The Struggle For Socio-Economic Rights: Lessons From South Africa

By John Harrington, Professor of Global Health Law at Cardiff University and Peris Jones, senior researcher at NIBR.

The Constitution of 2010 is the fruit of struggles
for democratic transformation from the early 1990s onwards. It marks a clear break with the authoritarian and often undemocratic regimes which dominated Kenya in the colonial and post-colonial periods.

It guarantees the civil and political rights of individuals and establishes a system of checks and balances to secure accountable government.

However, as the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission found in 2002, the popular desire for change went further. Citizens repeatedly told Commissioners that the state must act to alleviate poverty and to secure the basic needs of all.

Raila Odinga, Prime Minister in Kenya from 2008 to 2013. Photo: Fredrick Onyango / Wikimedia Commons

Article 43 of the new 2010 constitution responds to this call by guaranteeing rights to health, adequate housing, sanitation, freedom from hunger, clean water, education and social security.

As the Chief Justice has said, Article 43 is a charter for structural change in Kenya – no such rights were contained in the independence constitution of 1963. The success of the new order and its legitimacy in the eyes of ordinary Kenyans will depend to a significant extent on whether this promise of transformation can be realized.

To understand the factors likely to determine the success of this project, it is useful to look at those countries already with more experience in the implementation of socio-economic rights such as South Africa. Indeed, the drafters of Article 43 were particularly influenced by the corresponding provisions of South Africa’s 1996 constitution, Sections 26 and 27.

A recent workshop at the British Institute in Eastern Africa in Nairobi brought together senior members of the Kenyan judiciary, legal professionals, civil society activists and academics to provide a timely review of what has been achieved in South Africa and to reflect on the lessons which Kenya can learn from that experience.

The Nairobi offices of the British Institute in Eastern Africa. Photo:

The event saw the launch of an edited collection entitled, ‘Socio-Economic Rights in South Africa: Symbols or Substance‘ which asks to what extent the rights contained in Sections 26 and 27 have been realised and how has this outcome been influenced by the actions of social movements, academics and the judiciary.

As the book illustrates, socio-economic rights are not merely the focus of scholarly debate. They are also used strategically in real struggles over the allocation of power and resources in society. Their legal content is shaped by conflicts, in court and outside, over tangible goods and services.

Several high profile gains have been made through socio-economic rights litigation in South Africa. For example, in the ‘Nevirapine’ case taken by the Treatment Action Campaign, the Constitutional Court ordered the government to remove barriers to anti-retroviral therapies and to create a national treatment plan for people living with Aids.

The terms on which tenants can be evicted for non-payment of rent or in pursuit of slum clearance programmes have also been rebalanced in a series of cases. Local authorities are now required to give adequate notice and to provide alternative accommodation for evictees. The latter obligation arises whether the land in question was publicly or privately owned.
The Kibera slum in Nairobi. Colin Crowley / Wikimedia Commons.

Landowners are also required to ‘meaningfully engage’ with residents, discussing the options for resolving eviction disputes with them in good faith.

The South African courts apply a test of ‘reasonableness’ in deciding whether the actions, decisions or policies of the state are in violation of sections 26 and 27.

The authorities must take account of the needs of the most vulnerable citizens, plan effectively on the basis of sound evidence, facilitate public participation, allocate sufficient resources, take account of long term as well as short term needs and so on.

The ‘reasonableness’ test is sometimes criticized as a ‘weak standard of review’ since it does not entitle individual citizens to a specific quantity of health care or quality of housing, for example. However it does focus the courts’ attention on the process and quality of public decision-making.

This has been of critical importance given that South Africa has been a de facto one-party state since the end of apartheid. In the absence of effective parliamentary opposition, socio-economic rights have opened up questions of resource allocation to democratic debate and given a voice to the most marginalized and vulnerable in society.

What factors allowed these gains to be made? As the book shows, the end of apartheid created a unique opportunity for social, as well as political transformation.

Not least, there was the ideological inheritance of the liberation struggle which aimed at overcoming historic injustice and achieving equality for the black majority.

Admittedly the ANC had been divided over whether enforceable constitutional rights were the best means of achieving this. But, given the background of many judges and senior lawyers in the anti-apartheid movement, it is not surprising that there was a firm commitment to transformation through the constitution once it had been passed. As activists moved into government, there was also a cadre of officials sympathetic to the realisation of socio-economic rights, at least in the early years of the new dispensation.

The organisational strength and clear political focus of civil society was another legacy from the years of struggle. Many activists had worked at grassroots within the ANC and shared its transformative agenda. They had the legitimacy and the tactical ability to challenge the government when it adopted neo-liberal economic policies likely to promote inequality in the late 1990s.

Campaigns have also been strengthened by the creation of alliances between grassroots movements, trade unions, and professional groups, such as doctors, who provided crucial expert evidence for the work of the Treatment Action Campaign. Of critical importance has been the ability to see litigation, not as an end in itself, but also as a means to secure actual implementation of the rights.
Treatment Action Campaign activists. Photo: Joe Wright / Wikimedia Commons

Since 2010 the Kenyan High Court has drawn heavily on the reasoning of the South African courts in interpreting Article 43. The ‘Nevirapine’ case was cited in a ruling that anti-counterfeit legislation was unconstitutional in so far as it threatened to block access to affordable generic medicines. The requirements of adequate notice, ‘meaningful engagement’ and alternative accommodation have been introduced into Kenyan housing law from the South African ‘eviction’ cases.

As the workshop learned, by adopting the reasonableness test of state action in relation to socio-economic rights, the Kenyan courts, like their South African counterparts, are able to focus more on inadequate systems and policies than on individual entitlements.

Notwithstanding this evidence of a commitment to transformation, there are still important obstacles to the realization of socio-economic rights in Kenya.

Litigants are understandably more concerned with obtaining compensation for themselves than with the more difficult task of structural change. State bodies show a worrying tendency to ignore adverse court orders. The policies and legislation needed to give practical detail to fundamental rights are often either poorly drafted or not drafted at all.

By contrast with South Africa no common political philosophy unites Kenyan activists, senior judges, administrators and politicians.

The link between anti-colonial struggle, trade unionism and political radicalism was broken during the Emergency of the 1950s. Given the ideology of self-help promoted by the founders of independent Kenya, socio-economic rights are at risk of being seen as a safety net for the very poor, rather than a means of building nationwide social solidarity.

The workshop considered the strategies which might be used to overcome these problems. While high quality scholarship on socio-economic rights is emerging from Kenyan universities, the link between research and legal activism could be strengthened.

Civil society organisations dependent on donor funding are under pressure to show tangible outputs in the form of successful litigation or changed policies.

Important though these are, they allow little time for detailed empirical research on whether the case law and legislative reform based on Article 43 are having an impact beyond the courtroom and the debating chamber. Drawing on a range of disciplines, such as urban planning, administration studies and public health, such research would also provide sound evidence for further policy initiatives or litigation.

Kenya Vision 2030: The government’s development blueprint.

It was also agreed that the legal profession needed to do more to meet the challenge of Article 43. The Judicial Training Institute has done important work on socio-economic rights, though many judges remain doubtful of their importance. In any case under the adversarial system judges depend on the arguments presented by the parties. Where the government side fails to construct a detailed argument, as often happens in Article 43 cases, the resulting opinion is inevitably weaker.

This situation may improve as a growing number of Kenyans return from South Africa and elsewhere with post-graduate qualifications in human rights.

But participants urged Kenyan law schools themselves to develop masters’ level programmes on litigation and socio-economic rights. The tendency of some Nairobi law firms to mix commercial work with public interest litigation was also to be encouraged.

This article was first published in The Star 17 May 2014.

The Bosnian Spring: The citizens take action

By Jørn Holm-Hansen
26 February 2014

The Bosnia unrest started peacefully in Tuzla early February but turned violent as former workers of the city’s large enterprises clashed with police. They had lost their jobs as a result of a row of dubious privatisations. The protest spread to other cities and some official buildings were set on fire.
The Tuzla Canton Government building in flames, 8 February 2014. Photo credit: Juniki San

Soon, however, the unrest went indoors. Street fights with the police were replaced by the organization of plenary meetings, where everyone can show up and have a say. All over the country such plenums have been set up, so far more so in the Bosniak-Croat Federation than in the Republika Srpska, though.

Those of us who witnessed the changes in East and Central Europe at close range 25 years ago have some moments of flashback now. Just like in Bosnia today, citizen committees and forums took over after a first stage of street protests.
Demonstration in Berlin 4 November 1989. Photo credit: Bernd Settnik

Later, what happened in 1989 has been hailed as the big victory of civil society. This may have proved to be a qualified truth since the civil society post-1989 has been weak. Nonetheless the international community has had a strong belief in the practice of promoting civil society development to promote politically accountable regimes all over the world. Bosnia is no exception to this.

Quite a few euros have been spent by international donors to promote civil society in Bosnia. Having conducted evaluations of some of these projects in the past, I must admit I find it difficult to conclude that they had deep impacts. Most of the “civil society” set up as a result of aid efforts had few roots in the remnants of pre-war civil society. Although manned by excellent people these new NGOs seldom were able to be more than “commissioned activists”. When doing projects the local population served a role as “target groups”, not a pool from where local NGOs could recruit new members or activists.

On the other hand, if we look at Bosnia’s vibrant civil society this spring, it would be interesting to check out in what ways skills and insights from the numerous “capacity-building” workshops of the late ’90s and early 2000s turn out to be of use. I don’t think the answer is given. But the answer would be highly interesting. Why? Because Bosnia probably is the first country ever that has been subject to massive aid and democracy-building, and then actually after a while have entered into a phase of popular mobilization for what aid parlance terms good governance.

What has happened in Bosnia now is far from work shop exercises. At last, we observe a genuine initiative from below. The protests are driven by commitment and anger, not a vague wish to strengthen civil society as such. The social discontent is directed against some of the core traits of post-1995 Bosnia and Herzegovina, like shady privatisation, corruption and lack of industrial policies.

The unrest started in Tuzla, which was the centre of the large-scale industrialization of Bosnia after 1945. The city is traditionally a trade union stronghold. The inhabitants were to large degree immune to the ethnic hatred that destroyed Bosnia in the 1990s.
Burned down Tuzla Canton Government building, 8 February 2014. Photo credit: Juniki San

What is now at times called the Bosnian Spring – bosansko proljeće – was initiated by workers at five enterprises in Tuzla. They protested against privatisation, reduction of workplaces and wage arrears. They demanded a halt to privatisation and strict public control of enterprises. The entire privatisation process was to be scrutinized to assess it accordance with law. Also the salaries of the politicians were to be harmonized with ordinary salaries, the protested demanded. And for sure, Bosnia has a lot of well-paid and otherwise privileged politicians.

The complex state structure that followed from the Dayton Agreement in 1995 was a compromise between three nationalisms, Bosniak, Serb and Croat. The power sharing structure of central state, entities, federation and cantons requires no less than 14 prime ministers at various levels in the small country with no more than 3.8 million inhabitants. The number of ministers is 150 and all have high salaries, nice cars and expensive privileges.
Political division of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995, after the Dayton Agreement. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Bosnian unrest has spread to a large number of cities and towns all over the country and all now have their own citizens’ forums. They formulate political demands to the regular city councils or cantonal authorities. The demands are directed against the privileges of the politicians, in particular the lucrative “golden handshakes” offered to politicians when they resign. Another demand is for political leaders without party affiliation. Several cantonal governments have resigned as a result of the protests. Political parties are associated with patron-client structures, just like elsewhere in the Balkans.

Some of the citizen forums take a step further, demanding that the privatisation of former state owned enterprises are examined to check the lawfulness of the processes. Before the 1992–95 wars these enterprises were mainly owned cooperatively according to the particular Yugoslav system of socialist self-management, but after 1995 they were made state owned in order to be made ready for privatisation.

Some core traits of the protest is Bosnia remind of what happened in Poland 1980–81. Then the united trade union movement under the banners of Solidarność forced the authorities to sit down and negotiate. Similar to Bosnia today, the Polish unrest had its deep roots in the large industrial enterprises. During the summer of 1980 Solidarność quickly established a counter-power that followed up implementation of agreement. The Polish movement made sure divisions between industrial branches, professions or administrative regions were not allowed to develop into a split-up of the unity.

Today, in Bosnia one of the great questions is whether the protest movement is able to avoid going ethnic. This, of course, may prove difficult in a country that is structured politically and administratively around ethnic categories. Nonetheless, the civilized style of the Bosnians forums is in stark contrast to what we have been witnessing in Ukraine lately. This bodes well for Bosnia and the Bosnia, who finally have started to move after 19 years of political passivity.
Winter landscape of Holy Trinity church in Banja Luka, Republika Srpska, Bosnia. Photo credit:

Flood crisis response in Russia’s Far East: From Putin’s hands-on control to public mass mobilisation

By Aadne Aasland

An unprecedented flood
The 2013 flood in the Amur river basin in Russia’s Far East has now receded, though much time and effort will still be needed for the difficult task of cleaning up the garbage and mud carried by the floods. The flood, which lasted for two months, was caused by extraordinarily heavy rain from the beginning of August. The extreme event surpassed all meteorological records since systematic measuring began some 120 years ago. Tens of thousands of people were evacuated from the flooded territories while the number of people who have in some way been affected has reached 168,000. The economic impact is enormous, in the size of tens of billions of roubles, which makes it by far the most costly flood disaster in Russia’s history. However, in contrast both to the crash flood in Krymsk last summer where 171 people were killed, and the flood at the Chinese side of the border where more than 200 casualties were reported – no lives have been reported lost in Russia’s Far East.

Satellite pictures of the Amur river basin under normal conditions and during the flood. Credit: NASA/Wikimedia

President Putin takes the command
How has Russian society handled this extreme event? In the reports made by Russian and international media, apart from photographs from the flood itself, the hands-on control exercised by President Putin is the aspect of the disaster that has received most attention. The president went to the region about one month after the start of the flood – slightly late according to some critics – but immediately took the leadership of the crisis management. Putin gave detailed orders, reprimanded inefficiencies, and criticized excessive bureaucracy. He expressed disappointment with local leaders’ management of the crisis and demanded action at a detailed level concerning issues such as deliverance of fuel, repair of roads and food provisions to flood victims.

The president also warned officials not to steal new housing for their friends and relatives, which has been a feature of previous crises. He declared that all compensations must go to real victims of the flood. Putin furthermore announced a compensation of 100,000 rubles from the federal budget to those whose homes had been damaged beyond repair and 10,000 to individuals having suffered economic losses. These flat rates testify to the slow development of the insurance industry in Russia, where individuals and firms are unlikely to set off risk reserves for insurance, leaving most housing and much of infrastructure uninsured.

Furthermore, crude lump sums for compensations might be easier to administer than compensations based on more accurate estimates of costs of the damage. Compensations based on actual estimation of damage would also leave more room for discretion with the risk of more corruption in the distribution of resources.
The fact that the president takes a keen interest in overviewing the situation and even takes command of the response operations would be expected from him in a crisis situation of this magnitude. However, the informal practice of micro-management of so many aspects and details of the rescue operation – which Putin has applied in this and other similar situations – can also be interpreted as a way to make up for the inefficiencies of Russia’s formal institutions.

The road between two major cities in the region August 2013. Credit: Andshel/Wikimedia

Leadership reshuffle – but who is now in charge of what?

Extreme events can be a favourable time to change the crew. Though officially not related to the flood itself, the Minister for Far East Development and the President’s envoy to the Far East Federal District, Viktor Ishaev, was removed from office at the end of August. Ishaev had remained a powerful politician in the region from the Yeltsin era, but in the capacity of minister he had not fulfilled the expectations of the Kremlin and was accused by president Putin of inefficiency. The many flaws of flood crisis management that were revealed provided an apt opportunity to replace him without disturbance from the local elites supporting him. A former Putin aide, Yuri Trutnev, was appointed as new presidential envoy to the Far East and simultaneously deputy prime minister, while Aleksandr Galushka became new Far East minister.

In early September prime minister Medvedev announced that he would head a new cross-sectoral government commission for development of Russia’s Far East. One of its major tasks would be normalisation of the situation after the flood. Dealing with the inefficiencies that had been revealed in handling the current flood was announced as another important task of the commission. According to Medvedev the commission will also deal with more general socio-economic challenges in the Far East. The region has over the past years shown a negative economic trend, which was further exacerbated by this summer’s flood disaster. With president Putin’s hands-on control, the prime minister’s commission, a Far East Development minister and a presidential envoy in the Russian Far East all heavily involved in flood crisis management and reducing the impact in the aftermath of the flood, some analysts have called for a clearer division of the responsibilities of the leaders and their governance structures. They argue that tasks delegated to various actors seem to overlap, and that the division of responsibilities have not yet been clearly defined in legal or policy documents.

Crisis management and cross-sectoral involvement

What then is the system of crisis management in a situation in which a natural disaster such as a major flood is developing in Russia? It starts with the Russian metereological agency Rosgidromet issuing a warning to the Ministry of Emergency Situations (MChS) that a crisis situation, such as a flood, could occur. The MChS, being responsible for managing emergency situations, then assesses the potential risk and impact. The next is to inform and give a timely warning to the population. There is a particular regional system of distribution of information to the public for which regional authorities, and ultimately the regional governor (head of one of Russia’s 83 regions), is responsible.

This whole chain is said to have worked well in the crisis situation that emerged in the Far East this summer. The timely response was important for preventing more damage, and probably the loss of lives. The evacuation of people away from the affected areas went quite smoothly. In some places there was enough time to save livestock, in other places they had to focus solely on rescuing people.

During an emergency situation a number of civil and military, state and non-state structures are in operation to reduce the impact: evacuate people, provide shelter, food and other provisions to victims and rescue operations, rebuild bridges and repair other damaged infrastructure, secure transport, assess the risk to public health and avoid the spread of diseases and epidemics, respond to psychological needs, facilitate business and public services to operate as soon as possible – and so on. Russia has set up a so-called ‘unified system of warning and elimination of emergency situations’, and in 2008 the National Centre for Management of Crisis Situations was established as part of the MChS structure for the running management of this system.

In the current crisis the president set up a Government Commission for the Elimination of the Consequences of the Flood in the Far East, with representatives of a number of state institutions: the State prosecutor, the Committee for civil defence, the ministries of natural resources and ecology, finance, energy, health, regional development, transport, employment and social protection, economic development, agriculture, a number of federal services (i.e. for consumer protection, meteorology, technological supervision), the managers of public companies (railways, telecommunications, hydroelectric power) and leaders from the affected regions. The tasks of the commission are to eliminate the impact of the flood, implement measures for social support, organise resettlement, secure supplies, repair damaged roads and transport systems, and other damaged infrastructure.

Speculations have been raised that an evaluation of the flood crisis management during the Far East flood might result in a reorganisation in which the MChS will be transformed to an agency or a directorate to be subordinated to the Ministry of Defence. This would, it could be argued, facilitate better coordination in rescue operations. At the same time, however, it could strengthen the military and weaken the civil control with emergency situations.

Flooded streets in Blagoveshchensk. Credit: EMERCOM of Russia

Could the impact have been reduced? Official and unofficial accounts
During the development of the flood there was a redistribution of the enormous masses of water into the channels, dams and reservoirs in order to prevent peaks of water in places that were not yet prepared for a flood. This enabled the construction of flood protection in many places before the main peak of the flood arrived. Water authorities claim that the disaster would have been much more serious had the dams along the river not been able to accumulate some of the excess water. Floods in the area are said to have been worse in the past, before such artificial water reservoirs were built.

Every step of the engineers at the hydroelectric power plants is strongly regulated and controlled through instructions from state authorities. The regimes for filling and tapping of water in the water reservoirs, including in flood situations, are set by the Federal Agency for Water Resources. In every region the agency has its territorial subunits, so-called Basin Water Boards, that regulate the operations of every hydroelectric power station and dam. Inputs on how these regulations should be set are given by a variety of institutions: the ministries of emergency situations and agriculture and their subordinate structures, the Federal service for veterinary surveillance (Rossel’khoznadzor), the Federal agency for sea and river transport (Rosmorrechflot), and the Federal agency for infrastructure and housing (Rosstroi). The regime of a power station is modified only when instructions for this are given by the territorial Basin Water Board.

In the situation of a potential imminent flood, which was the case with the Far East flood this year, the Government commission for prevention and localization of emergency situations meets to decide on amendments to the regulation regime.
According to the water authorities’ official version, the regulation of water levels was set so that the power stations in the region were able to take up a sufficient amount of water to avoid an even larger catastrophe. Just a couple of months before the flood, however, Rusgidro, one of Russia’s largest power-generating companies and owner of the hydroelectric power stations in the region, announced that water reservoirs of these power stations would be capable of protecting the Far East cities from any amount of water in a flood situation.

Some independent scientists claim that the impact of the flood could have been reduced considerably had two of the major hydroelectric power stations (Zeysk and Bureysk) been prepared for more water to arrive. According to these claims, instead of giving priority to security, the regulation of the filling and tapping of water had been set in order to achieve the highest possible production of energy during the winter season, thus keeping the water levels at such high levels that a significant amount of additional water would cause severe problems. Water allegedly continued to be filled into the reservoirs even after warnings about a potentially imminent flood had been given by the meteorological authorities. Even after Rusgidro itself started to report about increased flood risk, the speed with which the power stations power began tapping water from the reservoirs was much lower than what would have been possible and which could – according to the same critics – have reduced the later impact.

The critics furthermore argue that in both of the mentioned power stations the amounts of water at the time of the flood was far greater than permitted by federal authorities. They claim that if the amount of water arriving had been only slightly greater, the dams could have burst and the impact is likely to have been far more serious with a probable loss of many lives. Such challenges have been foreseen for several years. Previous attempts by ecologists to change the local regulations for emergency excess water storage have failed, allegedly since it is more profitable to have the reservoirs filled up before the usually drier winter season. Ironically, the water reservoirs are now fully filled up, and Rusgidro will earn substantial additional money on the production of energy this coming winter.

The Bureysk hydro-electric power station in normal conditions. Credit: Коренюк Ирина/Wikimedia

Compensating the victims
A number of societal actors are involved not only in the rescue work and reconstruction, but also in providing compensation and humanitarian aid to those who in different ways have been affected by the flood. A cross-sectoral working group was set up to coordinate the collection and distribution of such aid which has come from federal sources, different regions of Russia, businesses, foreign states and individual contributions. This working group is headed by the Minister for Far East Development and consists of representatives of the affected regions, various federal agencies, but also representatives of big companies, various humanitarian and civil society organisations, including the Russian orthodox church. The Russian TV channel Pervyi kanal (First channel) is also represented in the working group.

By 1 October 91% of those with a request for a personal compensation for damage (109,000 individuals) had received 10,000 roubles. More than 8,000 people had received 100,000 roubles, which makes up 75% of those having filed such claims to the authorities. However, by that date not all dwellings had been examined yet for the size of the damage.

About one fifth of damaged buildings were considered non-inhabitable. Lost crop and other agricultural produce caused by the flood are also compensated through federal budgets – the preliminary estimation is in the size of about 6.6 billion roubles. At a meeting 1 October the cross-sectoral government commission reprimanded local leaders for the alleged low speed of examining the damage, compensating victims and building new dwellings for resettlement of those having lost their dwelling as a result of the flood. They stressed that the hard winters of the Far East will be arriving soon, and that this speaks for the importance of quick action.

Civil society is given a prominent role in monitoring the transparency in the allocation of aid. Public committees have been established in order to examine how the aid is being distributed, to whom it is allocated, and its quality. The need for such transparency has been emphasised by the president as well as the above-mentioned cross-sectoral working group, stressing that mass media should have access to information about all allocation of funds in order to be able to report on deficiencies in the distribution. Russian authorities highly encourage this type of civil society involvement, and also media coverage of shortcomings in the execution of policy, as long as it does not question the quality and legitimacy of the policy or the political system as such. It remains to be seen whether the distribution of aid and compensation for losses will indeed be fair and transparent. Previous experience from other natural disasters in Russia is quite discouraging in that respect, something that is also quite openly admitted by the Russian leaders.

Mass mobilisation
Several newspaper commentators have praised the public who ‘under considerable pressure and without aiming at personal rewards’ contributed to limit the damage, built temporary flood protection, helped out during evacuation and enganged in other essential voluntary work. This, they claim, contradicts the current widespread perceptions of Russian citizens as egoistic and oriented towards personal gains without compassion for the misfortunes of strangers. The efforts of volunteers were crucial in order to limit the damage and prevent the loss of lives. The mere size of the rescue operation is indeed quite impressive: a total of more than 45,000 people were permanently or temporarily employed in rescue and related work. There can be no doubt that without the involvement of so many people willing to work for the common good, the consequences of the flood could have been much more disastrous.

People from all parts of Russia, as well as from Ukraine, Armenia, Moldova and other countries, have also contributed humanitarian aid to flood victims, mainly through Pervyi kanal’s telethon on 29 September. In total almost 830 million roubles were collected in this whole day TV event. The amount is perhaps not huge when compared to the 40 billion roubles allocated by federal authorities to eliminate the flood’s impact. Nevertheless, the aid given by ordinary people and civil society is expected to contribute to build several hundred 55m² apartments to flood victims.

Amur river near Khabarovsk in September 2013. Credit: Gleb Osokin/Wikimedia

Criminal cases of negligence
During his visit to the flooded territories the president also ordered the Russian Investigative Committee to verify how officials acted during the floods. Based on expert assessments he hinted that some of them had not acted in compliance with the instructions given to them and with existing legislation. Two criminal cases over alleged negligence have so far been opened in the aftermath of the flood. One of the cases relates to the destruction of one of the dams in the Amur oblast resulting in the loss of 69 dwellings. According to the investigative committee, the maintenance of the dam had been neglected, with the result that the water could not be contained and a nearby town was flooded. The leadership of the dam has been prosecuted. The second case of negligence has been raised against the Land Irrigation and Water Supply Department of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast. A 2012 review of repair needs to a dam in the region noted several urgently needed improvements. The Board had even received the funds for the required repairs, but they had nevertheless not been implemented yet. The damage is said to amount to 1.5 million roubles. Mass media suggest that the number of criminal cases is likely to grow as further investigations of flood prevention and conduct during the flood are carried out.

What is the human impact on climate change?
The flood has also somewhat intensified an until now quite weak debate in Russia: are natural disasters such as this one simply part of cyclic climatic fluctuations, or has human activity in the form of greenhouse gas emissions caused or exacerbated them? Until quite recently in the general Russian academic and political discourse only a few voices, mostly ecologists, have assigned any significant human impact to the ongoing climate changes. However, the huge forest fires near Moscow in the super-hot summer of 2010 and other recent natural disasters have increased attention to the possible impact of human activity. Still, the predominant opinion among Russian politicians and scientists is that this impact is negligible or manageable, or that the positive effects for Russia of global warming and other potential changes to the climate are likely to outnumber the negative ones.

The Russian government has deep ties to the petroleum industry from which the state derives huge revenues. This might be one reason why it has put much more emphasis on crisis management than on discussing the causes of the increasing number of extreme events or taking measures to reduce Russian emissions. However, representatives of some state agencies, such as the meteorological centre Rosgidromet, now officially acknowledge the human impact. Still, they have only very slowly started to voice such concerns in the public. For example, the head of the Rosgidromet in Khabarovsk region referring to this summer’s events said that “[i]t is quite possible that such showers are indeed consequences of global warming. How else to explain this constant change in the climate? […] I would not laugh at those who say such things”.

A village on the Amur river. Credit: Andshel/Wikimedia

Despite all flaws: A high state capacity for crisis management
The flood in the Far East has confirmed some of the weaknesses of the Russian governance system. What several analysts have singled out to have been the biggest challenge in handling the crisis, and which was also underlined by Putin himself, is the inability or fear of bureaucrats to make decisions without clear backing from above. With the many layers of subordination in the Russian hierarchy, it takes time from an action is required until all necessary authorisations have been obtained. An environment in which people at subordinate levels are reluctant to make independent decisions for fears of negative sanctions from above is not well suited for crisis management, when timely action of all actors at all levels is crucial. Hands-on control and micro-management exercised by political leaders at higher levels, where informal rules often trump formal guidelines and institutionalised lines of responsibility, are embedded in Russian political culture. Putin’s presidency has done little to remedy this problem.

Despite such weaknesses, during this summer’s flood Russia has proved itself in many respects to be better equipped to handle a crisis of this magnitude than are many other countries, including Russia’s neighbours. Due to its harsh climate Russia has vast experience in handling extreme events and, among them, floods, though they are now occurring with a higher frequency compared only to some decades ago. Laws and regulations, including zoning, are in place, and so are modern anti-flood technologies, an efficient flood forecast-warning system, high-level flood risk assessment and flood-related data bases. Public awareness about the risks is gradually being raised as people have seen the huge damage on TV or with their own eyes. The Russian state capacity is strong from the local to the federal level. An integrated system for handling crises is in place and quite well functioning. Negligence and fraud occur in all societies. Knowing Russia’s rather poor ranking on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index nobody, including the Russian leaders, would be surprised that instances where people exploit the situation for personal economic gains are revealed. Such situations typically emerge when huge amounts of compensations are to be distributed or state procurement contracts for reconstruction work are to be assigned. Public involvement in monitoring such processes is encouraging.

Though some officials, among them the federal head of Rosgidromet, have stressed that this year’s flood was an extreme event that is unlikely to occur more often than once every 200 years or so, other experts argue that the current scientific knowledge already indicates that extreme floods, including in the Far East, are likely to occur more frequently in the future. The mere fact that so much excess water is currently accumulated in the river basin without a natural outlet increases the risk of a flood in the next few years. The responsible institutions have already started to work on adaptation plans for future extreme events in order to prevent the impact of large floods in the future. The building of more water reservoirs that can be filled up in an emergency situation has been brought forward as one of the measures to be taken, though it is not unequivocally supported by specialists. The MChS staff in the Far East district is to be doubled, and much of the equipment used in rescue work that was brought in from other parts of Russia will remain in the region. Reorganisations in the management of emergency situations are also being debated. Whether or not the flood represents a shift in Russian political and public attention towards climate change and spurs more focus on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases remains to be seen.

Find out more about Russbyklim, an ongoing NIBR research project on climate disasters in Russia and their effect on governance and planning processes.

Brazil’s ‘Vinegar Uprising’ and its effects

By Einar Braathen, Ana Lúcia da Silva and Celina Sørbøe* (July 2, 2013).

On June 30 the Brazilians celebrated that their football stars won the Confederations Cup. However, who will win the much more important game that evolved outside the football stadiums, staging the biggest spontaneous street demonstrations in Brazil’s history?

We here try to depict what the extra-parliamentary game has been about, including the surprising decision of President Dilma to support the demonstrators. In particular we are interested to know whether the president’s proposals for political reform and new public transport policies are adequate responses to the social protests, and whether they may have but a symbolic and defusing effect.

The ‘vinegar uprising’
The mass demonstrations that have spread across Brazil over the last weeks against precarious and over-priced urban collective transport, corruption, and grossly expensive World Cup projects, have ironically been nick-named the “Vinegar Uprising” by social movements and protesters. The first demonstrations in São Paulo on June 13 were organized by the movement for free public transport, Movimento Passe Livre (MPL). There, some 60 protesters carrying vinegar to alleviate the effects of the teargas that the police used against them, were arrested for possessing this “weapon”. This has been widely ironized by protesters, and vinegar has become a symbol for the movement. A Facebook campaign to “legalize vinegar” was created, and the ‘March for Legalizing Vinegar’ gathered tens of thousands of attendees.

While there is a humoristic spin on these initiatives, it underlines the absurdity of the situation where everybody are seen and treated as the enemy by a police force that in theory is there to protect and serve. On the contrary, the police engages in a full-on confrontation that does not distinguish between peaceful protesters and the handful of people who have taken advantage of the general confusions to commit acts of vandalism.
Illustration from the blog Pop! Pop! Pop!

World Cup vs. people’s needs
Among the banners carried by protesters in the mass mobilizations across Brazil, a frequent slogan has been demanding “FIFA standard” on education, health and security. The Confederations Cup, the test-run for the FIFA World Cup to be held in June next year, has spurred debate over the massive public spending on stadiums and infrastructure related to the mega-events while the quality on public services is of alarmingly poor quality.

The World Cup 2014 is estimated to cost more than the past three World Cups combined, and approximately 13 billion USD of public money will be spent on the World Cup and 2016 Olympics, two events meant to showcase a modern, developed Brazil. Over the last decade Brazil has had a steady economic growth and social uplift. 10 per cent of the population, nearly 20 million people, has moved out of extreme poverty. However, Brazil suffers from insufficient and inefficient public services, thanks to corruption and the lack of political will to prioritize their proper delivery. Brazil spends only 3 per cent of GDP on education. Two-thirds of Brazilian 15-year-olds are incapable of more than basic arithmetic and half cannot draw inferences from what they read. And Brazil spends only 3.77 per cent of GDP on health, much of it in the private health services for the well-off classes. Brazil ranks lower than comparable economies in Latin America on infant mortality, life expectancy and a range of other indicators. Instead of investing in health and education, billions of public funds are going towards white elephant projects related to the World Cup, such as the 43,000-capacity super-stadium in the Amazon city of Manaus whose 4th division soccer team attracts an average of 588 fans per game. In Rio de Janeiro, the beloved Maracanã stadium has undergone its second renovation in seven years in order to meet FIFA standards. The most recent upgrade exceeded the budget by 48.8 per cent and just within the 50 per cent cost increase allowed by law, raising accusations that the construction consortium has milked the public coffins to the maximum. This underscores the impression that the nation blessed with the world’s most successful soccer team is also cursed by some of the worst levels of corruption and bureaucracy.

Youth vs the power
What is fascinating is how fast the demonstrations spread from being a handful of leftist youth activists marching for cheaper public transportation to becoming an all-encompassing movement that has the support of 81 percent of the population. The street demonstrations were not clearly or primarily against the mega sports events. The Confederations Cup served merely as an arena for international and national media attention, and its costs and corrupt management became an evident symbol of what has been perceived as larger political evils at the national level. The excessive violent crackdown of the police during the initial protests in São Paulo June 13 is what provoked the rapid spread of the demonstrations to other cities. While the conservative media in the beginning characterized the protesters as a gang of vandals and troublemakers, justifying the police repression in order to protect public property, they were forced to change their discourse as the demonstrations spread. From one day to the next, the major Brazilian news corporation – O Globo – switched coat and supported the demonstrations. In other words, the protests were, a huge wake-up call for the traditional power centers. While President Dilma was notoriously quiet the first week, she changed her approach profoundly the second week.

President Dilma’s turn-around
Since her election in 2010, Dilma Rousseff has continued Luis Inácio Lula da Silva’s combination of business friendly policies, broad political coalitions and improvement of the well-being for the poorest. However, their Workers’ Party (PT) was involved in severe corruption scandals under Lula’s rule (2003-2010), and President Dilma has been criticized for being a technocrat and unable to secure popular support for the government. They have both championed the spending on the FIFA World Cup and Olympics. This way, the PT which led struggles for democracy and social reforms since the 1980s, has also been hit by the street demonstrators’ critique of the corrupt political parties.

Against this background Dilma took Brazil by surprise on Monday 24th of June. After having met a delegation of activists from Movimento Passe Livre, she held a TV speech to the nation. She praised the demonstrators who used their democratic rights and raised their voices. She claimed they contributed to a much needed “oxygenation of the political system” by resisting the “money power in politics”. She denounced the police using excessive use of force. She promised to deepen citizen participation in policy-making, and announced several initiatives. The key ones are a popular referendum on political reform; secondly, a national transport plan elaborated in a participatory way with full civil society involvement from the city to federal levels, followed by massive investments to improve ‘urban mobility’; and, thirdly, earmarking oil revenues for education.

All of a sudden, President Dilma won the initiative in the public debate. She changed the mood of the country from confrontation to dialogue. The right wing opposition had gained from the first week of protests, and extreme right wing groups expelled left wing parties, trade unions social movements and generally people carrying red flags, T-shirts and symbols from the demonstrations. With her speech the President was able to steer the focus away from her impeachment, which was a demand that had been risen by the right-wing, towards a focus on political reform. Opinion polls show that 73 per cent of the people support her new initiative. Still, only 30 per cent approve the performance of her government, and her speech has not demobilized the people. Rather, her proposals have contributed to what at the moment can be characterized as the world’s largest political workshop.

Political reform
Political reform has been discussed in Brazil for some years now. One of the main points of contestation is whether to end private funding of election campaigns which PT and the left wants to abolish. This proposal has however always been stopped by a majority in the parliament, where most of its members have been elected with private funding, and where politics are characterized by horse-trading and exchange of favors. However, the recent demonstrations have revealed a popular rage against the current political system and the lack of representativity and legitimacy of the politicians and their parties. As a response to the protesters, on June 24 President Dilma proposed a referendum over a political reform.

Two possibilities arise from the discussion about the convocation of a referendum: (i) it may approve a process of electing a special constitutional assembly with power to draft and vote the text for the political reform; or (ii) it may rely on the direct participation of the population who will vote on specific points for the political reform. A combination of the two is also possible. These options are being discussed by the government, experts and the people as to their legality and effectiveness to bring a renewal of the political system. For the last week political reform has been the most discussed topics in social networks, according to the website “Causa Brasil” whose search engine identifies the most addressed issues within Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Google.

Dilma Rousseff also proposed a new law that considers corruption a heinous crime, with harsher penalties and without bail. This decision was approved by the Senate on June 26 and heads for voting to the House of Representatives (“Câmara”) before being sanctioned by the President. The president also called for the implementation of the Law on Access to Information, which will increase transparency.

Public Transport…
A second main focus of Dilma’s speech on June 24 was improvements in the area of public transport. She promised to allocate an additional BRL 50 billion (USD 25 billion) to investments in urban transport systems. São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and other cities were quick to reverse the price increases on public transport which initially triggered the demonstrations. The announced decrease in the price of user fares will be compensated by the government in the form of increased subsidies to the companies operating the public transportation. However, these companies and their shady connections to politicians who have given them concessions were one of the targets of the protesters.

Therefore the Movimento Passe Livre (MPL) has criticized these measures, and the movement calls for public inquiries into the linkages between transport concessionaries and politicians. And above all they demand that urban transport becomes a free-for-all public service, as part of the right-to-the-city which is already embodied in the federal City Statute from 2001. The national transport plan that Dilma proposes is to be elaborated with the full involvement of the civil society, as prescribed by the 1988 Constitution. In the 1990s, many cities run by the Workers’ Party (PT) excelled in participatory democracy. After Lula took power in 2003, almost every national policy sector has formulated its priorities and guidelines by conferences starting at the municipality level, continued at state levels and finalized at the federal level. Now it is time for the urban transport sector to practice this type of participatory policy-making.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

… with unknown destination?
The questions are to what extent activists from the MPL and other youth networks will participate, whether the conferences will be able to agree on clear policy recommendations, and last but not least whether policy recommendations coming out from these conferences will be implemented by the executive authorities even when vested private interests are challenged.

Although Brazil has been ruled by a centre-left coalition since 2003, it has not wanted to change the power relations in Brazil. The private financial and business elite has been supported rather than challenged by the government. Radical proposals from the civil and the mentioned public policy conferences have not been adopted by the government when it faces resistance from the right wing political and economic elites.

Due to conservative influences, the federal government has been weak and slow in its efforts to change the huge police forces that, to a large extent, keep on with their ‘shoot first’ legacy of the authoritarian past. Police reform is not yet high on Brazil’s agenda. Hence, the street demonstrators may continue to need vinegar. Where their march will end is still too early to announce.

* Braathen is leader and da Silva and Sørbøe are research assistants of the project ‘Cities against Poverty – Brazilian experiences’ at the Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research (NIBR). The project is funded by Research Council of Norway (2010–2013).

The Weight of a Violent Past and Present in Securing Kenya’s Future

By Peris Jones

A wave of violent attacks is currently buffeting Kenya and spreading fear and much distress. The insecurity brings to the fore pertinent questions as to who is behind the attacks and what is fuelling them. The long awaited report recently released by the Truth and Justice and Reconciliation Commission provides a useful window to explain the deep seated nature of much of the violence in Kenya, but is not without serious dilemmas in seeking redress.

Under attack
Eric Barasa pleaded with the attackers to take some of his possessions and leave him be. One lashed out, hacking at him with a machete. Barasa felt something wet on his shirt and noticing it was blood, then realised in the shock that one eye was gouged out. Many more Kenyans are under attack. On just about all points of the country’s compass a wave of violent attacks has shaken Kenya’s northern, coastal, central, and especially western regions. In Barasa’s case, according to media reports, terrifying ‘machete wielding thugs’ are responsible for massacring 10 people, while maiming another 100 villagers. Men, woman and even children have had limbs hacked off. In Bungoma and Busia counties in Western Kenya, where Barasa lives, ‘Villagers cower in fear whenever darkness falls not knowing where the assailants will strike next’ (1). Though these atrocities have taken place for one month, the police, we are told, still apparently have few leads. Shortly after William Ruto, newly elected Deputy President, visited the area and pledged security forces to do ‘everything within their powers’, which includes a shoot to kill policy – indeed, only hours later the gangs in a brazen act of defiance distributed leaflets to local communities that chillingly read ‘we are coming for you’. The attacks are described as well planned death squads that steal nothing but seek to maximise terror in local communities. If the fundamental duty of a state is to protect life and property buttressed by a monopoly over the means of coercion then to use the term of anthropologists John and Jean Comaroff, Kenya is arguably better characterised as a tapestry of ‘partial sovereignties’.

Elsewhere in the country, for example, in Tana Delta along the coast, attacks have taken place on a camp of residents displaced in previous rounds of clan based conflict over resources and decision making last year and in which two hundred lives were claimed. In the North, Mandera county is witness to clashes between rival clans that have left ten dead and four thousand displaced with the situation worsening and with military grade equipment being used by militia and gun men killing policemen and civilians. In November, 2012, though Samburu county is host to the habitual problem of cattle rusting, in one particularly bloody incident forty-two police officers were ambushed and killed by cattle raiders. And compounding the insecure situation, other parts of the country are seeing the growth and, in some cases re-emergence, of militia and movements. The Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) is campaigning for secession of Kenya’s coastal strip and is associated with several militant attacks. In addition, an organisation known as the Mungiki movement who reached particular prominence in the 1990s and late 2000s are deemed to be making a comeback within both Central province and Nairobi itself (2). The capital city is also undergoing a rise in violent crime. All these incidents, seemingly unrelated at first glance as they are, nonetheless add up to a country currently under the cosh of violence. How can we begin to make some sense of these attacks? Who or what is driving the insecurity? How might Kenya move forward in securing its future?

Drivers of conflict
One particularly useful window into many more similar attacks and human rights abuses lies in the long awaited report of the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (the Commission) that was recently delivered to Uhuru Kenyatta, newly elected President of Kenya. The Commission was established in the wake of the far more extensive and visceral violence associated with the 2007 elections that shook this nation, with over one thousand deaths and hundreds of thousands having to relocate, often with resulting loss of property. The Commission’s mandate was to identify causes of violence and human rights abuses stretching from the colonial era and into the post-independence era up to the post election violence 2007/8. The broad historical perspective in its investigations enables the Commission to uncover a quite overwhelming picture of gross human rights violations, which they say, have been both ‘normalised and institutionalised’ in Kenya. The sheer scale of violations – associated with every administration from colonialism and since independence – is staggering and provides clues as to the causes and consequences of violence more generally.
Photo: Casper Hedberg. See more pictures from the conflict after the 2007 elections here:

That Kenya is notable for having one of the lowest ratios of police to population (approximately 41 per 100 000 of the population) in the world, is rightly pointed out as a contributory factor. Poor provision of equipment could be also be justifiably cited as hindering adequate responses, the police are outgunned and out-manoeuvred by armed gangs. Some immediate responses include the President’s pledge for an extra annual allocation of resources to recruit another ten thousand police officers and to furnish them with one thousand three hundred more vehicles. High level emergency meetings have also been called with the security forces in response to the violence. Often conflicts are described away as the appearance of ethnicity. The essence, though, as the Commission’s report highlights, lies far more deeply.

Internal repression

Kenya is no stranger to violent incidents and has weathered many previous rounds that are associated particularly with the cycles of electoral politics. Election related violence is estimated to have claimed over four thousand lives in the 1990s and most recently in 2007/8 as mentioned. The President, Kenyatta, and Deputy, Ruto, are both currently facing International Criminal Court cases charging them with crimes against humanity, for their respective roles in the 2007/8 post-election violence. However, it appears to be the norm for political leaders in Kenya to have used violence for political ends in order to weaken political opposition, to provide a bulwark against multi-partyism, or, to gain some or other political advantage. Under the Presidency of Daniel Arap Moi political elites would be rewarded for deploying movements and ethnic communities, such as the Kalenjin and Maasi for political gain in sensitive regions, especially in the Rift Valley. Since then, these and other ethnic groups would enter into volatile relations with the state and formally recognised political actors, as convenient tools for political violence. The dynamic is termed ‘internal repression’, in that the political class have tended to ‘use’ militia to either defend or extend their interest at the cost of local communities. This is precisely the substance of the cases against Kenyatta and Ruto. In Kenyatta’s case it concerns the alleged deployment of the predominantly Kikuyu organisation, the Mungiki.

In the present spate of conflicts, in what otherwise appears merely as senseless violence is instead often driven by specific motivations. In Western Kenya it has emerged that a powerful ‘god father’ and a local militia allegedly have been deployed by regional politicians vying for outright political control. Violence is unleashed either to discredit opposition or punish communities and spread fear amongst those who voted against them. There is a local election petition, for example, currently filed by a former Minister against the present Senator for Bungoma alleging flaws in the recent election and to which the current attacks are allegedly linked. That these practices are not unknown is illustrated by observers in Bungoma who draw parallels between the current attacks and those that also took place in region back in the 1990s by the Angola Msumbiji militia. Other militia, as we will see, are also often used as political battering rams and Trojan horses. Similarly, the conflict in Tana Delta, though taking on the appearance of clan based conflict is as much about political exclusion and therefore of control over resources of one clan by another and who may be deemed legitimate inhabitants of the territory in question.

In the wake of the atrocities in western Kenya a silence is noticeable in that communities affected are reluctant to come forward to the police with information. Rather than simply a lack of resources, there is a more fundamental problem that the population lacks confidence in the police force. The public reticence is understandable in considering the Commission’s statement that ‘the use of excessive and disproportionate force by the police has been a common theme running through Kenya’s history’. Security operations have resulted in hundreds of additional deaths and massacres. Unofficial alliances appear to exist between perpetrators and the police themselves. Important patrons appear untouched by criminal proceedings. The machinery of the state has therefore been used for political assassinations and as a tool for political advantage to eliminate opponents with impunity. Using militia’s one minute, then seeing them as challengers the next, has often led to security forces given instructions to shoot to kill. The consequences can be dramatic –it is estimated that in the 2000s hundreds of extra judicial killings and disappearances were suffered by the Mungiki. It is a continuing blot on parts of the Kenyan landscape that some youth still encounter these drastic practices.

As the report also identifies, land issues are a fundamental cause of conflict. To illustrate the scale of the problem, in taking all statements and memoranda gathered from the public in the Commission report over fifty percent cite issues to do with the issue of land. Between 1962 and 2002 over 200,000 illegal titles were created. In other words, alongside settlement schemes – of varying success – there were also huge land grabs, accelerating particularly into the 1990s. It started with European, predominantly British, settlers but then in the post-independence era it became common practice to reward supporters with land as the cost of providing a more systematic and redistributive programme. In looking at many of the conflicts today the cycle of violence manifests itself in these conflicts over land. The coastal region, most notably, has seen particularly high levels of land being alienated from communities by government officials –most notably Jomo Kenyatta, the country’s first President. In considering the scale of loss of land, evictions and forced resettlement in the coast, it is then perhaps unsurprising that in seeking redress for this historical injustice there is the proliferation of organisations, most notably the Mombasa Republic Council. Indeed, the report suggests that most ethnic violence is related one way or another to land grievances and access to resources. A big problem is also that some communities have been rewarded with land and resettled into areas traditionally occupied by other groups and while other landless communities more deserving are overlooked. Similarly, dispossession and alienation of land for others considered ‘alien’ and chased away has sown seeds of resentment and cycles of despair, attack and counter-attack. That elites have manipulated and used these deep seated grievances and with apparent impunity is a striking feature of Kenyan politics.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Militia and Movements amidst inequality
Another striking feature of the conflicts is the enduring nature of movements, militias, and criminal gangs. How do we explain their longevity? Part of the reason can be found in research at NIBR by Jones and Henningsen into the Mungiki organisation (see related references) and that these movements are often ‘Janus faced’. In other words, movements like Mungiki slide between roles as legitimate providers of social services and also as violent oppressors of communities. In the case of Mungiki, services are often provided to communities in the absence of government provision. The organisation has supported the landless – many of whom are their member base – funds small scale businesses, and even land. They also supply other services like water, garbage collection and electricity. Above all, such movements can also offer protection in highly insecure environments – all for a levy, of course. When these organisations are successful in generating their own revenue then they can even begin to exist independently of wealthier patrons.

The key to understanding these movements is therefore on the one hand that they have become a potent means for service provision, parallel to and mimicking the state – hence ‘partial’ sovereignty. The articulation of grievances of underprivileged youths in particular is the other key element. These youth, due to their radicalism, illegality or militancy, are often disqualified from participation in formal political arenas. Some explanations would therefore rightly point to Kenya’s very high level of youth unemployment – on some counts as high as seventy five per cent – that would push even the most stable states into a crisis. This chronic situation occurs, however, at a time when Kenya experiences economic growth, yet with trickle down apparently failing to stem the high tide of inequality. The high level of economic and political exclusion is an engine for mobilising youth into such gangs and movements. Jones and Henningsen show that it is not only the politically correct label of ‘limited opportunities’ holding youth back but how they encounter extremely hostile and brutalising social conditions. Alcohol, drugs, poverty and police brutality pushes so many young Kikuyu to join Mungiki. The glue – in addition to adverse ‘push factors’ – is what Jones and Henningsen identify as the power of the ‘pull factors’: namely, that membership according to several interviewees brings material benefits but also meaning and control that enables members to become a better person. Symptomatic of Kenya’s problems these movements are manifestations of genuine grievances. When rendered as political instruments, used and funded by elites, and engaging in criminal activities, though, these movements have their claims to be solely representatives for social justice corrupted – hence the ‘Janus faced’ condition.

Gordian knot
What remains to be seen is whether the most pernicious of factors, namely, the ties between political interests, misuses of the state for economic gain, and these movements and militia, will abate. The challenge for Kenya is no less than that of unravelling an apparent Gordian knot tying political and economic interests and the conflict and injustice it spawns. But a fundamental dilemma reveals itself in seeking to alleviate deep seated problems through many of the eminently sensible suggestions put forward by the TJRC. Human rights at their core are about governing the state’s exercise of authority by providing a system of norms and practices that shape the relationship between the individual and the state (and others in power making positions). As the Commission’s report shows, arguably, the scale of abuses is so vast and implicates so many important people that holding these elites to account looks as likely as sand holding water. The Commission boldly calls for a programme of implementation – including recommendations that 400 people be further investigated and, especially, in recovering illegally acquired land. Kenya, however, is in a unique if not unenviable position with its President, Deputy President, several of its MPs and a plethora of high ranking officials – which include the chairperson of the TJRC himself – implicated in human rights abuses and illegal land acquisition.

Lack of impetus

The political elite in quick response are already mounting a rear-guard action to discredit the findings of the report. Beyond some rather patchy media reporting and a few vocal civil society organisations, it is much harder to see where a more popular impetus for change may come from. It is also understandable that many Kenyans may be cynical about the TJRC when so many previous commissions of inquiry have come and gone but bereft of any implementation of findings. There are also undoubtedly many who simply wish to move forward rather than dwelling on the uncomfortable past. Indeed, the emphasis upon peace and reconciliation that appeared to be a successful ingredient in the recent election campaign for the victors, may also now be serving to close down room for those seeking justice and accountability. To compound the difficulties there is further divisive debate about what remedy is most likely to cut the knot: internal processes such as the TJRC, or, ones driven from outside such as the embattled ICC cases against Kenyatta and Ruto. If the current level of insecurity is anything to go by, what remains clearer is that more blood will be spilled before concrete solutions are finally given political priority and implemented for and by Kenyans.

Related information:
For more on related NIBR research on Kenya: Henningsen, E. and Jones, P. S. (2013) What kind of hell is this!’ Understanding the Mungiki movement’s power of mobilisation, Journal of Eastern African Studies.
Kenya’s Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission report, at

(1) ‘Terror of Gang Attacks’, The Standard, May 13, 2013.
(2) ‘Mungiki Comeback in Gatundu’, The Star, May 13, 2013.

Tatarstan at first sight

by Jørn Holm-Hansen, Aadne Aasland, and Mikkel Berg-Nordlie

Next stop Tatarstan! NIBR’s Russia Team rounded off their recent field work in the city of Samara with a visit to Tatarstan, a constituent republic of the Russian Federation. While driving from Samara the three of us summed up (i.e. competed over) how many of Russia’s 83 constituent federation subjects we had visited. The total number turned out to be impressive (at least to ourselves). Nonetheless, Tatarstan was a long-awaited first for all of us, as a province of Russia well-known to be something apart.

Tatarstan marked in red.

A Rich Flora of Provinces
Russia is thought of as an extremely centralized country, but the ‘federal subjects’ (i.e. provinces) do have some autonomy. The Federation contains different kinds of subjects: most common is the oblast (region), others are called krays (territory) or autonomous okrugs (areas). The republics are–21 in number, ethnically defined and each named after a ‘titular nationality’ (in Tatarstan’s case, the Tatars).

Fun for Social Scientists
Between these republics, regions etc. there are great differences in the political climate. Some are reform-minded, others less so. Individual federal subjects may be forerunners in certain policy fields, which opens up for learning across provinces, and much fun for comparative social scientists.

More Self-Government than Most
Tatarstan was able to gain more autonomy than most other federal subjects in the early 1990s. It was here that the then president Boris Jeltsin pronounced the ill-famed sentence “take as much autonomy as you can swallow”.

Tatarstan signed a new bilateral treaty with Moscow in 2007 that, despite the Kremlin’s move towards more streamlining of province politics, gives Tatarstan keep considerable self-government. Compared to other federal subjects, Tatarstan has a greater say in decisions on economic, cultural and environmental issues.

Russian and Tatarstyani flags on equal terms. Photo: Jørn Holm-Hansen

Oil, Autonomy and Authoritarianism

The treaty furthermore opens for joint management of the oil fields in the republic by Federal and republic authorities. Some authors claim that this relative independence has been negotiated through regime trust and provincial authoritarianism. The regime of Mintimer Shaimiev, Tatarstan president 1991–2010, were able to use its ability to control the ethnically diverse territory in negotiations with Moscow when politicians in Kremlin feared instability and an unravelling of the Russian Federation. Authoritarianism is today reflected for example in Tatarstan’s being listed among 22 federal subjects where the local media is considered ‘not free’ by Gorbachev’s Glasnost’ Defence Foundation.

Bilingualism and Religious Pluralism

We left the industrial city of Samara (1.2 million inhabitants) early in the morning. As soon as we crossed the “border” between the Samara oblast and the Republic of Tatarstan, things changed. Suddenly we found ourselves on bilingual territory – Russian and Tatar. Although most commercial boards were in Russian only, all other written information along the road was in the two languages. Tatar is a Turkic language written with Cyrillic script. Moreover, in the strikingly well-kept municipal centres along the road both Orthodox churches and a mosque were present. Ethnic Tatars are mainly Muslims, and they constitute half the population of Tatarstan. The area on which they live took on Islam as early as 922. Following the disintegration of Mongol rule in Russia (mid-1400s) a strong Khanate was established in Kazán, today the capital of Tatarstan.

Three languages in use at Kazán railway station. Photo: Jørn Holm-Hansen

Tatarstan becomes Russian
Ivan the Terrible conquered the Khanate in 1552. Gradually, Kazán developed into being one of the most important cities of Tsarist Russia. Russia’s third university after St. Petersburg and Moscow was established here (1804). Later both Leo Tolstoy and Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin) were students there, although both got expelled. Today, a Lenin statue in front of the university portrays a different Lenin than what we usually see – as a young student, with a full head of hair and lacking his iconic beard.

A Centre of Russian Islam

Kazán naturally became an important place for Russian Islam. Muslims in the Russian empire were granted more or less similar rights as Christians during Catherine the Great’s reign in the late 18th century. In fact, Tatar missionaries were called upon to proselytise Islam among the animist nomads on the newly conquered Kazakh steppes in the East. A Muslim renewal movement – jadidism – developed a stronghold in Kazán in the late 1800’s.

A Soviet Nationality Policy

After the 1917 Revolution the Bolsheviks let the more recently acquired fringes of the defunct Tsarist empire go – Finland, Poland, and the Baltic Sea provinces were given full sovereignty. The remainders of Russia were still multi-national, and several areas where minorities were concentrated were now allowed to blossom in accordance with Lenin’s theory of nationalism as a progressive phase in the development towards higher societal formations.

The concretization of this theory was the division of the territory into ethno-territorial units, an idea that for way ahead of its time. Compare for instance with Norwegian authorities’ treatment of the Sámi, or British policies towards the Irish at the same time.

Soviet Tatarstan

The Tatars got their own republic within the Russian Federative Socialist Republic of Councils. Here, Tatar language was to be used together with Russian, and Tatar traditions were to be cultivated. A challenge persisted, however, in that most Tatars did not live on the territory of the Republic. Even today only 36 per cent of Russia’s Tatars live in Tatarstan.

Religious Symbolism

One of the things that strike a visitor to Tatarstan today is the mix of Slavic and Turkic, Christian and Muslim. Having done research on ethnic issues in the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Baltics, the Balkans and the Circumpolar world – the ethnic mix encountered in this Volga republic made us automatically draw comparisons. The lack of tensions on the surface stands in stark contrast to, say, the Balkans with its post-war tendency for localities to become mono-ethnic, and the sometimes strikingly symbolically oversized religious buildings and monuments that revealing a low-key continued competition over who dominates where. The closest thing to religious symbol-pandering found in Tatarstan is the enormous Kul Sharif mosque looming over the Kremlin (citadel). This makes a powerful and very public statement of the importance of Islam in modern Tatarstan.

The mosque is, however, not the only building in Kazan that has such proportions. The city is chock full of new, flamboyant buildings that demonstrate the resources of the republic and local capital owners.

Architectural Anti-Innovation
Tatarstan is Russia’s third strongest agricultural region, and the two year old Palace of the Agriculturists is an impressive edifice. It was built with the intention of being “exclusively monumental”. Therefore Ionic, Corinthian, Doric columns have been used, just to mention a few of the effects that have been loaded upon this edifice that has an ambition of reminding of la belle époque in far-away Paris. The festive exterior may be seen to stand in contrast to its mundane core function (offices of the Ministry of Agriculture). Despite being sceptical towards this kind of architectural anti-innovation, we had to admit the palace was beautiful.

The Palace of the Agriculturists. Photo: Jørn Holm-Hansen

Reconstructing a Favourite Past
Kazán’s Kremlin is impressive, and serves as the republic’s signature with its silhouette of onion domes and minarets. As noted above, though, the minarets are new – only since 2005. The idea was to remedy some of the harm that done in 1552 after Ivan the Terrible invaded the Khanate and had the old Kremlin mosque torn down. After that, the Kremlin developed into a symbol of Russian and Orthodox power. The Kul Sharif is aimed to reduce the “colonial” profile of the Kremlin. Not all were thrilled by the new building project, however – a debate arose on reconstruction versus conservation, or as some would have it Tatar against Russian (Nadir Kinissian wrote an interesting article on this in Europe-Asia Studies in 2012/5).

Kazán’s Kremlin. Photo: Jørn Holm-Hansen

Another argument was centred on the coming mosque’s style: no one knows what the old mosque actually looked like. In the end, the conservations succeeded in conserving the Blagoveshchenskii Cathedral inside the Kremlin, while the reconstructivists got a mosque. For outsiders the Kul Sharif looks like it has been parachuted in from Saudi Arabia (one of its main sponsors), while for certain Tatar activists it bears too much resemblance to Russian architecture.

Islam in Everyday Life

While the Kul Sharif is mainly used as a museum of Islam in the Volga region, Kazan has a lot of small mosques with bustling activity around prayer time, like the Nurullah mosque. Just like we have done in other Muslim countries we experienced the peaceful, egalitarian and friendly atmosphere of mosque life, although the smiling women waiting downstairs for a separate prayer might have some remarks on egalitarianism. We were welcomed, took off the shoes and entered the beautiful mosque. Inside, sitting on the carpet, a young man was (probably) reading the Quran on his iPhone, another guy was sleeping and a third man was praying. The idyllic mood was slightly shattered when we discovered a poster on the wall saying that the mosque would remain closed outside of praying hours, due to ‘the unfortunate security situation at present’. It turns out that Tatarstan’s chief mufti had been seriously injured and his deputy killed in a car bomb in 2012, allegedly related to their criticism of radical Islam.

The Nurullah mosque in Kazán. Photo: Jørn Holm-Hansen

A Multicultural Capital – to a Certain Extent

The ethnic composition of Tatarstan was roughly 50/50 Tatar/non-Tatar all the way through the Soviet period and has remained so, with ethnic Russians making up the dominant non-Tatar ethnic group. Unlike the capitals of many other ethnically defined federal subjects, Kazan is a culturally mixed city. Today, Kazán has 1.2 million inhabitants, with a slight majority of ethnic Tatars. The Volga Federal Area, of which Tatarstan forms part, consists of 14 federal subjects, among them six ethnic republics. In most of these, the titular nationality has remained in the countryside with a massive Russian majority in the capitals. This phenomenon of Russian-cultured capitals is quite common throughout Russia’s minority areas, but Kazan is to a certain degree an exception. Still, here too the majority of billboards and day-to-day business life appears to be in the Russian language. Kazán’s clean, fast and beautifully decorated metro is tri-lingual – Russian, Tatar and English. Both the Russian and Tatar names of metro stations are displayed, demonstrating that at least in this corner of Russia the authorities have come to terms with a situation that is still unresolved in some Norwegian localities – cf. the strong resistance to the public display of traditional Sámi place names that sometimes come to the surface.

The temple of all religions, Kazán. Photo: Jørn Holm-Hansen

Progress, Migrant Labour and Wage Dumping
The English element here has to do with the fact that Kazán is going to host the Universiade this summer, a huge international sports events for university students. Moreover Kazán (and Samara) are going to be host cities for the football World Cup in 2018. Kazán is preparing well to appear fresh and well-kept. The high standards of houses and streets around us are striking. Almost all other city districts we visited – including those in the outskirts – were well kept. None of us had ever seen such a well-kept city in Russia.

Discussing the city’s appearance with a local, we were told that Kazan could afford such standards because employers hardly paid salaries. Uzbek and Tajik labour migrants helped keeping salaries down. Being a trained engineer, he had to turn to taxi driving to keep a living for himself and his family. As such, the shining façade of Tatarstan, like that of most affluent countries, reveals some dark spots when you begin to look more closely at it.

Strong Economy

Tatarstan is economically one of Russia’s most well to-do federation subjects, in fact the sixth strongest. Driving through Tatarstan’s countryside, we saw large areas with pump jacks drilling oil. Oil is a core industry and the Tatneft company a cornerstone power-holder. Russian helicopters and lorries tend to come from Tatarstan. From the car we also noticed enormous agricultural fields. At this time of the year they were stubble fields, but everything indicated well tilled land. Tatarstan is Russia’s third strongest agricultural region. The republic’s economy is hence rather well balanced.

Rio de Janeiro: A City of Exception?

by Einar Braathen

Of course Rio de Janeiro is exceptional. Exceptional for its citizens – the ‘cariocas’ – and visitors alike: the beaches, spectacular mountains (the Sugar Loaf, Christ the Redeemer), football, samba and carnival. However, there are also dark clouds such as an extremely high social inequality and, probably as a result of the inequality, alarmingly high levels of crime and violence. Surrounded by these mixed blessings, in what direction does Rio de Janeiro go?

In this letter I connect with one of the themes addressed by the Chance2Sustain project, namely mega-events and mega-projects (see Varrel and Kennedy, 2011), and explain why I think the coming mega sports-events in Rio de Janeiro will be among the most contested ones in the history.

Rio de Janeiro’s successful bids for the Pan-American Games 2007, the FIFA World Cup 2014*, and the Summer Olympic Games 2016 have been attributed to a fundamental shift in the municipal leadership’s strategy during the 1990s. (*Although other cities will also host matches during the FIFA World Cup in 2014, the city of Rio de Janeiro plays a major role since the final match will take place in the renowned Maracanã stadium.)

In 1993 the mayor invited the business community to join the municipality in elaborating a strategic plan for the city. A key urban planner from Barcelona, Dr. Jordi Borja, was the main consultant. Inspired by the Olympic Games 1992 (in Barcelona) the mayor emphasized the big potential of large projects and mega-events, such as the Olympic Games, in branding Rio de Janeiro as a destination for tourists and foreign investors and transforming Rio de Janeiro into a ‘global city’. In 1996 the city sent its first bid to host the Olympic Games. The close cooperation between the municipality and private sector leaders to enhance an entrepreneurial city has been depicted, by David Harvey and others, as an international trend of transformation of urban governance. International sport events organized by Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) bring in multi-national corporate sponsors, for whom exclusive rights to the sport venues and other public spaces are demanded.

Cable car over Complexo do Alemão, Rio de Janeiro. All photos from Einar Braathen’s Rio documentary.

Issues raised in Rio de Janeiro
The organization and execution of a mega sports-event require a complex logistics arrangement and broad political coalition. Huge urban development projects that imply in increasing public funding often face strong opposition. Therefore leaving a positive legacy is one of the recent concerns of the “Olympic system” as a way of legitimizing itself. However, building such a legacy involves facing an essential contradiction still to be discussed: how can one meet the demands of the city and its inhabitants while mega sports-events are increasingly aligned with large private interests and candidate cities themselves tend to be managed in terms of urban entrepreneurship? The sports geographer Gilmar Mascarenhas (2012) is one of many members of the academic and civil society in Rio de Janeiro raising these questions.

What we have observed is that certain contradictions and trends have been leading to a process whereby mega sports-events and so-called “emerging economies” grow closer. This is because such countries combine three crucial elements: availability of resources; an ambition to strengthen their image as an emerging power worldwide; and relative weakness of institutions which protect the environment and human rights. Even so, in order to abide by the “package” of interventions that mega-events require, they need to create extraordinary decision-making frameworks to enable candidature and the execution of projects.

Carlos Vainer, another well-known scholar in urban development in Rio, claims that this process has led to a ‘city of exception’, a new form of urban regime (Vainer, 2011). He holds that in cities such as Rio de Janeiro, the contract has become more important than the law, and bargaining power has got more weight than the application of the majority’s decisions. Drawing on Giorgio Agamben’s theories of the state of exception, Vainer claims that “the law legalizes the disrespect for the law”. The state can unleash a legal civil war against whole categories of citizens, denying them their basic rights. The city government can do the same by making ad hoc decisions rather than developing binding plans (such as ‘master plans’), and by delegating special authorisation to private actors in urban development and service delivery. This can be observed in the municipal preparations for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.

Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro.

Bringing in the current political context

However, I have two main objections against this view. First, it does not take into account the recent changes in government policies at federal, state and municipal levels aiming at fulfilling basic socio-economic rights of the citizens. Pro-poor and social reform-oriented programmes initiated by the federal presidents Lula da Silva and Dilma Roussef have found strong partnerships locally, in Rio de Janeiro particularly since 2008-2009, when a centre-left coalition including Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT) took power. For the first time in Brazil’s history the federal government has invested heavily in large-scale programs for slum upgrading, social housing, and improved infra-structures in the cities. The main references are the Programme for Accelerated Growth (PAC) and the ‘Minha Casa Minha Vida’ (My House My Life) programme. The municipality of Rio de Janeiro has cooperated with these federal initiatives and has unleashed the ‘Morar Carioca’ programme. It aims at upgrading all the favelas of the city by 2020, a lasting ‘legacy’ from the sports mega-events of 2014 and 2016. Of the entire population of Rio de Janeiro, 22 percent lives in favelas, according to the 2010 national census. ‘Morar Carioca’ is arguably one of the most ambitious plans of its kind in contemporary Brazil.

Another objection is that the ‘city of exception’ theory plays down the existing legal and institutional frameworks at the national level aiming at securing the citizens’ rights. There is a myriad of mechanisms to institutionalize citizens’ participation in public decision-making. One of them is the City Statute of 2001. It is a follow-up of the progressive 1988 Constitution and the result of social movements’ mobilization of social movements for urban reform. The City Statute recognizes the principle of the ‘right to the city’ – the right to adequate housing, access to affordable public transport, public and green spaces for all. Every city must develop a master plan (Plano Diretor) in a participatory and transparent way to ensure that the use and management of urban land observe these rights. Although Rio de Janeiro’s 2010 master plan has not satisfied the civil society actors who tried to be involved in the process, there are strong coordination bodies within the city’s civil society. The most important one is the People’s Committee for the World Cup and the Olympics (Comité Popular da Copa e das Olimpíadas), which is a continuation of a network established in 2005 to monitor the preparations for the Pan-American Games. The People’s Committee links established NGOs and social movements with favela communities that are threatened by evictions because of public works linked to the mega sports-events. These civic networks bode for an ‘insurgent citizenship’ (Miraftab and Wills, 2005) that uses any available space of citizen participation in the formation of inclusive citizenship and just cities. It is worth noting that most leadership positions in the favelas are held by women. This is a consequence of their increasingly prominent role in public and political life, in addition to their greater bond with families and, therefore, with the struggle for housing. It was also interesting to observe that, in the mayoral elections in 2012, there was a candidate who opposed the ruling broad coalition and supported the critics of the mega sports-events. Although this candidate, Marcelo Freixo, was from the extreme left and had very limited financial means, he obtained 28% of the votes.

By way of a conclusion, and in terms of politics of urban development, it is an open question whether Rio becomes a city of negative or positive exception. However, I am convinced that the Olympic Games in 2016 will be increasingly contested, socially and politically. In that sense, Rio might establish itself as a city of exception in the history of mega sports-events.

Battle units of the state police surveying a large favela area.

Miraftab, F. and S. Wills (2005). »Insurgency and Spaces of Active Citizenship The Story of Western Cape Anti-eviction Campaign in South Africa.« Journal of Planning Education and Research 25 (2): 200-217.

Mascarenhas, G. (2012). Globalização e políticas territoriais: os megaeventos esportivos na cidade do Rio de Janeiro. Globalização, políticas públicas e reestruturação territorial. S. M. M. Pacheco and M. S. Machado. Rio de Janeiro, Letras. 1:92-108.

Vainer, C. (2011). Cidade de Exceção: reflexões a partir do Rio de Janeiro. XIV Encontro Nacional da Anpur. Rio de Janeiro, Anpur.

Varrel, A. & Kennedy, L. (2011), Mega-Events and Megaprojects. Policy Brief No.3 (June 2011). Chance2Sustain.

This text was first published at Chance2Sustain.

You can watch Einar Braathen’s documentary film (13 minutes) about Rio de Janeiro here:

Women’s voices, women’s rights

by Guro Aandahl

In 2013, Norway celebrates the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote. The International Women’s Day was a great occasion for several events addressing questions about women’s voices and votes (or “stemmer”, the Norwegian word for both ‘voices’ and ‘votes’). The global average figures are bleak. Only 20% of persons elected to legislative bodies in the world are women. Merely 16.7% of ministerial posts in the world’s governments are held by women, and most of these are confined to the “soft” policy areas of family, children, education, and social policy. If we look at women’s power and voice in the economic sphere, the picture is even bleaker.

Pieces from the soundtrack of my childhood come back to me. Å-å-å-jenter…
They sang beautifully in 1975: “Why are girls so seldom listened to? … Oh girls, we must raise our voices to be heard”. I was born in 1973 and brought up in the spirit of left-wing solidarity, and a sense of duty to participate in every solidarity march and peace rally organized in Oslo (eight-of-March, May first, all other progressive protest occasions… I guess that’s how I got the soundtrack. Mind you, it was never a burden, but a great feeling of taking part in something that mattered). My clothes were bought in Kvinnefronten’s (the Women’s Front) Second-Hand Store in the local housing cooperative – until it was replaced by a tanning salon in 1987. A signal of changing times, – of the coming of individualism, neoliberalism, Samantha Fox’s boobs, and a general backlash? Perhaps not. The change from radical thrift store to yuppie-era tanning salon in a suburb of Oslo is only superficially a signal of the demise of grassroots mobilization for gender equality. In 1986, Norway’s first female prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland appointed a government where 8 of 18 ministers were female.

The second Brundtland government. Photo: NRK (Erik Thorberg / SCANPIX)

In 1987, the paid maternal leave after childbirth in Norway was raised from 18 to 20 weeks, the first expansion of maternal leave in a decade. I know even this sounds like Utopia to the majority of the women of the world. The point worth remembering is that while the masses marching the streets in the Women’s Day parades of Oslo have gradually shrunk, important laws that improve the structural conditions for women’s political and economic participation have been passed in the Parliament. The next six years, the length of parental leave more than doubled, and in 1993, 4 weeks were reserved for the father. 25 years later, we have 44 weeks of paid leave (54 if we choose 80% salary), of which 14 weeks are reserved for the father (as of July 1st 2013). A momentum had been created, norms had changed, and so had the economic conditions underlying them. One of the main demands of the Women’s movement of the 1970s was free, high-quality kindergardens for all children. It took 30 years to get close to this: after the turn of the millennium we got maximum price and a massive expansion in kindergarden coverage, and we still have a way to go to secure the quality.

The policy changes would not have been possible without an increasing number of women in power. – There is fairly strong evidence that critical mass matters in Parliament, said Heba el-Kholy, Director of UNDP’s Oslo Governance Centre at an 8th of March breakfast seminar organised by FOKUS, The United Nations Association of Norway, and UNDP Oslo Governance Centre. Gender researcher Elisabeth Rogg from the Centre for Gender Research at the University of Oslo, elaborated on March 4th some of the mechanisms of a critical mass: Our images of a ‘politician’ and person in power change. We change our conception of issues worthy of political attention and public policies. And the political rhetoric and legitimate debate language change. Gradually.

Heba el-Kholy at the 8th of March seminar i Oslo. Photo: Terje Karlsen / The United Nations Association of Norway

However, political scientist and former diplomat and politician Helga Hernes reminded us that women’s rights and gender equality were fought through a “pincer movement strategy” in Norway. Policy changes from above would not have been possible without a strong and vocal women’s movement in civil society working both outside and within the party system.

Rogg and Hernes spoke at the debate “Women, quotas, and conventions” organised by the students at Oslo University’s Faculty of Law on March 4th, where also Anne Hellum, Professor and Director of the Institute for Women’s Law at University of Oslo spoke about UN’s CEDAWas a powerful instrument for gender equality. The UN Convention on Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women is the legal expression of the globalization of the women’s movement.

The right to equal representation of women and men in structures of power and forums of decision-making is protected in CEDAW, and ratifying states (of which there are 180) are obliged to be proactive to ensure this. Women’s movements in countries all over the world are actively using CEDAW as an instrument to secure women’s rights to equal political representation. The general message at the events this Women’s Day was that quotas work. Quotas are among the most powerful instruments states have. But quotas work differently in different contexts. Vidar Helgesen, leader of IDEA and speaker at the breakfast event summed up lessons learnt (read full speech here), and emphasised that electoral system matters: quotas work better in proportional systems than in majority systems. We must also acknowledge that political parties are the main gate keepers to women’s political participation and work for systemic changes within party structures of power.

A major debate is whether quotas should be enforced through constitutional amendments, or be adopted voluntarily by the political parties of a democratic system? Whether legal UN Conventions like CEDAW should stand above national law, is an important normative question, and continues to be a question of considerable disagreement. There is a tension here between the three main trends of the second half of the 20th century, highlighted by Hernes. The first is the move from the domination of a norm of national sovereignty to a norm of human rights. The second is the spread of democratization processes. And the third is the globalization and internationalization of women’s rights. Can instruments with the aim of securing individual human rights be in conflict with democracy and national sovereignty, and vice versa?

An empirical question is whether constitutional quotas are the most viable route to higher representation of women in politics. Norway, Iceland, Denmark, and South Africa are examples of countries with a voluntary approach to women’s quotas where the political parties have adopted resolutions to secure equal representation of women on their electoral lists and party organs. In Norway most of the parties attempts to have every second man and women on the list. Finland has achieved a high representation of women without any quotas. India reserved 1/3 of all seats on local governments for women in 1993/4, and increased this to 50% from 2013, but has no quotas in Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies. A mere 10% of seats in legislative organs are therefore held by women. While a rough estimate says that 1 million women are elected representatives in local politics in India, the situation for India’s women and girls is sad, with a declining sex ratio and high incidences of domestic violence and violence against women who enter the public sphere. This situation was discussed at a debate organised by the student association “Indologisk” at South Asia Area Studies at the University of Oslo, and the panelists provided ample examples of the importance of cultural and social forces as barriers to better living conditions for women and girls. But there are also gleams of hope, in Women’s Centres organised by civil society, in political reservation and formal rights, in the mass mobilisations seen after the gruesome rape crime in Delhi in December 2012.

Delhi protest. Source:

Heba el-Kholy argued that political culture and democratic legitimacy of the regime matter as conditions for women’s political participation:
– The international community should perhaps think differently about pursuing the quota strategy in regimes that lack popular legitimacy, like in many of the Arab countries, she said, and continued, – we may have focused too much on the share of women in Parliament at the cost of focusing on the political and economic contexts they operate in.

NIBR has at present three international research projects in which several of these questions are pursued in South Asia and South Africa. South Africa and the southern state of Kerala in India are examples of states with a high degree of formal rights for women established and secured through the Constitution. Both states also have active women’s movements and fairly open civil-society spaces for activism and political mobilization. Yet in both countries, women’s political agency and entry into the decision-making sphere are severely constrained by patriarchal and traditional norms, and both societies are socially divided along lines of ethnicity, race, and class. In the project “Self-help or social transformation? The role of women in local governance”, we are studying economically and/or socially marginalized women’s participation in the local public and political sphere. In South Africa, as elected representatives and in cooperatives and a vibrant community-based heritage organization in villages in Eastern Cape and in a township in Johannesburg. In Kerala, as members of the state-wide Kudumbashree Programme in a slum of Trivandrum and in a coastal fishing village. The Kudumbashree is Kerala’s special take on the Indian programmes for alleviating poverty and empowering women through Self-Help Groups which mainly focus on micro-credit and micro-entrepreneurship. In the Kudumbashree the neighbourhood groups are federated upwards into Area and Community Development Societies directly linked to the local government. What special constraints and opportunities are posed by the Kudumbashree Programme to women from communities that are and have been at the margins of the famous Kerala model of development?

NIBR is also partner to the UNWOMEN South Asia Regional Office’s Programme “Promoting Women’s Leadership and Governance in India and South Asia”. We have three tasks under this programme: presenting a paper on a possible gender responsive governance index for the region, collaborating with the Royal University of Bhutan on a study of women’s participation in local politics in the country, and mapping of this topic in Nepal.

A new project will examine the conditions for women’s effective political participation in local governance in Nepal, India, and Bhutan, including their ability to contribute to more and better services.

NIBR has also recently completed three reviews of women’s organisations in the South documenting how donor support makes a positive difference to women’s rights: the Southern and Eastern Africa Regional Centre for Women’s Law at the University of Zimbabwe (see the previous post on nibrinternational and the full report here), the Bangladeshi women’s organization, Bangladesh Mahila Parishad (BMP), and FOKUS’ projects to combat violence against women. NIBR has furthermore carried out a study of Norway’s Funding for Women’s rights and gender equality for Norad’s Evaluation Department (forthcoming).

“We are many”, sang the Swedish feminists in the 1970s, another piece of my childhood soundtrack that has stuck.

– We are half of everybody, half of all the people of city and the nation, … but if we all hide in our small cells, we cannot do anything.

Blog author Guro Aandahl. Photo: NIBR

“I have learnt to argue about biases now”

Women’s rights and the Law in Southern and Eastern Africa – a Norad evaluation done by NIBR
by Peris Sean Jones

The high profile brutal rape and murder of women recently in India and South Africa drove home all too familiar evidence of the deep seated nature of gender based violence and discrimination. Unravelling the causes is certainly complex. Not least, social and cultural norms tend to dictate what the roles of women and men are deemed to be and what constitutes (un)acceptable behaviour. Economic disparities also often provide or are used to provide additional policing of gender roles. Law enforcement that remains inadequate and decision-making processes that are gender biased is also part of the equation. Taken together, there is clearly a complex cluster of issues that sustain discriminatory attitudes and practices. An important entry point can be to identify those gaps in laws, policies and decision-making in the terrain of institutional discrimination that takes place.

Master’s programme in Women’s Law
A case in point is the strong analytical skills provided to practitioners in a position to influence change who have graduated from the Master’s programme in Women’s Law at the Southern and Eastern Africa Regional Centre for Women’s Law at the University of Zimbabwe (‘the Centre’). Towards the end of 2012 Norad commissioned an evaluation of the Master’s course. The assignment was carried out by NIBR, and the independent evaluation was led by Dr. Peris Jones. The team was asked to assess the impact of the programme and its sustainability. The method of evaluation consisted of a survey that was sent to previous participants on the Master’s program, and also field work in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Kenya where interviews and group discussions took place.

‘The Centre’. Photo: P. Jones

Key Findings
Some findings of the NIBR evaluation include the following:
• From 2003 to 2012, 195 candidates have graduated from the Master’s in Women’s Law programme.
• The students come from 12 countries in Southern and Eastern Africa. 79 percent of the students are women.
• 80 percent of the respondents responded that their career had advanced after graduating. Graduates move on to jobs that are generally characterised by a higher level range of tasks, typically involving analysis, research, greater responsibility, such as for programme reporting, and/or, conceptualising projects, fundraising and other wise.
• The evaluation team concluded that the Centre for Women’s Law has built up a solid and innovative Master’s through regional cooperation. And one with high levels of satisfaction of graduates.
• Key areas of graduate influence that reflect gender sensitivity include the provision of legal aid, police force reform, drafting legislative bills (particularly concerning gender ratios in Parliament and other public bodies) and court judgments (in labour, and other courts)- see below.
• A striking feature of the course is its methods for contesting gender roles and raising gender awareness at a personal level to encourage a necessary shift in outlook and attitudes with respect to the gendered nature of society and the role of the law.

Considering the proven limits of the law alone in addressing violations of women’s human rights in the region, the grounded methods used in tackling underlying norms through this programme is a very important outcome and one which is an innovation of the Centre. These findings are particularly significant in view of the Centre’s assumption that by strengthening this discipline a cadre of highly skilled women (and men) is established who through their respective employment and personal decision-making will improve the status of women. In other words, the assumption has more chance of being correct the stronger the graduate capacity built. Though there are clearly limits to what individuals can achieve within their respective institutional and work place settings, graduates tend to be present in key arenas. These include the police, in courts, legal aid, law making, international and local organisations, universities, public and private sectors – where influence may be exerted.

‘The course sharpened my focus and why things are the way they are. I utilise knowledge in my political life. One of the reasons to get elected is that so many gaps exist in the law and the legislature to fix things. Male lawyers are influential in Parliament across party lines. Male parliamentarians make a lot of noise and especially lawyers hold sway in Parliamentary politics. There were no female lawyers in Parliament. I was the first to be elected. I am encouraging more to join. Men can be converted. I have more patience with the counter arguments men have. I understand them better, whereas before I had no time for these, and now can get them on side. It is very important to work with them.
Jessie Majome, graduate, Deputy Minister for Women, and member, Parliamentary Select Committee on the Constitution (COPAC), Zimbabwe.

Spaces for influence
A critical space for influencing policy making obviously concerns the constitutional and law making processes determining women-related issues. These spaces for graduate influence appear especially significant in Zimbabwe and also Kenya. The example from the quotation above is from the deputy minister for Women in Zimbabwe. She indicated several areas of influence specifically related to her training in women’s law. The course had given her new insight. If she had stayed in private practice law without the Masters, this perspective would not have been added, she claimed. As a member of the Select Committee in Parliament she claimed personally to have been central in drawing up 30 essential issues which were considered ‘musts’ for the new constitution and in which impact is identified. Amongst the most salient of these (similar to Kenya) is the clause concerning 50 percent female representation in elected entities (clause 2.9, ‘Gender balance’). Furthermore, proportional representation, whereby 60 women will be added, but which is currently being contested; Senate will also have Proportional system; and additional features, such as an equality clause, equal citizenship, the right to security of person; and especially, noteworthy in light of previous obstacles to legal protection – customary law will now not be subordinate to human rights. In addition, further clauses make provisions for social economic and cultural rights, amongst others. These achievements have been corroborated by key informants.

Also in the legal arena, an experienced labour court judge shared some insights into the impact of the course in her work:
‘The impact of the course has been massive. I can now [she was a judge before and after the Masters] link my work to the course and come up with a proper judgement in which a woman speaks up. It helps to understand the background and context of clients. A legal mind would not normally see the link between the offence and the complaint. My observation is that the hierarchy are all men. One case involved a women who was a security guard. There was a work policy that woman do not do night shifts. But she was told to do so and she said that due to advances of a man, which she refused, she was charged with misconduct. But I saw that there were shadows [over this appearance of misconduct] of sexual harassment.’
Mrs. Betty Chidziva (Labour Court Judge).

When one considers that this judge makes up to 20 judgements on average by the month’s ends –albeit on a diverse range of issues not always gender related- the impact is apparent for gender sensitive deliberations. A former magistrate who had many years experience and had since become a DPhil student following her Master’s degree at the Centre, corroborated the shift in approach that underpins such examples. When a magistrate, she shared how she would do things repetitively and in a mechanical fashion, and never asked why a women did a certain thing. She generally did not delve into factors that had shaped women’s experiences and preferred before the course to merely apply sentencing options. These ‘gaps’ were revealed following the course. Such influence is repeated across the different spaces influential for women’s rights. In addition, graduates have been involved in preparing matters for the African Human Rights Commission; participate in writing shadow reports to CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women); provide analysis of the implementation of Domestic Violence Act in the magistrates courts and traditional courts in Zimbabwe, amongst others.

Questioning programme assumptions

Perhaps one of the biggest assumptions is, however, that the cadre of predominantly middle income men and women graduates will interact differently with and in a manner more pro-active for the marginalised sectors of society. Though there is no guarantee, the findings do show the indirect impact of more beneficial interactions through the kinds of important legal and policy changes and decision-making documented. We also do not suggest these arenas can substitute for focus also upon ‘the everyday spaces’- such as the home, schools, the churches, where norms are constructed and governed. Indeed the report also found that though Centre staff are very active, nonetheless a more structured and strategic approach to outreach might generate greater synergies across these different spaces for ending discrimination against women. The Centre could also strategise better as a way to generate a greater profile, such as making more accessible the high quality Master’s dissertations; and to be a more proactive regional hub for women and the law. A more strategised approach to regional collaboration, especially with alumnae in countries further away from the Centre in Zimbabwe, would also improve its regional impact and through regional platforms.

Dedication amidst instability
In addition, the achievements to date have also taken place against a backdrop of over a decade of severe political and economic unrest in Zimbabwe. The commitment of the Centre’s staff to students, and the dedication to strengthening women’s law as an academic discipline, has made the Master’s programme highly effective. The team also stressed that the predictable and long term funding and support from the Embassy of Zimbabwe and the University of Oslo, has been important. The Women’s Law program is not only a resource for Zimbabwe but for the whole region.

Many may ask why there is a need for a special Master’s in women’s law. Indeed, they may also ask why it is necessary to have a separate international human rights convention to combat discrimination against women. Sadly, women’s rights and freedoms are still often denied; their rights are violated or often compromised as most shockingly profiled by those recent cases in India and South Africa. In order to be able to eliminate discrimination, one must be able to identify discrimination in real life contexts. To reiterate, much of the study in women’s law has focused on a grounded methodology to analyse and identify discrimination. One consistent message was that graduates clearly identified how the strong methodological approach they have learned has helped to identify and understand how gender discrimination comes about.

Though deeply embedded challenges clearly remain, having a strong cadre of women’s law graduates has contributed important momentum in tackling gender based discrimination.

Download the complete report here.

A related NIBR project: Self-help or social transformation? The role of women in local governance

Will Ukraine Perish? Regional Differences, National Conflict

Ukraine is a divided country. Economically, ethnically, in terms of language and demography. But is Ukraine too divided to survive?
by Mikkel Berg-Nordlie and Jørn Holm-Hansen

“Ukraine has not yet perished”, is the title of Ukraine’s national anthem. A somewhat sombre and defensive statement. Yet, you’ll agree it is fitting if you know some Ukrainian history.

Photo: Trond Vedeld

From Unity to Division
The Medievial Kingdom of Rus, the first “Russia”, was founded in and ruled from Kyiv, the contemporary capital of Ukraine. That power proved difficult to hold: Rus was constantly plagued by internal conflict and invading tribes. The Mongols dealt the final blow. Most of Rus fell under the Khan’s rule, but some regions instead came under Western influence. When Russia rose again, she was centered on Moscow, further north.

From Centre to Periphery
A tug of war now began between Muscovy and its Western neighbors – and the Ottomans and Crimean Tatars to the south. Who would control the old heartlands of Rus? The centre had been reduced to a periphery – a fact even reflected in the name now given to the area:
Ukrayina, meaning “the Frontier”.

Russian and Polish-Lithuanian forces in battle (Painting by Jan Chryzostom Pasek. Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Patchwork State
Fast forward to modern times. Ukraine is now a sovereign state, centered on Kyiv. Yet, present-day Ukraine is a patchwork of regions carrying different historical legacies. In the east and south, Russian language dominates completely – and many people there have a Russian ethnic identity. The northwest is the core area of Ukrainian language and identity. On the southern Crimean Peninsula, the Tatars form a third group. In itself, this does not necessitate conflict – not at all. And yet, politics in Ukraine have come to revolve around the issues of identity and language.

An East-West Political Split
The Party of Regions, which currently holds power in Ukraine, caters to the interests of Russian-speaking Ukrainians. The opposition, conversely, argues that Ukrainian should be the sole official language throughout Ukraine. Under the Party of Regions, several of Ukraine’s southern and eastern regions have been allowed to use Russian as a co-official language. This has infuriated the opposition.

Opposition rally on Independence Day, carrying “the world’s biggest Ukrainian flag” (Photo: Mikkel Berg-Nordlie)

Partisan Celebrations
The political split runs deep, as was evident on this year’s Independence Day celebrations in Kyiv: the Party of Regions and the opposition bloc arranged separate events. The opposition held their rally by the statue of the author and national icon Taras Shevchenko, whereas the Party of Regions organized a concert and political appeals by the statue of the old Cossack chief Bogdan Khmelnitskiy.

The Party of Regions’ Independence Day concert and rally (Photo: Mikkel Berg-Nordlie)

Opposing Parties – To A Certain Extent
Differences aside, the outside observer can’t help but noticing some similarities. Commentators often tend to portray the Party of Regions and their followers as pro-Russian, and the opposition as anti-Russian. However, the similarities in symbolism on this day were striking: Ukrainian colors and ethnic traditional patterns were displayed prominently and proudly, and independence was celebrated as an unquestioned good. These were not rallies by one pro-independence party and one pro-Moscow party.

They do, however, differ when it comes to the role of Russian language and culture. Should the fact that large segments of the population use Russian in everyday conversation be reflected in schools and public administration? After all, 38.6% of the population speak Russian at home, and a further 17.1% use both Russian and Ukrainian in the domestic contexts.

A Battle For Hearts, Minds and Tongues
Outside observers tend to focus on whether or not the country should orient itself more towards Europe/NATO or Russia – and whether or not Ukraine will remain independent.

Arguably, leaders in both of the major political blocs have a vested interest in keeping Ukraine independent – at the end of the day. Fronts are stauncher when it comes to the fate of Russophone and ethnically Russian Ukrainians – and about the status of the Ukrainian language. The latter is, despite its official status, under fundamental pressure from Russian.

Who Is The Minority?
Within Ukraine, Russian is technically a minority language – although not by much. Denying Russophone Ukrainans the right to communicate with the authorities in their mother tongue falls short of certain standards for minority rights. However, if we ‘scale up’, looking at the wider region, Ukrainian is the little brother to the Russian lingua franca. Hence, from the perspective of Ukrainophones there is a pressing need to ensure their language’s survival in the long run. Norway’s historical experience must be a chilling example for the Ukrainophone crowd.

Taras Schevchenko, the father of Ukrainian literature (Image: Wikimedia Commons).

Ukrainian – A Future Minority Language?
When Norway gained independence from Denmark, a language debate broke out here too. On the one hand, proponents of Nynorsk – a new written standard reflecting certain Norwegian dialects. On the other, those who wanted to continue using Danish (Bokmål), which after four hundred years under Denmark had become the language of Norway’s cities and elite.

Both languages were made official. But today Nynorsk is a minority language mainly used in the southwest. The dominant position of Danish gave it a head start, and this fact has made it the language of choice for most Norwegians.

The cases are not completely equal. Firstly, the Ukrainian language is big enough to eat both versions of Norwegian whole – its existence is not as precarious as Nynorsk. Secondly, the success of Bokmål is also due to it having allowed more and more Norwegian traits to ‘seep into’ the written standard.

Still, the similarities are big enough that we may ask: faced with a very similar ‘big brother’, entrenched in the cities and economically dominant areas, will Ukrainian dwindle to become a minority language in the northwest?

Will Ukrainian share that fate, becoming a minority language in the northwest?

The Dominance of the East

The Russophone East is has most of the urban areas, and is both demographically and economically dominant in Ukraine. This is a continuing development which does not bode well for the future of Ukrainian. Also, it is a development that the suppression of Russophones will hardly do anything about.

Ukraine itself does not seem to be perishing. At least not from the language conflict, although the economic crisis is an altogether different matter. The Ukrainian language, in the long run, is a better subject for such a question. Its fundamental problem may, however, lie in the economic and demographic backwardness of the West, not in the fact that people speak Russian in the East and South.

NIBR has had research projects in Ukraine for a long time, for example on the improvement of service delivery in local government.

This year, NIBR’s International Dept. decided to expand our competence by giving the entire department a crash course in understanding Ukraine. Our partners, The Kyiv National Economic University (KNEU), arranged a one-day conference on regional differences in their country.

From left to right: Larisa Leontiivna Antonyuk (KNEU), Vivica Williams (KNEU), Marit Haug (NIBR), Olena Ihorivna Tsyrkun (KNEU)
Photo: Mikkel Berg-Nordlie