7 March 2014 § Leave a comment
I just came across a thought provoking article in the March 2011 edition of Forced Migration Review called “How to Behave: Advice from IDPs.” The author, Stine Finne Jakobsen, summarizes advice from internally displaced Colombians living around Cartagena into four “modes of behavior” intended to lower the risk of living in a war zone. To quote her summaries of them:
- Passivity: In a situation where an illegal armed actor is controlling the local population and imposing order through terror, not to talk, not to know and not to see may be essential coping strategies.
- Invisibility: [This] implies to duck and hide, to melt into the rest of the population and avoid actions that can draw attention to you. Certain daily activities should be restricted or abandoned but total invisibility is never possible since everyday life has to go on.
- Obedience: [This] implies following the rules and orders of the [non-state armed groups] – a first step towards securing survival. However, obeying the orders of one group is inevitably perceived by their adversaries as supporting that group. And in obeying, the principle of passivity is violated.
- Mobility: In wartime, mobility is restricted and regarded as suspicious by armed actors and groups. Unnecessary movement should be avoided – but moving away can be the ultimate solution to secure survival through anonymity in an urban setting.
I found this a very moving depiction of the impossible choices people make during conflict, and would like to revisit some of the other academic literature focusing on civilian life in wartime (such as Zachariah Mampilly’s Rebel Rulers) with these precepts in mind.
7 March 2014 § 1 Comment
If you haven’t seen the interactive graph of support for M23 by foreign states (Rwanda/Uganda) and individuals that was published in Stability Journal recently, it’s worth a look. The data comes from an article by Cathy Nangini, Mainak Jas, Hugo Fernandes and Robert Muggah.
Here’s a still shot of the interactive version. One thing that strikes me in looking at this is that running a rebellion is actually an intensely diplomatic endeavor. Think about the challenges of negotiating relationships with all of these sponsors and allies while also trying to take territory and (in at least a minimal sense) govern it – formidable!
4 March 2014 § Leave a comment
I wonder what was going on in the Cameroon – CAR – Chad corridor between the west African and Bantu states, and along the eastern coast, that major polities never arose there. Perhaps it’s Jared Diamond’s theory about the spread of empires on the east-west axis at work? (Less surprised not to see major groups in southern Africa, large parts of which are very dry.)
1 March 2014 § 1 Comment
Anyone who’s interested in doing policy-relevant research knows that making your findings accessible to information-overloaded policymakers is a challenge. Duncan Green has written a good summary of a recent paper by Paul Avey and Michael Desch on this topic. To further summarize Duncan’s points:
- The more politicians know about a subject, the less they believe “experts”
- Public visibility (including social media and blogging) is important for credibility
- However, most policymakers still prefer to get information from major newspapers rather than more specialized (but possibly less credible) online sources
- The best narrative, and not the best evidence, will win
The takeaway? “Tell clearer, shorter stories and you may actually be listened to.”
(I also wrote about some of Avey & Desch’s work a few months ago, focusing on the types of academic work that policymakers felt most accessible.)
26 February 2014 § 2 Comments
Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson are doing a series of posts about Balinese politics in the 18th – 20th centuries, and make an counterpoint to Charles Tilly’s famous phrase “war made the state and the state made war” in their latest:
The truth of the matter is that all polities fight wars, and some centralize while others do not.
Looking at centralized ones and observing that they fight wars, therefore warfare creates states does not seem very sensible empirically.
It’s a very interesting point. Under what conditions does the threat of war lead polities (not just states) to centralize? Is the bias here that only polities which have survived an initial war are around to centralize later, while losing groups, who faced exactly the same risk of war, get swallowed up by their opponents and never build a centralized administrative structure? In which case war would be expected to create and destroy in roughly equal measure. (Granted, I haven’t read Tilly’s original paper in detail, so if these questions are addressed there or in his other work I’d be happy to hear about it.)
Kudos to Acemoglu & Robinson as well for the use of the word “polities” instead of “states” in the first sentence quoted here. It’s a small thing, but a good step towards moving away from ideas of power and governance as the exclusive province of the state.
20 February 2014 § Leave a comment
This article by Guillaume Iyenda on the lives of street vendors in Kinshasa’s informal economy is nearly a decade old now, but it doesn’t seem like things have changed that much:
Our research showed that the highest diversity of sales took place between 10 and 12 in the morning. As many households consume only one meal a day, people prefer to do their shopping at this time and then cook a meal that is eaten between 4 and 5 p.m. In the late afternoon, sales are high in what is locally called the wenze ya bitula, the “market of the unsold”. Here, people generally sell all their perishable goods, which they are unable to keep from one day to the next because they lack freezers. As a result, these goods are sold at half price or less. Shoppers who most frequently use these markets are those who consume their one daily meal between 8 and 10 p.m.; most of them have to wait for the main income earner to return from work, bringing back the daily money for the food shopping.
Interesting throughout. He also has a related paper [PDF] on how street food preparation is a primary source of income for many women in Kinshasa whose husbands are disabled or unemployed.
18 February 2014 § 7 Comments
In a 1994 article, Paul Krugman mentions that he has a friend who wrote a paper called “The evolution of European ignorance about Africa.” It sounds fascinating, and is apparently not available online anywhere. Does anyone know more about this paper, and where to find a copy?
Here’s Krugman’s summary of the paper, with some representative maps from this excellent Princeton site on the evolution of European maps of Africa.
In the 15th century, maps of Africa were, of course, quite inaccurate about distances, coastlines, and so on. They did, however, contain quite a lot of information about the interior, based essentially on second- or third-hand travellers’ reports. Thus the maps showed Timbuktu, the River Niger, and so forth. Admittedly, they also contained quite a lot of untrue information, like regions inhabited by men with their mouths in their stomachs. Still, in the early 15th century Africa on maps was a filled space.
Over time, the art of mapmaking and the quality of information used to make maps got steadily better. The coastline of Africa was first explored, then plotted with growing accuracy, and by the 18th century that coastline was shown in a manner essentially indistinguishable from that of modern maps. … On the other hand, the interior emptied out. The weird mythical creatures were gone, but so were the real cities and rivers. In a way, Europeans had become more ignorant about Africa than they had been before.
It should be obvious what happened: the improvement in the art of mapmaking raised the standard for what was considered valid data. Second-hand reports of the form “six days south of the end of the desert you encounter a vast river flowing from east to west” were no longer something you would use to draw your map. Only features of the landscape that had been visited by reliable informants equipped with sextants and compasses now qualified. And so the crowded if confused continental interior of the old maps became “darkest Africa”, an empty space.
Of course, by the end of the 19th century darkest Africa had been explored, and mapped accurately. In the end, the rigor of modern cartography led to infinitely better maps. But there was an extended period in which improved technique actually led to some loss in knowledge.
14 February 2014 § 3 Comments
Since the change in power, diplomats in the region and in the international community have pushed for rapid presidential elections. This is a mistake. In the fighting, voter registries (both paper and electronic) have been destroyed. Re-establishing them will be a massive undertaking that risks exacerbating the tensions around nationality described above. It will consume scarce resources when necessary emergency humanitarian aid is underfunded.
To satisfy the widespread desire for democracy (Bozizé’s electioneering made Central Africans very unhappy), it would be better to start with local elections, which have not been held in the CAR for decades – Préfets and their adjuncts have been appointed by the president, and chefs de village have assumed their roles through a variety of means, such as informal elections — often involving only men — and heredity. These elections would lay a foundation for more substantive national elections, and might also help establish trust in communities riven by looting and brutality.
Also immediately valuable: more money. The levels of violence got as bad as they did in part due to the weak economy and the piling-up of arrears in civil servant salaries, especially over the second half of 2013. Market purchases and bar sociality cultivate a day-to-day ‘getting along’ no less real for being bred of practical necessity, and the drying up of money removed any such possibilities for social lubrication. An injection of cash, such as by paying those salaries, would do much more for people’s well-being and the establishment of security than a strictly ‘humanitarian’ distribution.
The CAR, an improbable country on a variety of levels, has never had a tightly-woven social fabric. It’s always been more of a loose netting that has become dangerously frayed over the last few years. But it can be mended, and these small-scale processes, plus technocratic governance from President Samba-Panza, are good ways to start.
In general, I find Louisa one of today’s most interesting thinkers on power and governance in weak states. Keep an eye out for her work, and follow her on Twitter.
9 February 2014 § Leave a comment
I haven’t properly written up my observations from last year’s African Studies Association meeting yet. In reviewing my notes, I found that one of the themes that cut across the various panels I attended was the unexpected uses of non-state power. By this I mean the exercise of (potentially) coercive power by non-state actors in ways that challenge the state’s monopoly on violence or taxation. Here’s a snapshot:
- Steven van Bockstael noted that most artisanal mining in Liberia is done without the permission of the central government and is therefore illegal, but that miners also frequently ask the permission of land owners, chiefs, and even local government officials before proceding. This type of “highly personalized” authorization clearly has value to the miners, but also means that they’re in a constant process of negotiation with officials.
- Joshua Walker made a similar observation about diamond mining in Mbuji-Mayi, saying that artisanal miners often pay a daily fee to local militias to gain (illegal) access to land owned by parastatal mining agencies. Note that this is actually a bit at odds with the “conflict minerals” narrative of militarized mining in the Congo, which seems to assume that rebel groups operate the mines themselves, rather than simply charging others for access.
- Komlan Agbedahin observed that colonial borders have done less than expected to shape the exercise of chiefly power in central Ghana and Togo. Local chiefs still engage in cross-border power struggles, and the religious spheres of local gods often cross borders as well. Less surprisingly, he also found that local border agents frequently supplemented their salaries by cutting holes in border fences and charging people who wished to cross.
- Nicole Eggers noted that Christian prophets in South Kivu often exercise real political power, sometimes to the point of challenging the mwami or other local authorities. Part of the reason for this is that the South Kivutien mwamis’ power is typically tied to the land, and diminishes if they’re forced to flee due to violence, while the prophets’ power is seen as “heavenly” rather than local, and thus not so easily diminished by flight.
5 February 2014 § 2 Comments
This came up on IPA’s research methods discussion list recently, and Nate Barker provided links to two papers suggesting that PDAs do help surveyors capture given answers correctly. They’re both from a few years ago, so with improvements in hardware and survey softwares the advantage should be even greater today. Blaya, Cohen, Rodriguez, Kim & Fraser (2008) compare PDAs to paper surveys in Peru, and a World Bank working paper from 2011 compares mobile phones to paper in Guatemala. (From the comments, Giacomo Zanello also suggests this 2012 paper by Fafchamps, McKenzie, Quinn & Woodruff as well.)