Lifeworlds in Crisis: challenging notions of difference
Andrea Behrends, University of Bayreuth
Tyler Zoanni, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology
In this panel we look at so-called crises from the perspective of how people live through such situations in Africa. The aim of the panel is twofold: we explore how “Africa challenges” our notion of crisis while also considering how crises challenge well-established notions of difference.
Epidemics, poverty, pollution, climate change, species extinction, refugees, permeable borders, economic downturns, xenophobia, authoritarian governments—these are only a few of the things widely perceived as crises today. What is more, these and other so-called crises often seem less like the exception to people’s lifeworlds and more like their defining conditions. In this panel, we explore the ways that lifeworlds are seemingly put in crisis in Africa, and how such “African challenges” are globally and locally perceived. By focusing on situations that are often perceived as crises, we want, on the one hand, to take a closer look at how people cope with increased uncertainty, which may be perceived as an acceleration of events that threaten to undermine familiar forms of life and interaction. On the other hand, we highlight those social forms and practices that arise during such
situations—in other words, what crises enable as well as what they undermine.
We invite papers that explore challenging circumstances in Africa on multiple scales. We see this as an occasion to reflect on how “Africa challenges” our understandings of “crisis”. Questions we would like to address are: Who is declaring a crisis? What does this declaration entail? And how does it affect people in different ways? At the same time, we invite particular focus on how attending to crisis challenges conventional analyses of difference in Africa. Whatever else a crisis may be, it is typically seen to make a difference in people’s lives, and a profound one at that. How, then, are established ways of classifying and categorizing people called in question, challenged, or redefined during a crisis situation? We have in mind well-established differences along classifications of gender and
generation, race and ethnicity, native and foreign, culture and society, but we welcome other engagements with difference as well.
01 Remadji Hoinathy: Vigilance committees facing the peril of Boko Haram
Active since 2009 in Nigeria, Boko Haram has, since 2014, extended its violent abuses to all countries bordering Lake Chad (Chad, Niger and Cameroon). This geographical expansion led to the reactivation, in July 2015, of the so-called, multinational joint force, whose mandate is now focused on the fight against Boko Haram. Carried out by the the countries’ national armies, this military force has reduced the number of attacks by the group but they were not able to put an end to them. Therefore, in the fight against the terrorist group, communities have mobilized to support the efforts of the defense forces and the authorities, in particular through vigilance committees. Led by civilians, these committees are informally structured groups made up of volunteers from the communities. They have emerged in areas affected by Boko Haram, particularly in the Far North and Northern regions of Cameroon. As their size and composition varies from village to village, their main practical task is to monitor the entry and exit of people in and out of their villages and to inform the authorities of any suspicious activity. As they belong to the communities, they themselves protect, they play a crucial early warning role, in collaboration with the administrative authorities and security forces, to prevent terrorist attacks. Although seemingly innocuous, the existence, structure and functioning of vigilance committees inevitably created a new power dynamic within the communities. These committees also serve as a shield against the recruitment of new members in the communities affected by Boko Haram. In this paper I examine the daily life of these committees as a response of the everyday suffering of villagers and communities from the Boko Haram crisis, but also as an inauguration of a more collaborative approach to the co-production of security in the context of terrorist insurgency.
Remadji Hoinathy, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Security Studies and member of the board of the Centre de Recherche en Anthropologie et Sciences Humaines (CRASH) in N’Djamena, Chad.
02 Nina Haberland: Managing Everyday Crises: Negotiations of Care Responsibilities in a Tanzanian Social Welfare Office
Every day, women, men, and their children, often accompanied by their relatives, sit on the wooden benches in front of the two bureaus of a Tanzanian social welfare office waiting patiently to be heard by one of the social workers. Among them are mothers claiming alimony for their children, fathers wanting to see their children, quarrelling spouses and poor elderly seeking for free medical treatment.
Crises, one could say, thus forms the daily business of the social welfare office. To enter (re)negotiations of care responsibilities between various parties such as the parents, family members, church leaders and state actors, however, requires the declaration of a crisis by one of the social welfare officers. Only if one can prove to be in need and deserving the agents of the state step in and open a file.
Drawing on 12 months of ethnographic research in the department of health including the social welfare office and a public hospital in a district in Northern Tanzania, I explore notions of crises and the (re)negotiations of care responsibilities in the context of state welfare. By referring to a range of different cases I examine what is perceived as crisis, who decides on what ground to open a file and how these decisions affect the everyday life of the office’s clients. Based on recent calls for a relational (state) anthropology, the social welfare office presents an interesting intersection where questions of moralities, deservingness, and political belonging come to the fore and reveal well-established forms of classifying and categorizing citizens seeking for state support.
Nina Haberland is a university assistant and PhD student in Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna.
03 Christian Ungruhe: Youth Crisism. Reflections on the persisting victimization of young people in Africa
Crisis has long been the dominant analytical lens in public and academic engagements with young people in Africa. Over the past 35 years children and youth have been labeled as people living with and in deficit: from particular groups such as working children, street children and street youth and victims of child trafficking in the past decades to the notion of a whole generation of socially immobile youth today. To some degree, academic studies have called for a more nuanced picture of African childhoods and youth. However, after more than a decade of emphasizing African children’s and youth’s agencies, possibilities and creativities in more or less challenging social, political and economic environments (see Bordonaro & Carvalho, 2010; Christiansen et al., 2006; Honwana & de Boeck, 2005; Martin et al., 2016; Spittler & Bourdillon, 2012), other recent studies increasingly highlight the young people’s powerlessness, bleak presents and uncertain futures. Doing so, the image of an enduring social, political and economic exclusion is manifested in popular conceptualizations of “being stuck” (Sommers, 2012), “persistent marginalization” (Resnick & Thurlow, 2015) and probably most prominently in Alcinda Honwana’s (2012) conceptualization of “waithood” (see Dhillon & Yousef, 2009), all implicitly acknowledging the more than twenty year old observation of Africa’s “lost generation” (Cruise O’Brien, 1996). Seemingly affected by deficiencies of various kinds and hence often forced into all sorts of problematic or dangerous engagements in order to – socially or literally – survive, today’s young generation in African settings is widely portrayed to live lives out of place and outside social norms.
The persisting image of young people in crisis has led to what I want to conceptualize as youth crisism in Africa. Far from denying or underestimating hardships in the lives of African youth, I argue that the public and academic discourse on young people is generally shaped by an ideology that foregrounds crisis as an almost natural condition for growing up in African settings. Hence, youth cannot be thought without crisis. By referring to the experiences and life worlds of young female labour migrants as well as aspiring male football migrants in Ghanaian settings I want to empirically challenge this ideology. I will show how these young peoples’ life worlds are not dominated by lack and stasis but by an imagined (social and spatial) mobility that qualifies discourses which foreground and reproduce the victimization of African youth. In addition to how young people deal with a seemingly and persisting crisis in everyday live, I want to discuss the consequences of the image of youth in/as crisis for the academic engagement with youth, e.g. by asking how a dominant ideology of crisis shapes local knowledge about youth and how this, in turn, refuels the academic production of an African youth crisism.
Christian Ungruhe is a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology at the Erasmus University Rotterdam.
04 Lotje de Vries: #CARcrisis: How one hashtag obscures shifting crises in the Central African Republic
A crisis is supposed to be an exception to the norm or the status quo. Crises are believed to mark a historic shift, potentially bringing about radical change, challenge existing order. Yet, whether or when something is labelled a crisis is hardly the result of ticking boxes of objective criteria. Instead, it greatly matters who calls crisis, and how powerful the forces are to validate or object the framing of a particular situation. This paper looks into the crisis dynamics of the Central African Republic (CAR) that started with the Seleka rebellion in 2012. I will demonstrate how in the 8 years since, the situation in the country has taken different forms all of which continued to receive the marker #CARcrisis in the ‘Twittersphere’. This paper analyses the #CARcrisis from two interlinked angles.
First it considers how the initial crisis was the product of decades of political turmoil. Few are the presidents that did not encounter attempted or successful coups or dealt with rebellions after independence. Citizens have long learned to navigate this political context and expect little from the state and its administration. In many ways, the crisis that emerged in 2012/2013 was a more serious variation of the turmoil that had characterised the country for at least two decades prior. Considering its past, the question is to what extent the events in 2012 really were a crisis and if yes, how to label the preceding chronic instability?
Second, the paper looks into who called crisis and what such labelling of events —and the subsequent international support it brought— did to the unfolding of the crisis in the years that followed. I will explore how the consistent emphasis on the crisis-aspects of the situation increasingly shaped a reality of everyday live. The repeated framing of the crisis as an opposition between two religious’ groups, the #CARcrisis greatly affected social order in communities across the country. This paper interrogates whether the hashtag and framing of #CARcrisis —and the international response to it— contributed to establishing new norms of social relations marked by mistrust. Unfortunately, it seems that the impact of the crisis on the social realm marks a historic shift, diverting from the norm that was long upheld despite the ‘chronic crisis’ in politics.
Lotje de Vries is assistant professor at the Sociology of Development and Change Group of Wageningen University.
05 Catheline Bosibori Nyabwengi, Terrorism and violence: Kenya’s decolonization movements in challenging the intrinsic vulnerability of women in war
Terrorism and violence are among the current crises facing the world today, and countries in the global south are not an exception. In Kenya, Throughout the last decade, with immense support from the USA and other countries in the global North, Kenya has been at the forefront in the fight against terror groups, especially al-Shabaab in Somalia. However, despite this, the country’s terror crisis keeps on escalating evident in the increased terror attacks. Of significance is the idea that terrorism has raised gender concerns within Kenya’s public and violent discourse. There is gender blindness in terrorism, coupled with the gender challenge myth of political protection that is very central in Kenya’s political space. Additionally, there is a narrative of intrinsic vulnerability or peacefulness of women. Traditionally, from the long-held patriarchal notion, women belong in the private sphere, are harmless and less violent. This always leads to the narratives that depict women as victims, passive or coerced actors, in terrorism in the country. However, the recent terror activities in Kenya points out to women’s active participants in violence and terrorism. Several cases have been reported on women not only spying for terror groups but also launching attacks, recruiting members, crossing over to Somalia to be members in Al-Shabaab, making bombs as well as financing terror groups across the globe. Even with such cases, the counter-terror strategies and initiatives in Kenya are gendered in a way that regards men as the only suspects in terrorism. At the same time, women enjoy the immunity that is founded on old traditional gender constructs. This paper challenges the intrinsic vulnerability of women in terrorism in Kenya. It shows that terrorism and violence crisis in Kenya has led to the emergence of a powerful yet invisible and immune woman in Kenya’s public sphere and, more specifically, in the security discourse. The changing gender identities, and femininities as result of not only women empowerment but also the social and political developments in the county have not been fully factored in the counter-terror strategies. The gender myth of the political protection of the vulnerable groups (mainly women and children) has blurred the counter-terrorism strategies. This is the immunity that the terror groups are exploiting to counter the already established counter-terror strategies hence making the terror crisis a male affair, a complicated one, and the war against terror incomplete and unsuccessful.
Catheline Bosibori Nyabwengi is a PhD Student in African History at the University of Bayreuth.
06 Janneke Tiegna: Security Crisis in Burkina Faso: (Re)actions of the population
After the deadly ambush of November 2019 which killed 37 people, the online journal Quartz Africa published an article with the headline “Burkina Faso has replaced Mali at the epicenter of the Sahel’s security crisis”. 2019 marked a very tragic year with more than 220 security incidents, in which more than 629 people were killed. The current security crisis is not a recent phenomenon. The first attack was perpetrated in April 2015 by an Islamist organization during Burkina Faso’s one-year transition after the popular uprising and the fall of the former President Blaise Compaoré. But connections with Islamist organizations existed in Burkina Faso since the beginning of the Mali crisis in 2012. Over a 600,000 internally displaced people have left their homes, more than 2000 schools are closed, many health centers are closed or have reduced their service affecting over 1 Mi. people. Further, in the Sahel region the public services are reduced, many town halls and courts had to close due to the terrorist attacks.
The first part of this presentation will look at what is being perceived as security crisis in Burkina Faso by the population, but also by the international cooperation’s and humanitarian aid organizations. Further the presentation will review examples of how the population of Burkina Faso is going through this security crisis and how are they reacting to it. The presentation will address the following questions: What protection mechanisms are being developed? How the lifeworlds now differ from before the crisis in Burkina Faso have started? How do people deal with increased insecurity? Under what restrictions does the population live and how do they react to travel restrictions, curfew, and canceled events due to national mourning?
I will take a more detailed look at people on the move like traders, bus and lorry drivers, and at people who are working in the entertainment and leisure industries like bar and restaurant owners, artists etc. How do they circumvent these prohibitions? Do they develop new ideas and strategies to earn a living? Do people in Burkina Faso react to the security crisis within their own lives and social circles (family, friends, colleagues etc.) or do some go further by taking an active role in securing areas in Burkina Faso or to support other people in remote areas with donations? Further the presentation looks at how the crisis affects people in different ways. Do people in Burkina Faso profit also from the growing security crisis? Using selected examples, the presentation shows how and which social forms and practices are undermined or made possible by the security crisis in Burkina Faso.
Janneke Tiegna is Doctoral Researcher at the Institut for African Studies, University of Leipzig, Germany.
07 Clara Wiest: The art of life in Congo, Kinshasa
"L’enfer, vraiment c’est ici en Congo. Et qu’est-ce qu’on peut y faire? On n’y peut rien." - "Hell is really here in Congo. And what can you do about it? You can do nothing about it."
Imagine you are an ambitious student of anthropology. You have studied for a semester at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, you have had some short but stimulating sojourns in different parts of Kenya and now, for an impression of francophone Africa, you want to do research in Congo, Kinshasa. You perceive this as a challenge and you are looking forward to it.
Your goal? Primarily pointing out that Africa is a diverse continent with an extensive amount of different cultures, and not a large, poor "country" of catastrophy and crisis, which is one reason why you want to get to know another part of that diverse continent.
You arrive in Kinshasa and live in a host family which has been arranged by a kind doctoral student who lives in Germany and comes from Congo, Kinshasa.
With every day that goes by now you have to realize that you had been ignorant enough to assume that a kind of life-affirming "hakuna matata" mentality you had gotten to know in Dar es Salaam, would exist in Kinshasa.
Generally, you get along well and you broaden your horizon in uncountable ways thanks to the knowledge of the people surrounding you. But you are confronted with the Kinois (citizens of Kinshasa) telling you the story of poor Africa, poor Congo, poor Kinshasa whenever possible, a narrative comparable to the UNICEF posters showing little black children with flies on their faces, stories about how families in Kinshasa only eat a very small amount of food once a day, how the country is in actuality rich but its people so impoverished, about the "bad" Lingala and the worthless Congolese franc.
You ask yourself if this is a narrative they tell you to educate you about the circumstances. But the Kinois pronounce their suffering and fatigue to each other just as well. It is not a narrative for foreigners, it is a mirror of reality. A presence of chronic crisis based on decades of cruelty and conflict which people are fully aware of and address, a constant combat against conditions that make life extremely difficult. No water, no electricity, no jobs, and once in a while someone dies way too young which the Kinois reflect and point out, everyday.
Of course they manage this kind of life skilfully, having learnt to move smoothly within these forces that crush you immediately if you do not pay attention. But this skill does not ease the suffering. The Kinois are fully aware of their challenges and of the fact that many people live in much easier conditions.
Try to imagine a life you cannot simply live, you have to fight it, and you better fight it well.
Clara Luisa Wiest is a master’s student of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the Goethe University Frankfurt and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales.