Feb
13

The Horn of Africa

One of the Horn of Africa's long-time scholars, Christopher Clapham, wrote "The Horn of Africa: State Formation and Decay" (2017), with Oxford University Press. A lot of the book, expectedly, focuses on Ethiopia. And, unfortunately for Clapham, the world of Ethiopia and the Horn has changed dramatically since. The book is accessible, which is often a nicer way to say this is not a detailed academic book for experts of the area but for students and/or generalists who might be interested to learn about the region. I am sure experts will read this book / have read this book, but may take away comparatively less (that said, a number of leading academics of the region have cited this book). I collected a few notes on ethnicity and on the Somali state, which are below:

"All ethnicities, nonetheless, are to some extent fluid, and this fluidity is encouraged in the societies of the northern highlands by the principle of bilateral descent. Whereas in most African cultures, to which lineage is characteristically extremely important, descent is traced primarily either through the male (patrilineal) or female (matrilineal) line, in this region each enjoyed a broadly equal status, and hereditary rights in land in particular could be claimed either through one's father or one's mother. This made it relatively easy to blur one's identity, by selectively emphasising the most advantageous line." (p. 13)

"The genie of ethnicity, however, once unleashed, could not be put back in its bottle. The assumption, derived from the TPLF's (and especially Meles Zenawi's) ideological commitment to Marxism, that ethnicity was no more than a superstructural phenomenon derived from economic exploitation, which could in turn be neutralised by representation and development, proved utterly inadequate. Instead, predictably enough, ethnic identities have become increasingly entrenched within a system that had been intended to nullify them. A new politics of identity has emerged, despite (and not least within) a hegemonic party that has become decreasingly able to control the forces of proliferation that it did not create (since these were already implicit in the mismatch between the state and its population), but which it had at least sought to manage." (p. 107)

"Somali societies have operated in the absence of formal government institutions in a way that could scarcely be conceived in the agricultural highlands of the Horn, where the breakdown of hierarchical control has been coterminous with violence. Nowhere is this clearer than in the operation of an economy that has functioned with remarkable efficiency despite the lack of overall political control, and has in the process spared many Somalis the levels of destitution that statelessness might have been expected to bring with it." (p. 149) 

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Sep
22

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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Jul
15

The Act of Living

NOTE: This was a book review that was published in 2020.


As a country with sustained levels of high macro-economic growth, Ethiopia has been suggested as amongst Africa's Lions (Bhorat and Tarp, 2016), an economic grouping envisioned as potentially following the Asian Tigers of Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. Macro-economic growth does not benefit everyone in the same way. Such narratives may not explore how growth can fail the poor (Shaffer, Kanbur and Sandbrook, 2019) or make invisible the processes of how exclusion occurs amidst growth. Di Nunzio presents detailed ethnographic description in The Act of Living to explore the complexities of development, for which the author draws upon nearly a decade of research in Arada, a subcity of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The richly contextualized life stories enable readers to understand the processes of exclusion and marginalization, which are often lost in statistics about winners and losers. What makes this book an engaging and unique read are the windows it offers into the worlds of those left behind as well as their constant grappling with, and cajoling of, possibility. In so doing, The Act of Living is a book about agency: decisions amidst deprivation, capacity to control within constraint, meaning within marginalization. The Act of Living is not a celebration of street life, but it is a recognition of how the tensions of 'history and becoming unfold as people's attempts to be something other than their constraints coexist with the experiences of being acted upon by marginality, subjugation, and oppression" (p. 27).

Di Nunzio brings us into worlds that are underrepresented and under researched. These are interconnected people and places, about which anecdote may be our main point of reference. Far too often their voices are silent and their perspectives misunderstood. In the context of praised economic growth and positive development, these life stories highlight glass ceilings, where marginal difference and raising inequality are the norm, while transformative change a rarity. As the author describes, growth and development are viewed differently from below: "Wealth, success, and, broadly, growth and development remain inexplicable, despicable, and unjust" (p. 218).

In this book, Di Nunzio deconstructs a common economic mantra: the need for inclusion for growth and development to benefit everyone. In the urban Ethiopian case, there are processes "of inclusion that deepened rather than challenged marginality," in brief, Di Nunzio demonstrates how "inclusion can marginalize" (p. 105). This occurs as the political apparatuses of support also acted as means of control. Continued participation as newfound members of government initiatives also meant political allegiance, which, the author argues, offered no "ways of achieving social mobility or even relative improvement" (p. 105). As a result, those being left behind in the development process had fewer spaces and opportunities to contest their positionality as members. From the streets of Arada in Addis Ababa, politics were viewed as fake, "actively producing narratives, discourses, and expectations of improvement and collective development that their own condition of marginality and oppression taught them to distrust" (p. 184)

The 'weight of place' and trajectories of life that Di Nunzio presents throughout are a welcome contextualization to expressions of social differentiation and the development of the urban landscape. The two main characters – Haile and Ibrahim – were born in the capital city, as children of migrants (p. 29). Albeit it briefly, in Chapter 1 readers learn of their deeper family histories, providing some insight into the potential intergenerational nature of marginalization. This is important because not all migrants to the center are the same; some arrive with resources and networks, some arrive with opportunities due to language and identity, and some arrive to encounter fear and suspicion. In these instances, personal and family history are not just a matter of economic class, but also of livelihoods, political affiliation, social class and status. Readers learn of other components of social differentiation, such as ethno-linguistic identity and religion. For example, Mesfin's dislike of Tigrayans and Eritreans resulted in his specifically targeting them for thefts (p. 64). The gravity of religious and ethno-linguistic identities and their respective relationships as a factor of social differentiation continues within the cosmopolitan center, and arguably has gained in gravity over the time period of study. These expressions of social differentiation or broader social determinants of marginalization and subjugation were implicitly positioned as secondary to the political processes. At the same time, Di Nunzio makes a convincing argument throughout the book about the ways that marginalization is a "political product" (p. 104).

The Act of Living is a welcome addition for Anthropology, Sociology and Development Studies, as well as for qualitative courses in Geography, Political Science, African Studies and Urban Studies. While the Ethiopian urban has been subject to research (see, for example: Mains, 2012, 2019), relatively little has been published on 'street life' in urban Ethiopia. Di Nunzio has contributed a collection of published articles in this subject area, which this book builds upon. In this regard, The Act of Living is a welcome contribution to an under-researched aspect of urban experiences, and in particular in relation to ideas of development. The text was written in an accessible way, making it suitable for upper undergraduate courses. Although it is an academic book that compiles nearly a decade of data and engages a range of theories and theorists, it is one that will be read and engaged by those outside of academia, which is demonstrative of a well written and thoughtful text.

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Jul
12

Rural Ethiopia in Transition

The WIDE project in Ethiopia is one of the few long-term qualitative projects following rural areas (starting rural research in 1994, and following the changes since). There are 20 communities being followed, unfortunately the so-called "emerging regions" are not included (Afar, Benishagul Gumuz, Gambella, Somali). The book "Rural Ethiopia in Transition – Selected Discussion Briefs, 2018", edited by Alula Pankhurst and Catherine Dom bring together some of the key insights in a readable fashion (aiming for a broader audience than academics). The first section presents a useful summary, and each of the following thematic sections provide "key messages" at the outset. Very reader friendly organization and quite useful as a teaching material. Recommended.

All available here: https://ethiopiawide.net/publications/wide-bridge-discussion-briefs/ 

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