The Frontier in Sierra Leone: Past Experiences, Present Status, and Future Trajectories
by David O’Kane, Anaïs Ménard (2015), 28 pages
Igor Kopytoff revolutionised our thinking on the origins of African ethnic identities by arguing that such identities were formed by and through frontier processes. These were the political and economic processes that came into play when groups splintered from existing populations and migrated into new zones on the edges of, or between, existing population groups and political communities. In this paper, we argue that the frontier remains a vital concept for the understanding of identity in contemporary Africa, and we use ethnographic data from two locations in Sierra Leone – the peninsula around Freetown and the city of Makeni, the capital of the Northern Province. Through a discussion of these cases we argue for both the retention and revision of the frontier concept in contemporary Sierra Leone and in Africa as a whole.
Towards ‘Audit Culture’ in Sierra Leone? Understanding ‘Quality Assurance’ at the University of Makeni
by David O’Kane (2014), 26 pages
Audits and audit-like mechanisms have been as important in the colonial and postcolonial past of Sierra Leone as they are today, and yet their social consequences in this West African state have always been contested and unpredictable. Contemporary anthropologists of policy tend to see the present, global wave of auditing as part of a world-wide neoliberal challenge that seeks to radically reshape local cultures and social systems. Using the introduction of quality assessment methods at the University of Makeni (UNIMAK), Sierra Leone’s first private university, this paper argues that while the introduction of audit and audit-like mechanisms into new spheres of social life is socially significant, it may not have immediately predictable consequences in the post-civil war order of today’s Sierra Leone. Audit mechanisms at UNIMAK are placed in a wider context that draws on the history of audits as a technology of power in this former British colony.
Suffering for the Nation: Bottom-Up and Top-Down Conceptualisations of the Nation in Guinea and Guinea-Bissau
by Christoph Kohl, Anita Schroven (2014), 25 pages
Taking the two West African countries of Guinea and Guinea-Bissau as examples, the paper analyses how discourses of suffering can contribute to the emergence and development of a strong national consciousness among citizens. In both countries, rhetoric self-victimisation has different, characteristic features, referring to shared events and memories of the past. These discourses portray the population of these two countries as suffering at the hands of governments, foreign policy, or history. They do so in a collective way, bridging potential ethnic or religious divides in these otherwise very heterogeneous countries. Based on fieldwork in Guinea and Guinea-Bissau, the authors investigate how popular (‘bottom-up’) narratives interact with official, governmental (‘top-down’) portrayals of the nation to form alternate versions of the national project that have a stabilising effect on society. This paper traces historical origins, the subsequent development, as well as manifestations of national discourses of suffering that have specific political and identitarian effects.
The Interaction of Global and Local Models of Governance: New Configurations of Power in Upper Guinea Coast Societies
by Christian K. Højbjerg, Jacqueline Knörr, Anita Schroven (2013), 21 pages
This paper studies emerging power configurations in post-conflict and no-peace-no-war Upper Guinea Coast societies. These result from current interactions of global and local models of governance. With empirical data on shifting meanings of chieftaincy and control of land, changing tax regimes, and the rising importance of youth in domestic politics, shifts in authority and legitimacy of rule across time are contrasted with the effects of international interventions and global discourses on socio-political change. It becomes evident that some of these interventions accelerate, others accentuate or counteract, processes of change within local power configurations. Only by carefully considering the innate malleability of local concepts of authority, history, and tradition may contemporary processes of change be identified as either mere re-configurations or genuinely new configurations of power.
National, Ethnic, and Creole Identities in Contemporary Upper Guinea Coast Societies
by Christian Højbjerg, Jacqueline Knörr, Christoph Kohl, Markus Rudolf, Anita Schroven, Wilson Trajano Filho (2012), 30 pages
This working paper analyses the social dynamics and meanings of national, ethnic, and creole identities in contemporary Upper Guinea Coast societies where national identities are constructed within an overall context of ethnic heterogeneity and within nation-states that cut across ethnic boundaries. The relationship between ethnic and national identifications is crucial for the conceptualisation of nationhood at the different levels of society. In much of the Upper Guinea Coast region there seems to be a pronounced discrepancy between national identities, on the one hand, and the identification of the nation with the state (its representatives, institutions, and borders), on the other. Social and cultural interaction has been extensive in this part of West Africa for hundreds of years and engendered identities characterised by fluidity and ambiguous means of self-ascription and assigning identity to others. Particular interests of different groups and sections of the society are often explained and justified by historical narratives which at the same time serve as models for the future and inhabit ideological discourses produced by state and non-state actors. Interaction and mixture has also led to new social formations which include creole and settler groups. Depending on their position and function in society at large and on their interaction with indigenous populations and the given colonial power, they played different roles in the construction of transethnic identities and (postcolonial) nationhood.
The (Re-) Conceptualisation of Women in Gendered International Interventions: Examples from Post-War Sierra Leone
by Anita Schroven (2011), 19 pages
International agencies implement programmes to assist the so-called transition of countries from war to peace, applying international policies that aim at social changes. The focus of this paper lies on the Disarmament, Demobilisation, and Reintegration Programme (DDR) as the manifestation of this idea of transition in Sierra Leone. It investigates how global discourses of women and gender are translated into this programme and interact with local constructions of combatants, particularly female fighters, and the gendered conceptualisations of war and peace. As opposed to ‘international’ conceptualisations of women as inherently peaceful, evidence from Sierra Leone reveals that women acted in various ways that do not match the presumably separate spheres of women and men and those of war and peace. This raises questions about the effect of international campaigns to promote women’s participation in war-to-peace transitions as an instrument for peace-building.
The Formation and Mobilization of Collective Identities in Situations of Conflict and Integration
by Brian Donahoe, John Eidson, Dereje Feyissa, Veronika Fuest, Markus V. Hoehne, Boris Nieswand, Günther Schlee, Olaf Zenker (2009), 47 pages
The authors propose a framework for the comparative analysis of collective identities and corresponding processes of identification. “Collective identities” are defined as representations containing normative appeals to potential respondents and providing them with the means of understanding themselves, or being understood, as members of a larger category or assemblage of persons. The term “processes of identification” refers to the ways in which actors respond to or engage with the appeals inherent in collective identities and to the combined effects of such responses or engagement. After a critical review of the secondary literature and brief comments on the social, cultural, and historical contexts of collective identities and processes of identification, the authors explicate the two central concepts and their interrelationship. Discussion of the concept of collective identity covers dimensions and markers of collective identity, the semantic relations among different collective identities within larger systems of classification, and the variable significance that collective identities may have for actors in diverse social situations and under changing circumstances. Processes of identification are examined in terms of three (sets of) concepts corresponding to major approaches in social and anthropological analysis: “structure and function, culture, and meaning”; “practice and power”; and “choice.” Rather than being mutually exclusive, the approaches based on these concepts throw identity variables into relief in different ways and to different degrees, and they highlight different processes of identification.
Towards Conceptualizing Creolization and Creoleness
by Jacqueline Knörr (2008), 17 pages
“Creolization” has often been terminologically equated with “hybridization”, “syncretization” and other terms referring to processes of mixture. As well, what and who was labeled (a) »creole« has largely been determined by ideological preferences and emic labeling rather than by scientific reasoning. I argue for a more concise understanding and use of the “C-Word” . Examining the social and historical context of creolization and tracing the etymology of “creole” and its meanings through times shows that creolization may have meant “lots of different things at different times” (Stewart 2007: 5) but has nevertheless been distinct in that it involved indigenization and – to varying degrees – ethnicization of a more or less diverse and, in large parts, foreign population. Thus, historical creolization has not been a process aimed at overcoming ethnic identities and boundaries in favor of local varieties of cultural mixture and identification but one aimed at their (re-)construction under new – and often awkward – conditions. Taking into account creolization’s – and creole terminology’s – historical semantics helps unfold the latter’s heuristic potentials for a more systematic and comparative analysis, conceptualization and differentiation of contemporary processes of interaction and mixture. By connecting the historical semantics with socio-linguistic approaches to distinguish between creole and pidgin variants of language, historical creolization’s major contemporary “outcome” – pidginization of culture and identity – comes to light, a process prevalent particularly in postcolonial societies.
Governance and Legal Reform in The Gambia and Beyond: an Anthropological Critique of Current Development Strategies
by Mark Davidheiser (2007), 29 pages
Using The Gambia as a case study, this paper suggests how the current development strategy of legal reform can be made more sustainable by drawing upon local institutions and exploring alternative dispute processing modalities. There have been innumerable projects aimed at advancing socio-political and economic development in Africa, yet the results have been disappointing. This lackluster record is largely due to the top-down imposition of Western models. At present, decentralization and legal reform have emerged as major donor priorities. Unfortunately, most programs have not lived up to expectations, often because they did not resonate with target populations. The Gambian case illuminates flaws in current development approaches. Gambian legal reform plans are integrated with the decentralization effort and are based on the notion of modernizing and extending the court system. However, most rural Gambians find court adjudication to be counterproductive or ineffective in meeting their needs. In addition, international support for extending the rule of law allows the weak Gambian state to strengthen their control over the national periphery, in direct contrast to the stated aims of administrative devolution. The Gambian and comparative data suggest that a more fruitful strategy would move beyond simply reinforcing a Western style court system. The mobilizational potential of indigenous institutions can be used to provide arenas in which values, expectations, and local policies can be debated. To enable a robust devolution of power and enhance popular participation in development and governance, it may be best to support the establishment of dispute processing fora that can also be used for policymaking and implementation.