support to its allies but considered such issues as corruption, human rights abuses, lack of a rule of law, and state and electoral fraud as trivial matters.

For example, in 1972, genocide against Hutu intellectuals in Burundi was intentionally ignored by the international community. Rwanda saw the Tutsi victims massacred in the name of the so-called social revolution (1959), which was also ignored. In the DRC, Mobutu was never prosecuted for being a dictator, kleptomaniac, or human rights abuser until the 1990s. It was only when Rwanda and Uganda fought in 2001 in Kisangani for control of the diamond trade that the United Nations Security Council took action on the issue.

In the 1990s this situation led to the explosion or breakdown of existing political alliances. The holders of dictatorial power found they could not control the opposition,, the revolts, or the internal rebel forces because the international community had stopped protecting and financially supporting them.

The DRC has been through two successive wars since 1996. The first one started in September 1996 and ended on May 17, 1998. The second broke out on August 2, 1998, and is still going on today, particularly in the eastern part of the country. It is one of the worst conflicts seen in the world since World War II. The 1996 war killed 200,000 people, and the 1998 war saw 3.5 million dead and 2.5 million displaced, among them more than 400,000 children. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports that the percentage of malnourished people has increased from 35 percent in 1990-1992 to 64 percent in 1997-1999. This situation has made DRC one of the poorest countries in the world. In 2001, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that 16 million Congolese people were under the minimum level of nourishment for survival.

The first war in the DRC involved foreign armies from more than nine countries, including Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Angola, Zimbabwe, Eritrea, and South Africa. The stated objective of this coalition was to overthrow the dictator Mobutu, but apart from this common goal, each country involved had its own agenda, such as changing the borders of the DRC as inherited from the colonial period.

As a meeting of different wars on Congolese soil, some political observers consider the conflicts in the DRC to have been the first African world war.

 

Roadmap to Peace

We contributed to this fragile peace-building process by investing in protecting human rights, civic education, and popular participation. We also helped realize the first free election in the DRC in more than 40 years. However, elections do not always mean democracy, and the way forward still remains a challenge. After 32 years of dictatorship and 10 years of war, my country is yet to be rebuilt.

In January 2008, a peace conference was held in Kivu in northern DRC. The conference had the objective of initiating peace, stability, and development and putting an end to the war in North and South Kivu province.

The conference requested that the Rwandan and Burundian refugees return to their respective countries, as well as calling for disarmament and the repatriation of foreign arms groups still on DRC territory. After three weeks of work, the armed groups and the government signed, in the presence of the international community, an act of engagement for peace, known as the Amani Program or Peace Program.

The DRC is now run by an elected government under a prime minister, Antoine Gizenga, elected and appointed by the presidential majority party. We have a parliament with 2 chambers, 11 provincial parliaments, and 11 provincial governments. All these institutions are under the constitutional control of an elected president.

Although there had been a rebel group after the elections, the Amani peace conference convinced this last rebellion to recognize the authority of the state founded on the elections.

Today, we should put much emphasis on the reconstruction. This means organizing a system of good governance where all significant social bodies are represented at the political, economic, and military levels, promoting capacity building in administration, and judicial services, and achieving a regime without political army that is devoted to the people and not to the leaders. We will also promote a regional approach to conflict resolutions, understanding the major causes of wars at both the national and sub-regional levels, combat poverty through common programs of development, transform war economies to integrated trade, and implement common measures of conflict prevention similar to the methods of the AU (African Union) and UN.

 

Outstanding Leadership

The Second Sylff (The Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund) Prize was recently awarded to Rigobert Minani-Bihuzo, 47, a leader in promoting human rights and civic education in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in central Africa. Rigobert is the founder and representative of Groupe Jérémie, an nongovernmental organization actively engaged in these fields in the DRC and the African Great Lake region.

Overseeing the coordination of the first free election in the DRC in more than 40 years, he helped organize the Cadre de Concertation de la Société Civile pour l'Observation des Élections (CDCE), an association of 22 NGOs for election observation. Rigobert directed the activities of some 50,000 national observers and 125 international observers sent from the European Network for Central Africa (EurAc), a network of European NGOs. He has also been involved in various governmental efforts for cease-fires and reconciliation in war-stricken DRC.

Rigobert was invited to Japan for two weeks in January 2007 to receive the Sylff Prize and to establish contact with individuals and organizations—both governmental and non-governmental—for future collaboration.

 

About Sylff

Sylff (The Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund) is a fellowship program established in 1987 to support promising graduate students in the fields of the social sciences and humanities. This program tries to nurture leaders of tomorrow who are willing to address issues of global concern and effect changes by proactively tackling them. The Sylff program is a collaborative program by The Nippon Foundation and The Tokyo Foundation with the former donating the endowment of US$1 million each to each selected institution, and the latter being responsible for administering and promoting the network within and beyond the Sylff community. As of now, endowments have been established at 68 institutions in 44 countries, and over 10,000 graduate students have received the Sylff fellowship.

Rigobert received a Sylff fellowship in 1995–1997 for his DEA (diploma of advanced studies) in political science at the Institute of Political Education “Pedro Arrupe” in Italy.


 

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Kenya’s Post-Election Violence

July 14, 2008
By 19741

Have colonial ghosts come back to haunt Kenya? Taking a look at the recent violence that spread across what was one of the most politically stable countries in Africa, and asking why such a steady country faced such sudden tremulous times, a Kenyan anthropologist, engaged in human rights issues, gives us his perspective.

Kenya, one of the most politically stable countries in Africa, is found on the east horn of the African continent. The country gained its independence from the British in 1963 after years of armed struggle and diplomatic negotiations led by a generation of leaders who are still in active politics today. Diverse interests that have accumulated over time, especially in businesses, have continued to control the country’s politics, and when a motley crew of younger opposition politicians upstaged them in elections last year, the old leaders just dug in and refused to leave. Widespread violence followed. The government, for a time, continued to play truant and refused to enter into any meaningful form of power sharing agreement with the opposition, even amidst talks chaired by former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan and backed by the international community, in particular the European Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom. This essay attempts to put this story into perspective.

 

Kenya’s Post-Election Violence

For the better part of the first two months of the year, Kenya’s political situation remained fluid, tense and unpredictable. The country was not holding, and a bloodbath loomed after weeks of ethnic violence precipitated by a suspected electoral fraud that returned President Mwai Kibaki of the Party of National Unity to power. As wide sections of the population tottered from the consequences of internal strife, a nebulous search for peace began in Nairobi: the National Dialogue and Mediation forum, chaired by Kofi Annan, with the assistance of a panel of preeminent African leaders.

At the talks the opposition party, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), first decamped from its earlier radical position to press for the resignation of President Kibaki to allow for fresh presidential elections, opening the way for the negotiations. The ODM had refused to recognize Kibaki as the president, and during the first few statements from him at the start of the talks, the ODM threw tantrums and almost boycotted the parley after Kibaki referred to himself as the duly elected president of Kenya. The ruling party dodged the reconciliation spirit of the talks and failed to read the intensity of local and international pressure to work on a solution to the impasse. It required the intervention of African Union Chairman and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who warned the parties of dire consequences if the peace processes were to be derailed. The big stick wielded by the two seemed to have worked, as a new peace accord has now been reached between the warring parties and Kenya will soon have a premier and a president, with both sharing executive powers. The grand coalition agreement will be constitutionalized.

A host of local and international observers in the polls, including the European Union observation team and the Commonwealth, agreed in their reports that the December 2007 elections, particularly the presidential vote tallying, was marred with incompetence and spurious tallying. In a multiethnic society of about 40 distinct ethnic groups, Kenya was firmly jolted by the disputes. At the Annan talks it was also agreed to form a review committee to establish the facts behind the election fiasco, as well as to create a Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission to help in reconciling Kenyans and addressing historical grievances that were partly the reasons for the conflicts.

The electoral differences have been very costly for the country: About 1,500 Kenyans died in the post-electoral skirmishes, 350,000 people were displaced from their homes, and many continue to live as internally displaced refugees in temporary camps across the country. Businesses have been stalled, moreover, and by local estimates over US$2 billion losses to businesses have been counted. Any more dithering on the peace talks, and the impatience and war-mongering culture that was beginning to take root in the country would have led Kenya to an eventual paralysis and even collapse. But how did Kenya get to that point in the first place?

Sworn in on a wheelchair after a near-tragic road crash at the height of the 2002 general election campaigns, President Kibaki owed much to his coalition partners for the National Rainbow Coalition euphoria and sense of unity that won him the victory. His last weeks of campaigning found him confined to a wheelchair, but an amalgamated league of campaigners from the coalition’s leading party stalwarts—then known as the Summit—crisscrossed the country on a platform of change.

With the Kenya African National Union’s trouble-free concession of defeat, Kenya’s had been an exemplary political transition in Africa. But that was then. Kibaki faced his reelection against a strong opposition coalition headed by the man who ironically is credited for his presidency, Raila Odinga, and an array of his former ministers.

At his inauguration in 2002, Kibaki and his government promised a new constitution and an end to official corruption, political patronage, and nepotism. It would be these pledges, on the political front, rather than promises of economic revitalization that would dog the Kibaki administration over the coming years. In effect, the Kibaki regime would defend its reelection plan on account of a healthy economy, with a growth rate of 8 percent up from the tottering levels of 2002. However, it had not fulfilled most of the political pledges, particularly those to draw up a new constitution and end high-level corruption. Worse still, the Kibaki administration seemed to have come to revolve around a cabal of ethnic state operators who apparently convinced him to rubbish the preelection Memorandum of Understanding on a power-sharing agreement with his former colleagues.

 

A Tight Race?

Although a tight election was developing and many pollsters pointed to a close finish, in the minds of many Kenyans it was never to be as contentious and as bloody as it became. Both the Party of National Unity and the ODM attracted huge support across the country. In the end, the Electoral Commission of Kenya released the results of only 209 constituencies (following nullification of the results in 3 constituencies), indicating that the president had won with about 200,000 votes ahead of the ODM presidential candidate, Raila Odinga, and inviting instant dispute. By this time, live broadcasting of the vote tallying process by the media had been banned, and Nairobi was reduced to a police state with heightened security patrols and closures of certain roads. What, then, led to the vicious post-electoral violence in the country?

According to the prediction of former president Moi, multipartyism was bound to bring about tribal tensions and deepen regional divisions in the country. The former president was himself an expert in divide-and-rule tactics of administration. At the height of fervent campaigns for political reforms in Kenya in the 1980s, he opposed political pluralism on the claim that the country was not cohesive enough. Multiparty democracy was finally reintroduced in Kenya in 1991, but early elections in 1992 and 1997 saw poll violence, especially in the Rift Valley parts of western Kenya and the coast of Kenya.

In Kenya’s politics, the capture of safe votes is often strengthened by filial connections between the contestants and electorate. Politicians of the above communities found it expedient to throw out voters from the immigrant settler population so that their declarations of “party zones” would be realized. The Rift Valley was declared a Kenya African National Union zone, and other parties were warned against venturing into the area. Accordingly, this occurrence also fulfilled Moi’s prophecy on political pluralism. In 1997 these conditions were repeated with varying tactics and consequences. Official coverups and impunity often followed state involvement in the clashes. In 1993, though a parliamentary select committee to investigate and make recommendations on the clashes was set up in Kenya, nothing followed. Another Judicial Commission on Tribal Clashes finished its work in 1999, but neither the Moi administration nor the Kibaki administration implemented its recommendations.

 

Colonial hangover or ethnic complexity?

The divide-and-rule administration tactics, although a legacy of the British colonial administration in Kenya, were polished under the Kenya African National Union regime. State appointments, budgetary allocations, and a distribution of public goodies appear to strictly follow the beacons of ethnic loyalty and closeness to state power. This manner of distributing the national cake is a major cause of the ethnic discontentment and, with the imperial powers of Kenya’s presidency, can be a harbinger for chaos. Figuratively speaking, communities that find themselves at the periphery of power mobilize against the status quo on the basis that it wants the plate to go around. “It is our turn to eat” is an oft-quoted maxim in Kenya’s campaigns.

The communities feeling displaced and marginalized from the center of power by the Kibaki administration bandied together in the ODM against the government. When it lost the opportunity to stage a takeover, therefore, this was going to be painful and frustrating. If it had been through an illegitimate loss in the polls as has been alleged, the violence could only have been expected as a logical consequence of anger and frustration. Deep-seated anger against the Kikuyus, seen to have dominated power and the consumption of the national cake since Kenya’s independence in 1963, can no doubt be blamed for this eventuality. Although the Mau Mau war of independence was related to the Kikuyu uprising against the colonialists for their loss of land, the departing crown bequeathed a shamelessly exploitative and divisive state machinery to the new power elite under Jomo Kenyatta, a Kikuyu. With a relatively more educated working class and a better physical infrastructure inherited from the white administrators, Kenyatta capitalized on these advantages to make the Kikuyu a powerful and envied community in the country’s post-independence economic takeoff.

After the declaration of the state of emergency in Kenya in 1952, the British government followed with a land rationalization plan known as the Swynnerton Plan. Under the plan, the British would encourage the newly independent Kenya money to buy back the “White highlands” formerly settled by the colonialists. When the colonial farmers departed, an expansive swathe of land was left uninhabited in a region previously owned by the Kalenjin and Maasai. However, the pastoralist Maasai had in any case lost their claim to a large part of the Rift Valley land through the 1904 and 1911 agreements with the British colonial administration. On the part of the Kalenjins, they witnessed their supposed ancestral land annexed by the independent government and dished out to mainly Kikuyu settlers after independence. This Kikuyu resettlement plan was backed only by a section of the Kalenjin politicians. By 1971, over half of all arable land in the Northern Rift Valley, settled by Kalenjins, were in the hands of new Kikuyu buyers. Without any solution to this historical grievance, Kalenjin-Kikuyu clashes in these areas are bound to recur.

Like the celebrated Mau Mau episode in Kikuyu nationalism, the Kalenjins treasure their brave history too. The community of the Kalenjins was at the forefront in opposing colonialism. When the East African Railway line reached the region, it sparked off the Nandi resistance led by the legendary Orkoiyot Koitalel Arap Samoei from 1905 to 1911. This nationalism has stayed alive in the whole Kalenjin community and political tradition.

But the media culture cannot escape censure. Although the country has a fairly credible independent and free press, Kenya’s media took sides, perceivably to serve ethnic interests in the campaigns. Camouflages of such ethnic interests abet serious frustrations and can spread hate propaganda and falsehoods or become a war-mongering tool. Kenya’s ethnic media stations remained culpable for stroking negative ethnic emotions throughout this period.

It is now important that durable solutions are found to avert a repetition of similar scenes in Kenya’s future. The suggestion to deal with matters of transitional justice, encapsulated in the need for a justice, truth, and reconciliation organ, is still necessary and urgent. This will help to understand and prescribe solutions to Kenya’s enduring pains and grievances. In the near future, emphasis on the return to lasting peace is important, but to seriously address it, constitutional and legislative agreements for power sharing and other solutions to mass poverty are imperative. Finally, for justice to prevail, Kenya’s legislative institutions must attend to the inadequacies in the law instruments and the judicial institutions that adjudicate them. What makes public leaders hesitate to use legal channels to address grievances will only set the stage for bigger chaos.



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“Voices from the Sylff Community” is a space showcasing the activities and opinions of Sylff fellows and faculty members. We have received contributions from fellows and faculty members all over the world. We are looking forward to sharing YOUR voices with people around the world, including global issues with local perspective, grassroots issues requiring global attention, and your first-hand experience.
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