Land, Landlessness and Poverty in Ethiopia

Emerging out of a 2016 workshop organized by the Forum for Social Studies in Addis Ababa (also the publisher of the book), the 2018 publication "Land, Landlessness and Poverty in Ethiopia" presents cases / chapters from four regions in Ethiopia (SNNP, Amhara, Oromia, Tigray). The book is edited by Dessalegn Rahmato, and covers a topic he has been alerting our attention to for several years - landlessness. The full book is available for download here. Notes from the Introduction by Dessalegn:

"Landlessness is an important subject for close examination because it is an overarching problem with implications for poverty, social stability and the environment. Despite this, however, it has not attracted serious investigation and there are not many in-depth analyses of the subject and its ramifications. The problem is in large measure a product of demographic pressure, land scarcity and the insufficiency of access to non-farm employment in the rural areas. Landlessness is now growing to be a significant problem, and, in some of the densely settled communities, it has reached crisis levels, causing serious concern among kebelle and woreda authorities. The problem is an indicator of poverty, and no program of poverty reduction can succeed without addressing it in a meaningful way. There is a generational factor at work here: the tenure regime in place disadvantages young peasants who, by law, should have been provided farm plots by the kebelles concerned but are not because there is no arable land to distribute. This generational divide has the potential to erode social stability and cohesion. As is discussed by all the researchers in their work, the response of the young to landlessness has been varied but of particular significance has been the phenomenon of out-migration from the rural areas. Such migration may be to bigger urban centers in search of employment (this is evident in Addis Ababa), but the migration that has drawn public attention because of the dangers involved is the illegal migration to foreign countries such as the Middle East and South Africa and the victimization of would-be migrants by people smugglers and the human tragedy it has caused." (p. 4)

"Landlessness is a serious and growing problem in all rural areas, and yet it has not been given the attention it deserves by local authorities. For the purposes of the study, the following definition of landlessness was adopted by the research teams: any individual living in a rural community who has no rights to land registered in his or her name is considered landless. Having temporary access to land under a rental arrangement does not disqualify the person in question from being described as landless. In many cases, a landless person has no access to land of any kind, no employment and no income. The first point to bear in mind is that landlessness is at the heart of the generational fault-line facing rural society. Invariably, those suffering from the misfortune of having no rights to land are the young, and young males appear in the picture more prominently than young females. The major factors that were found to be responsible for rising landlessness included demographic change and consequent land shortage; large-scale investments in commercial agriculture, manufacturing and infrastructure; land degradation; and the paucity of non-farm (or off-farm) employment opportunities." (p. 6) 

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Price War$

Rupert Russell's "Price War$: How the Commodities Markets Made Our Chaotic World" (2022) is a mass market book, however as a PhD holder from Harvard I picked this up to see if there are any interesting insights. With the exception of parts relating to Ukraine and Trump, the majority of the content of the book seemed dated between 2008 and 2014, which is reflected in the endnotes / bibliography as well. It would have been useful to know when all the trips were made, but most often this is not mentioned by the author, although points of reference suggest many of these also did not take place recently (reducing the journalistic value of a mass market book like this).

Although not a novel point, some interesting notes on algorithm trading:

"The computers are scanning headlines from all over the world, searching for chaos, looking for a small disturbance that could send prices higher and—before anyone has even read the headline, let alone verified it—trade automatically. The sheer volume of the algorithmic trades magnifies the mere suggestion of chaos— such as an army approaching a refinery—into an all-too-real price shock..." (p. 87) 

"The closer I got to understanding prices, the weirder they became. They were supposed to be synthesising information, coordinating global supply chains, moving people and goods and services to the most productive parts of the economy. Instead, prices were caught up in a social game that revolved not around reality but around collective perception of a reality, an orthodoxy. Just as in a cult or a religion, it is through the quick and public embrace of the emerging orthodoxy that material benefits are accumulated, be they wealth or status. In the long term, orthodoxies often crumble. But in the short term they can appear invincible, as unquestionable arbiters of truth and fortune." (p. 89) 

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Formations of the Secular

Talal Asad has produced some interesting books, his 2003 book "Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity" is somewhat less powerful as a collective narrative since it draws on previously published materials (as opposed to a narrative that is linked throughout), nonetheless some interesting ideas from two decades past:

"What is the connection between "the secular" as an epistemic category and "secularism" as a political doctrine? Can they be objects of anthropological inquiry? What might an anthropology of secularism look like? This book attempts, in a preliminary way, to address these questions." (p. 1)

"The terms 'secularism' and 'secularist' were introduced into English by freethinkers in the middle of the nineteenth century in order to avoid the charge of their being 'atheists' and 'infidels,' terms that carried suggestions of immorality in a still largely Christian society. These epithets mattered not because the freethinkers were concerned about their personal safety, but because they sought to direct an emerging mass politics of social reform in a rapidly industrializing society. Long-standing habits of indifferences, disbelief, or hostility among individuals toward Christian rituals and authorities were now becoming entangled with projects of total social reconstruction by means of legislation." (p. 23-24)

"In fact liberal democracy here expresses the two secular myths that are, notoriously, at odds with each other: the Enlightenment myth of politics as a discourse of public reason whose bond with knowledge enables the elite to direct the education of mankind, and the revolutionary myth of universal suffrage, a politics of large numbers in which the representation of 'collective will' is sought by quantifying the opinion and fantasy of individual citizen-electors. The secular theory of state toleration is based on these contradictory foundations: on the one hand elite liberal clarity seeks to contain religious passion, on the other hand democratic numbers allow majorities to dominate minorities even if both are religiously formed." (p. 61) 

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Colonial Effects

Emerging out of a PhD study, Joseph A. Massad published "Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan" (2001). This is a fascinating book, which should be more widely read. Although it focuses on Jordan, there are insights for research on nationality, nationalism, colonialism, decolonization, and identity, in additional to Middle Eastern studies. Some notes:

"… the production of national identity and national culture within Jordan as both a typical and atypical post-colonial nation-state… More specifically, I examine whether two key state institutions, law and the military, assist in the production of the nation. Recent studies of nationalism describe the nation as "invented" or "imagined," by intellectuals and/or political elites who are producers of, or produced by, the political discourse of nationalism. In this study, I am more interested in whether institutions play a role in the production of colonial and postcolonial national identity and culture… Law and the military were central institutions set up by the colonial powers in the colonies. They replaced existing juridical and military structures, or introduced them to societies that did not have them before. Both law and the military retain their colonial markings as European institutions established to serve the colonial state. As Frantz Fanon has shown, however, once national independence is achieved, the new nation-state elites replace their colonial masters in administering the same institutions that were used to control them." (p. 1)

"The establishment of paternity as the source of nationhood has been enshrined in British nationality laws since the nineteenth century. In the exemplary case of Britain, as Francesca Klug demonstrates, "women were only allowed to reproduce the British nation on behalf of their husbands. They could not pass their nationality to their children in their own right." In fact, British women who married outside the nation lost their British nationality, as did their children. On the other hand, the children of British men and non-British wives would be automatically British, as would the non-British wives. Some of these laws were changed in 1981 and 1985, when British women won the right to transfer their citizenship to their own children born abroad.51 It is the former British model that was transported to the colonies." (p. 35)

"The school system became instrumental in the production of the British imagined "Transjordanian." It is in those schools, or what Althusser calls the ideological state apparatus, that a gendered Transjordanian nationalist agency was first conceived. The responsibility of the military school system was to teach the boys a new ideology, nay a new epistemology, through which they were to apprehend their identity as well as the function it was to have: "The need for the production of Arab officers cadets, apprentice tradesmen and future NCO's from Arab Legion schools was to become more pressing as time went on. The government schools were saturated with politics, and many school-teachers were Communists. In Arab Legion schools, every effort was made to teach the boys a straightforward open creed—service to king and country, duty, sacrifice and religion [emphasis added]. Glubb reduces this formulaic creed to its bare essentials. In the "military preface" to Abdullah's memoirs, written for the benefit of the troops in a special edition released to them, he says, "All that we soldiers have to do is to do our duty to God, the King and the nation [emphasis added]."" (p. 150)

"Through the disciplinary mechanisms of surveillance and education, Glubb's policies not only repressed and erased much in the Bedouins' way of life that conflicted with imperial interests but also produced much that was new and combined it with what was "inoffensive" and "beneficial" in their "tradition" in a new amalgam of what was packaged as real Bedouin culture. The new Bedouin culture in fact sublated much of pre-imperial Bedouin culture foreclosing certain venues while opening a myriad others, erasing practices while preserving and transforming others." (p. 159)

"After the end of formal colonialism, national identities and cultures in the postcolonies are not only modes of resistance to colonial power, they are also the proof of colonialism's perpetual victory over the colonized. The irony of this is in having us believe that this colonial subjection and subjectivation is anticolonial agency." (p. 278) 

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