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

African cities, extreme events and climate change

What do you know about climate change, floods and the implications for urban governance in African cities?
by Trond Vedeld

I am just listening to Soulemane Gueye talking about various citizen neighbourhood groups in Saint Louis in Senegal and their capacity for engaging in flood risk management with the City Council and development agencies. Saint Louis is a coastal city situated at the mouth of the Senegal River and the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and extremely vulnerable to flood risks and sea level rise and related coastal erosion. One of this city’s assets in coping with floods is precisely its particular institutional history (former capital of the French West African colonial “empire”) and an evolution of civic associations (religious groups, youth groups, women groups, economic business groups) and local engagement in their dealing with the municipality and local state agencies.

Street life in Saint Louis

Soulemane is a PHd student from Gaston Berger University, and one among some 20 African and European researchers that have met for an important workshop at the University of Copenhagen on African cities and climate change. The workshop is organised in relation to a large-scale EU funded research and capacity building project CLimate change and Urban Vulnerability in Africa (CLUVA). Vist the CLUVA home page for more information!

The project is closely involved with urban stakeholders and UNHABITAT and works in five cities in different locations in Africa; three coastal cities; Dar es Salaam, Saint-Louis and Doala; and two inland cities; Ouagadougou and Addis Ababa. Each of these cities are faced with many of the same climate change and flood risk issues, but their challenges in governing risks differ a lot according to locational factors, social vulnerability, political economy and governance. CLUVA involves 16 partners including urban researchers and planning experts from universitites in each of these cities.

Addis Ababa

The integrated research approach of CLUVA involves research on climate scenarios, assessments of impacts, exposed areas, scoial vulnerability, adapatation strategies and governance looking towards what may constitute more climate resilient cities. CLUVA is in its third year of implementation and aims to develop methods and knowledge to be applied to these five African cities to manage climate risks, to reduce vulnerabilities and to improve their coping capacity and resilience towards climate changes.

The NIBR team on this EU project (Trond, Siri, Jan Erling, Inger-Lise) heads the work on extreme flood risks and city goverance, and have worked particularly with the cities of Dar es Salaam and Saint-Louis on multi-level governance and policy challenges in relation to city adaptation strategies and approaches for adaptation to future climate change variability and disaster risks.

The cities face very different challenges in this regard; the long term experience with flood risks with high impacts in Saint Louis seems to have created more local awareness over time and greater coordination capacity within the goveranance system for local level disaster response than what is observed in Dar es Salaam. In this regard, Saint Louis is faced with problems such as inadequate services for managing stormwater following heavy rainfall, waste water, solid waste and floods from the Senegal River. About 30% of the 200 000 inhabitants live in underserviced and unplanned informal settlements. In 2009, close to 80 000 were affected by floods.

In Dar es Salaam, which has a population of almost 5 million people, they have more recently experienced increasing problems with city-wide floods following major cloudbursts, and less awareness and capacity at different levels exists on flood risk management. In 2010, more than 40 people drowned in a flood event and throusands of houses were flooded. The share size of the city, with close to 80% of the people living in informal settlements; many of them exposed and vulnerable to floods, might be one reason why Dar es Salaam have not developed a systematic disaster risk mangement system at city level. Overall, Dar es Salaam represents a city with significant limitations in its governance system particularly with respect to public capacities to manage urbanization related to land management and control and development. Consequently, many of the low income settlements have emerged spontaneously on low-lying lands exposed to floods.

From Dar es Salaam

While as researchers we utilize the cities as “case studies” for furthering governance theory related to multi-level governance and network theory, there are also policy relevant findings coming out of CLUVA. Some policy relevant findings include that the cities, in order to address multiple risk and drivers of climate extremes and related social vulnerability, need to work on more strategic integration of disaster risk management and climate change adaptation in urban planning, governance and sector work. In particular, there is a need to provide disaster risk management an institutional “home” at municipal levels, ensure coordination and command and control systems for early warning and disaster response, while also move towards addressing social and spatial inequalities through developing climate-proofed strategies and investments for stormwater management, water and sanitation, solid waste collection and green space management in low-income areas. For this to happen financially strapped city municipalities need to be provided greater powers and financial support from their respecgtive state governments. State governments also lack financial resources, hence, assistance from international donors from countries responsible for the climate issues, should also take the urban climate change agenda more seriously and open for greater support of urban citizens and their struggles. The government also needs to look for ways of engaging a wider set of stakeholders in their cities on this agenda, including private business and civil society actors at the local level.

Do indigenous rights claims to natural resources help or hinder democracy in Nepal?

By Peris Sean Jones

The article Powering up the people? The politics of indigenous rights implementation: International Labour Organisation Convention 169 and hydroelectric power in Nepal looks at the role of International Labour Organisation Convention 169 (ILO 169) in struggles for indigenous rights. Nepal is a particularly apposite example, where ILO 169 is currently being invoked and contested in a process of political and state restructuring. The article focuses upon one sector, namely, water resources pertaining to hydroelectric power (HEP) development, with data based upon interviews with key stakeholders at both capital and district and local level, and also visits to three HEP project sites.

Ripuk within the Barun Valley, Nepal. Photo: Dhilung Kirat / Wiki Commons

Two main lessons are imparted primarily about rights-based approaches in general and indigenous rights more specifically. First, while ILO standards can be used to identify a country-level political and institutional vacuum and to promote procedural and substantive standards, implementation is hostage to entrenched political patronage and political culture. Second, rights-based approaches have their own effects particularly when claims are interpreted as absolute group rights, especially in highly diverse societies. An overall dilemma remains for Nepal: while significant political gains have emerged from indigenous rights movement mobilisation there is still a striking absence of (new) constitutional provisions, concrete institutional mechanisms, policy guidelines and delivery of tangible local benefits and with indications of high caste and other groups backlash.

More on ILO 169 and Nepal here on the blog

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

Droughts, farmers, and “low-regrets” options

Rural Maharashtra, India, April 2012.
Reflections from a field visit
by Guro Aandahl

The village child-care centre (‘anganwadi’) is packed. Seated along two walls is our group, 7 researchers from Norway and New Delhi and two NGO workers from urban Maharashtra and New Delhi. I struggle with shifting my legs in and out of something resembling a lotus position, as I wonder what the farmers (assembled here from three neighbouring villages) might be thinking of us.

Village meeting in Maharashtra. Photo: Guro Aandahl

We are researchers and development practitioners (from AFPRO, CICERO, NIBR, NIVA and TERI) on a brief visit to get a first and superficial introduction to how village communities in the drylands of Maharashtra suffer from, cope with, or adapt to drought and possible other damaging weather events. This is the beginning of the two-year research project “EVA” (Extreme Risks, Vulnerabilities and Community-Based Adaptation in India: a pilot study) which will hopefully also contribute to improved strategies for how people in this region can adapt to the climate of the future, with a probable increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like droughts, heavy and “untimely” rainfall, and heat waves.

Which strategies can be adopted at the community level, and how can government policies increase local resilience and reduce vulnerability?

Women cleaning drains before monsoon. Photo: Trond Vedeld

Living in the Rainshadow
In Maharashtra, droughts are not a new phenomenon brought on by climate change. The drylands of Maharashtra lie in the rainshadow behind the Western Ghat mountain range. Rainfall has always been limited (600-800 mm/year in Jalna district where we are), and the monsoon is of erratic character. Every fourth year is a drought year, according to the farmers. But ninety years ago, the drylands of Maharashtra was a famine belt. Now, recurring droughts cause crop losses, but not famines.

Social Connectedness Relieves Vulnerability
Historian Donald Attwood has shown how connections to markets and governmental systems for famine relief (in particular food-for-work programmes) have reduced the devastating effects of droughts over the last 90 years. Furthermore, irrigation systems and watershed development have improved dryland farming systems’ ability to withstand failing monsoons. The severe drought of 1970-1973 in Maharashtra had “almost no measurable demographic effects” (Attwood 2007:22), no increased mortality, no large-scale migration to other states.

The Mahatma Gandhi Act: State Action for Employment During Drought
After this drought, the Government of Maharashtra designed an Employment Guarantee Scheme which provides employment for unemployed farmers and rural labourers when agricultural activities come to a halt due to drought. These lessons from Maharashtra have been upscaled to an all-India level through the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act which was adopted by the Indian Parliament in 2005. India has responded to climatic challenges for centuries, and much is better now than in the past. To what extent will climate change and “global warming” require a radically new approach?

Starving livestock. Photo: Trond Vedeld

Climate Change and Local Risk Variation
This winter, the IPCC published a special report (known as “SREX”) on how to manage the risks of extreme events due to climate change. This comprehensive review of existing studies of climate change, extreme weather, and associated risks and vulnerabilities highlights the complexity and diversity of factors that shape human vulnerability to extremes. Why do extreme weather events become disasters for some communities and countries whereas weather of the same intensity can be less severe for others? What are some of the possible options for reducing the risks of and damages from climate extremes?

No Regrets?
The SREX report identifies so-called “low-regrets options” that can reduce exposure and vulnerability: measures that will not be regretted even if the scenarios we now have for the future climate turn out to be too pessimistic. Examples are improved water-management practices and the introduction and implementation of poverty-reduction schemes. What can India learn from the international experiences? And what can we learn from the Indian experience?

Drylands. Photo: Guro Aandahl

Pushing the Problem Downstream?
One “low-regret” measure is watershed development programmes, i.e. measures to capture and store rainwater through structures like checkdams and earthen bunds, preservation and planting of trees, and diversification of farming systems. This is particularly useful in monsoon climates with low and erratic rainfall. Such programmes have been implemented in Indian villages since the late 1980s. The village we are now in is one of the more successful within watershed development in its district. The farmers tell us that this has significantly increased the water level in their open wells, which is the main source of water for agriculture and drinking.

We ask whether neighbouring villages have done the same, and with the same benefits. Accompanied by low laughter among the farmers, they tell us that no, in fact the watershed development of the “success village” has reduced the availability of water in the neighbouring villages located at a lower elevation. Some new conflicts had been created as lower villages used to benefit from the run-off from the village we are now in.

Checkdam. Photo:Trond Vedeld

Increasing Yields…
We asked the farmers whether and how agricultural extension services are useful to them, that is, the agronomic advice given by experts from the Government’s Agricultural Department. The general answer was that they had benefitted much from this. For example, they had been advised to sow the monsoon crop right before the arrival of the monsoon, and not wait until the arrival of the first rains as they used to do. This increased the yields significantly.

…but also Risk
However, there was a downside: if the rain never comes, the investment in seeds, fertilizer, and labour is lost. With the earlier practice, farmers did not spend money on seeds and labour if the rain failed, hence the economic losses were less. So it seems that a practice that has increased prosperity in “normal” rainfall years might have increased vulnerability (or at least economic losses) in drought years. Has overall vulnerability then increased or decreased? Is the farming system more or less vulnerable to droughts? The SREX recommends poverty reduction schemes – can poverty reduction also make us more vulnerable?

Farmers in the Indian countryside. Photo: Trond Vedeld

A Problem to Every Solution
Again I am reminded of a small article written in 1985 by one of the pioneers of development research, Paul Streeten, titled “A problem to every solution”. “Development economics and policies on it have not failed; their very success has created new problems,” he wrote, “Scientific confidence asserts that there is a solution to every problem, but experience teaches us that there is a problem to every solution, and often more than one.” Can this be the case also within the rapidly growing policy field of adaptation to climate change?

Farmers and researchers by a well. Photo: Trond Vedeld.

“Mobilising Metaphors” – Masking Real Antagonisms?
The proliferation of catchy terms like “Climate-Smart Agriculture”, “Community-Based Adaptation”, and “Community Participation” signal a commendable quest for solutions to an important problem. If decision-makers pledge their political support to the agendas accompanying the terms, they can also be instrumental in a public deliberation process whereby various citizen groups and social movements hold decision-makers accountable to their words.

A village meeting outdoors. Photo: Guro Aandahl

The catch-phrases are useful as “mobilising metaphors” which are easy to rally around, which is important, but this may also be precisely because they mask the thoroughly political nature of rural development, the differences of interests, values, and ideologies that are an inherent part of human life.

However, if we want to understand why the policies and low-regrets adaptation options identified by planners, scientists, and scholars are often only partly recognisable after having been implemented in real-life settings, we’ll do well to also look for issues of differences in power, interests, perceptions, and knowledge. These thoughts race through my head as I observe our meeting and wait for the translation of the dialogue carried out in Marathi.

Who Gets to Speak – And What Does It Mean?
There are around 40 farmers present in our village meeting room, white shirts and ‘Nehru caps’ dominate. On the doorstep looking into the room is a man with a big turban-like headwear often worn by men from livestock-herding communities. In the corner near the door are three women and a child. Neither the man in the turban nor the women speak during our meeting. (Later, we find out that one of the women was the elected head of the village council (‘panchayat’) in the previous five-year council term when this post was reserved for women.)

Of course, there is valuable information in what the farmers say in the meeting. But it is also interesting to observe such “community meetings” as a microcosm from which we can catch a glimpse of the social structures that shape patterns of vulnerability at the village level. Who speaks? Who is silent? Who is inside the room? And who are not even present? And does this matter for the prospects for Community-Based Adaptation to climate extremes in the future?

Village Meeting: Inside and Outside. Photo: Guro Aandahl

Informality and urban governance in cities in South Africa

A lunch seminar organised by the NIBR Strategic Institute Programme Challenges for Governance and Planning in Cities and Municipalities, the Chance2Sustain project and UIO/Department of Sociology and Human Geography (ISS)

Time: Tuesday 24 April 12:00 – 13.30
Venue: NIBR, Forskningsparken/CIENS, Gaustadallèen 21, Oslo

Researchers from South Africa, UK and Norway will present their recent research on cities in South Africa and address the following issues:

a) Why is research on local urban politics important for understanding wider issues of urban governance?
b) Why is research on urban informality important in order to meet the planning/governance challenges of cities in South Africa?
c) Does urban research on/in the global South matter for urban researchers elsewhere?

Claire Benit-Gbaffou: Associate professor at the School of Architecture and Planning, Acting director: CUBES, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Research interests are African cities governance, urban politics, clientelism, local leadership.

Sophie Oldfield: Associate professor at the Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences, University of Cape Town. Research interests are state restructuring, urban change and social movement politics.

Glyn Williams, senior lecturer Department of Town and Regional Planning, University of Sheffield, research interest are international development and interactions between development programmes, governance practices, and citizenship in the Global South.

Marianne Milstein, associate professor in human geography, UIO/ISS, coordinator for development studies, research interests are local democratization, civil society politics, urban governance and politics in South African cities.

Berit Aasen/David Jordhus-Lier, senior researchers, NIBR, research interests are urban governance, informal settlement upgrading, participate in the EU funded project:

The seminar will be in English.