African Crossroads. The Politics of Development and Conflict

The issue of development and conflict in Africa is a highly political one. It is related to the difficult questions of identity and access to resources. Still, there is not one, single African context. During this parallel Session, there were three presentations on issues relating to the Politics of Development and Conflicts in Africa.

Street Vendors and the Politics of Development: The Cases of Lusaka-Zambia and Bogota Columbia

Ingvild Skage from the University of Bergen has in her research observed that street vendors were negatively affected either through marginalization, evictions from the streets and the confiscation of their goods. Alongside the policies of modernization this has led to a recognizable tension between politicians and the vendors. Situating and conceptualizing the research within the framework of Social Movement Theory, Skage has sought to examine the concepts; marginalization under modernization, and their adverse effects on the lives of the poor street vendors. The street vendors needed governmental outlines and frameworks that could legitimize the conduct of their activities, and also to escape from being seen and treated as criminals.

In Zambia, the opposition leader won the election with a promise to provide better opportunities, and albeit the vendors are now no longer evicted, they, nonetheless, still have lower capacities in terms of political influence, and most of the promises were not fulfilled too. In Columbia, the vendors aligned themselves to the Street Vendors Global network which they used to press for their demands. They managed to get legal backing through constitutional court rulings. They have influenced the government to gain formal bargaining power and are no longer seen as criminals. But they still face some sort of marginalization with a fear that there could be a possible return to their former status.

The street vendors were able to fight and established some legitimacy and recognition at the highest level for themselves under political authority, especially in Columbia, although fragile.


Hybrid Ethnicity as a Cultural and Political Stigma in Post – 1990 Ethiopia

Zerihun Woldeselassie from the University of Tromsø spoke on how hybrid ethnicity has become both a cultural and political stigma in Ethiopia under the politics of development in Africa based on his personal experiences as a hybrid Ethiopian. He indicated that in Africa, the concept of development is often seen in terms of economic growth, which according to him is problematic. He also discussed some background issues in Ethiopia and its practice of ethnic politics. Ethnicity in Ethiopia has both economic and political gains to the individual. It is needed for employment, political positions and to land rights. He discussed conflicts like settlers versus natives, allies versus enemies, cultural individual identity versus collective identity and the dilemma of either having a unitary state or secession states based purely on ethnicity, all within the contextual effects of hybrid ethnicity challenges.

Woldeselassie noted that, most research endeavors have narrowly focused on majority ethnic groups to the apparent neglect of people with hybrid ethnicity who now face the dilemmas of nationality and political representation.

Woldeselassie proposed that there should be balance between economy, nationality and individuality on one hand, and politics, ethnicity and collectivity on the other, for enhancing the well-being of the poor majority populations and for multicultural existence.


Tales of Belonging: Land Rights and the Politics of Origin

Morten Bøås from the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs People talked in his presentation of the desire for belonging of land, religion, ethnicity, culture, etc. and that belonging, which means inclusion of “the we” and exclusion of “the others” creates conflict.

Bøås indicated that historically, African states building processes were based on multi-ethnic issues inherited from colonialism. In African perspective and among many other indigenous societies, land is an essential commodity for both survival and power in society. Also, he noted that, identity is embedded in ethnicity which warrants people access to and control of land. To claim access to and control of land, the issue of “Autochthony” is used. Such kind of belonging then creates the “collective we” versus the “perceived stranger”, invariably leading to conflicts with expanding potentials. Citing examples from Cote d’ivoire and other places, he concluded that, Tales of Belonging is the source of land conflicts in some African societies as the “collective we” always struggle with the “perceived stranger”.


General Observation

The presenters demonstrated the impacts of politics on development in relation to issues of ethnicity, land accessibility and control and their constraints on conflicts. However, members of the audience noted that conflicts on identity and political influence do not only relate to land as in the case of Tales of Belonging or nationality as in the case of hybrid identity as a stigma, but also in religion and social power relations. It was also pointed out that Tales of belonging and origin have their positive sides in many indigenous issues.

The overall observation is that this session was very fruitful as the presentations drew the attention of the audience, and brought to bear how African societies are in a crossroad when it comes to issues of development, politics, and ethnicity and how these result in conflicts within the continent.

By Mary Mansa, student at the Master’s degree program in indigenous studies at UiT The Arctic University of Norway.