In the run-up to the elections on 20th May 2014, I am watching with anticipation. There are twelve candidates running in the presidential elections with four front runners; Joyce Banda (Peoples Party), Lazarus Chakwera (Malawi Congress Party), Atupele Muluzi (United Democratic Front), and Peter Mutharika (Democratic Progressive Party).

Joyce Banda is the current President; she assumed power after Bingu Wa Mutharika died whilst in office. Her move into the role of President was contentious as the time and since assuming the role, she has devalued the kwacha by nearly 50% and has re-secured support from donor countries and the IMF which had been withdrawn under the previous regime. Forex is no longer so difficult to get, tobacco prices have risen and there are no longer severe fuel shortages like there were in 2011. However, Banda was never actually elected, as Vice President it was the constitution that ensured she became president when her predecessor died.

Watching the election campaign from a distance, the colours of the PP and DPP, dominate the news headlines and it feels a little like this is a Banda v’s Mutharika race. Peter Mutharika is the brother of former president Bingu Wa Mutharika and is now the DPP candidate for the 2014 elections. He was allegedly involved in the plans to bypass the constitution after his brother’s death, to prevent the succession of Joyce Banda to the presidency. The DPP dominate in the southern region of Malawi, however they have the memory of Bingu’s final years in government overshadowing their campaign.

The Afro-barometer report on the upcoming Malawi elections surveyed adults of voting age and “based on the stated voting intentions of adult Malawians some six to eight weeks before the May 20, 2014 elections, their report stated the outcome of the elections is too close to call” (1). The below pie chart, taken from the Afro-barometer survey, illustrates how those asked would vote.

Malawi Election Pie Chart (2)

Whilst it is maybe too close to call, all the candidates for the Presidential elections have signed a Peace Declaration (2). The PAC (Public Affairs Committee Peace Declaration titled: Take a Stand against Violence in Malawi During and After Elections; hopes to engage the election candidates in ensuring a peaceful and democratic election and a process afterwards which is for the good of Malawi.

As I watch the political campaigns develop in the lead-up to the May 20 elections, I hope that they are free of violence. Of the four front runner in the election, the People’s Party continue to have a stronghold in the north, the MCP in the central region and the DPP, followed by the UDF in the southern region. Whilst the Afro-barometer poll suggests that the DPP have a slight lead, I do wonder if (or how much) the legacy of the DPP’s previous term in power and the memories of Bingu’s Government will influence their current chances. Is electing the DPP a chance Malawi can afford to take?

Reading the news, Banda has made some controversial decisions since her time as President, although she has managed to entice the international donors back to Malawi. Having made some unpopular decisions and viewed as not following through on all their promised, the PP has encountered some problems during their time in Government. The question is have they done enough to win an election?

As Election Day approaches, it looks like this 12 horse race has 4 (or maybe 2) front runners – now we have to wait and see who crosses the line first.

(1) http://www.afrobarometer.org/files/documents/dispatches/ab_r6_dispatchno1.pdf
(2) http://allafrica.com/stories/201405100138.html

By Miss Alli Coyle
PhD Candidate

Sam Spiegel

On February 26 and 27, two events were held in Edinburgh to discuss resource extraction and fair trade in Africa. Having had the chance to reflect on them both, both excellent stimulating events, I wanted to share some preliminary thoughts — and to also draw your attention to an upcoming event – the CAS Annual Conference – this year on ‘Mining and Political Transformations in Africa’ (coming up soon – April 24-25, 2014)!

The first event in February was a panel discussion event at the University of Edinburgh, with a group of panellists including Claude Kabemba (from Southern Africa Resource Watch), Chantal Daniels (from Christian Aid), Wolfgang Zeller (U of E) and Jana Hönke (U of E), with introductions by Sara Dorman (U of E). The discussion here was lively, and a great part of the debate explored why ‘resource conflicts’ in Africa need to be critically understood through a critical global political-economic lens.

The discussion highlighted the need to resist excessively narrow understandings of regional ‘resource conflict’ that reduce the matter of social conflict in African mining sectors to the matter of resource extraction, abundance, scarcity or dependence, without looking critically at wider political and institutional dimensions. While there are currently many global initiatives being promoted to halt the trade of ‘conflict resources’ – particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the panel brought a great deal of nuance to contemporary policy debates, looking at ways of challenging some of the simplistic narratives of causality and regional conflict in the ‘resource curse’ literatures.

Among other themes, Chantal Daniels spoke about some of the global ‘conflict resource’ initiatives to date and the struggle of NGOs to hold large companies to account to transparency standards and corporate social responsibility standards. Claude Kabemba then spoke about the global economic context for mining investment in Africa and the roles for regulating companies listed on the British stock exchange. Wolfgang Zeller spoke about the differences between prescriptive policy recommendation-oriented development reports and critically analytical policy analysis, and Jana Hönke spoke about the questionable distinctions that are often made between some of the so-called ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ forms of mining (which have a tendency to bias in favour of large-scale mining enterprises, rather than small-scale/artisanal mining), and debate with students followed.

Claude Kabemba is the executive director of Southern Africa Resource Watch (SARW), an NGO that I have found particularly interesting as it has been quite prominent and also quite nuanced in its critiques of recent global policy developments on ‘conflict diamond’ issues. SARW reports have offered timely analysis that rethinks the roles of policymakers and civil society organisations vis-à-vis the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme. For those of you who might not be familiar with SARW’s publications, I recommend taking a moment to read them (or some of them!); SARW publications cover a range of mining issues and related conflict challenges in Africa. Claude Kabemba is from the DRC and has a wealth of experience in various countries and he has been serving as the Executive Director of SARW based in Johannesburg, where he lives. His visit to Edinburgh attracted a great deal of interest among students and faculty. Shortly before his visit, I had just read his report “Kimberley Process – Through an African Lens: Reimagining Responsibilities and Definitions in a Changing Mining Sector” (available on the SARW website), which provides a multi-layered critical analysis of recent global mining reform efforts. His work provides both policy analysis and geopolitical analysis of policymaking processes that strike at the heart of major mining sector reform disputes. Some of the messages that emerged from his talk in Edinburgh: the need to conceptualise the expansion of poorly regulated mining in Africa in the context of disputed global practices of investment and regulation; the need to historically contextualise current political developments in the mining sector, understanding colonial legacies and post-colonial injustices; the need for carefully understanding how mining developments can lead to experiences of local community dispossession; and the need for understanding the weak capacity of states to effectively and equitably manage mining. Notably, SARW is also involved directly in training some government bodies in Africa on mining sector management and has been at the forefront of efforts to form Africa-wide partnerships to try to tackle mining sector inequities.

Some of these themes were further explored in the second event held this past week – an event at the Scottish Parliament on February 27, which was well attended by parliamentarians and members of the public, sponsored in part by the University of Edinburgh and led by Jana Hönke and Sara Dorman. Here Claude Kabemba delivered a lively presentation following Martin Plaut (former BBC Africa editor), who also delivered a fascinating presentation addressing social dimensions of resource extraction in Africa and the urgent need for reforms. Among other key messages in his speech: more attention needs to be given to efforts to radically reform resource extraction sectors in Africa, and he cited, for example, the work of Leigh Day, a legal firm that has recently been seeking to hold multinational mining companies accountable under international laws for human rights issues. Humza Yousaf, Scottish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Development, gave a presentation highlighting the importance of efforts to promote fair trade and strengthen Africa-Scottish relations, and Sarah Boyack, MSP for Lothian and Convenor of the International Development Cross Party Group, spoke further on the importance of fair trade and the work of development partnerships in Africa. In response to audience questions, the speakers urged for more attention on tackling secrecy and non-transparent practices in mining sector financing, investment and regulation.

These are all pressing issues and mining reform is now a hugely topical issue in Africa. It is great to see that many students were keenly engaged in both events. There is a great deal of interest in pursuing these issues more and notably: in April, the University of Edinburgh’s Centre of African Studies will be hosting its annual conference on the topic of “Mining and Political Transformations in Africa” (April 24-25, 2014). I warmly invite you to register for the conference and come and discuss some of these themes in further depth with a great group of speakers from various countries! Some of the presenters include Zitto Kabwe (Member of Parliament from Tanzania), Roy Maconachie (University of Bath), Deborah Bryceson (University of Oxford), Miles Larmer (University of Oxford), to name just a few… We have speakers from seven countries coming, a representative of ICMM (International Council on Mining and Metals) will be joining, among others, and it should provide lots of great opportunity for exploring recent research on mining in Africa and implications arising, for research and for policy-making. Registration form can be found here:


Part 2

African Union Commission, 7th June 2013, The African Border Day

“You see? Chigger yeullem! We made it!”, the taxi driver, who has just conducted an impressive race through the Addis morning traffic smiles triumphantly at me as his Lada rolls down Roosevelt Avenue to the GIZ-AU office, located directly opposite the AU compound. And true enough – against all odds – we made it just on time. The 7th of June officially commemorates the creation of the AUBP and is supposed to be celebrated annually both at the AU-level and within its member states as the African Border Day. High-level African and non-African politicians and diplomats in Addis Ababa, as well as various experts and official representatives have gathered in the Old Plenary Hall of the AUC.

The first photo below is when the German Ambassador is honoured with great applause as she hands over electronic copies of all archives, including maps, treaties and colonial documents, formerly held by the German Government, to the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security. It is a historic moment of success – both for the image of German Development Cooperation and for the AUBP which has requested this more than symbolic handover of political and state affairs concerning African boundaries into African ownership.

German Amb_Commissioner Lamamra_comp

The photo below shows the launch of the AUBP guidebook series by the Head of the Programme, Ambassador Aguibou Diarrah. For me personally, this was a moment of relief after several weeks of struggle to finalise the products, have them shipped to Addis, clear them from customs and eventually see them presented at the African Border Day. Just in time, but chigger yeullem…

20130607_African Border Day

Most touching, however, are the testimonies given by the two women shown in the following, one from Burkina Faso and the other from Mali. They shyly described in their respective languages the positive impacts of the Cross-Border Health Centre between their villages. It was a half day of ceremonious joy and optimism with praises to the AUBP and its partners but also a day of formality, which was impressive and exhausting at the same time.


Places and faces of Ethiopia

As usually more than 45 hours of the week were spent in the office or in other work-related settings, and thus one is tempted to seize any opportunity to balance every-day work life with experiences of “real” life in the host country. That said, it is difficult to express what “real life” implies in the Ethiopian context, especially due to the fact that there are such profound differences between habesha (Ethiopian) and expat perspectives. Indeed, although most ferenjis (foreigners) coming to Ethiopia indulge in the cultural richness of traditional food, textiles and music, it still seems impossible to touch more than the surface of the true identity of this proud nation. Behind many a smile there are every-day worries that ferenjis in the country might not always be able to fully comprehend. While one section of the society enjoys the highest and yet comparably “affordable” living standards, others have to cope with constant fear of losing their houses and homes in favour of “urban development”, inflationary food prices, and lack of freedom of expression. Poverty, politics, ethnicity and religion are highly sensitive subjects in this diverse nation, which is far from being as unified as it seems to be. Barely perceivable tensions between Muslim and Christian political groupings, as well as between the government and opposing movements are smouldering ‘flames’ which could burst into ‘fire’. The role of the international development community in reinforcing inequalities and increasing gaps between the rich and the poor in Ethiopia should also be subject to more critical scrutiny.

Yet, on a human-to-human basis, the hospitality of the local population is remarkable, as is its general sense of dignity. Equally stunning, in my own experience, is the way in which Muslim and Christian Ethiopians live not only side by side, but with each other, extending mutual invitations to Fasika (Orthodox Easter) and Eid (end of Ramadan), and attending Mosques next to Orthodox Churches, so that it is impossible to distinguish whose religious chants wake you from sleep in the wee hours of the morning. It is close to impossible to briefly capture in writing the richness of impressions I gained from Ethiopia on a daily basis. The following photos display but a tiny fracture of Ethiopian places and faces on the ground-level, absolved from the fictive worlds of politics and state diplomacy.


Megenagna bus station on the East-side of Addis Ababa


What does the bus bring? Mother and her barefoot child in their highland home. Miles away from the next public infrastructure.


Construction sites and modern glass buildings – banks, hotels, commercial centres, etc. – propping up everywhere. Many of them displacing the traditional homes of local residents.


Waiting in the wings. Professional Ethiopian runners at the 7km Coca Cola Race in Addis Ababa.


Out and about with habesha friends. The mountains surrounding Addis Ababa offer brilliant opportunities for hiking and refreshing weekend escapes from the city.


Tranquility above the crowds – an old man overlooking the Lalibela market


Camel market in Babile.

Kristin Fedeler

MSc Africa and International Development (2011 – 2012)

Part 1

Addis Ababa, 7th June 2013, 07:55 am  

Chigger yeullem, eshi?” the taxi driver assures me time and again, “chigger yeullem, no problem!” An inconspicuous glance at my watch makes me doubt that such complacence is justified right now. Only 20 minutes to go until I am supposed to be at the office, heavy traffic jams to be expected at the infamous Mexico Square, which has become a tight bottleneck of a dirt-road between two large gaping holes ever since construction works began for a tram line supposed to cross the city from East to West (and people complained about the tram works in Edinburgh?!), and no sign that the old lada I chose for transport today might decide to start running again. As I watch all sorts of vehicles, fully packed buses, pedestrians, sheep, goats and donkeys pass us by, I feel an urge to get out of the taxi and join their flow – even more so, knowing the importance of this day and all the energy committed to its preparation…

The City

I landed at Bole International Airport early in the morning on 9th March 2013, therewith embarking on an eye-opening journey into many new worlds. The first one: Addis Ababa – the “New Flower” – a vibrant, most rapidly developing city of 4-5 million (probably more, if there were trustworthy demographic figures); a city of contrasts between “slums” (chika bets), condominiums of questionable durability, beautiful mountain villages, construction sites, banks, hotels, commercial centres and people, people everywhere – a most bizarre blend of people from the poorest ranks of society – surviving with far less than the UN’s $ 1.25 per day – to the ‘ordinaries’, perhaps earning a gross salary of  between ETB 3,000 – ETB 4,000 per month (1 British Pound = 30.86 Ethiopian Birr), to the ‘wealthy’ (Ethiopian business magnates and Western expats including aid workers and detached corps diplomatique) thriving on generous incomes. Addis Ababa the political capital of Africa, the world’s fourth highest host of embassies and diplomatic missions, also hosting several UN regional agencies as well as the African Union headquarters, which throughout 2013 embarked on commemorating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity.

Background: “From Barriers to Bridges: Support to the African Union Border Programme”

Addis Ababa is also the headquarter of the African Union Border Programme (AUBP) within the AU Peace and Security Department, and the corresponding project of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, labelled From Barriers to Bridges – Support to the AUBP. It is with this GIZ project that I have been an intern and consultant for the past nine months.

As a continental Programme, the AUBP is the embodiment of the high-level political ambition to link up peace, security, development and regional integration, first and foremost, by means of clear demarcation of and firm agreement upon Africa’s international boundaries. Already in 1964, at the First Ordinary Session of the Assembly of African Heads of State and Government, a consensus emerged for OAU Member States “to respect the borders existing on the achievement of national independence”, considering that “borders constitute a grave and permanent factor of dissention”. Despite not explicitly referring to the uti possidetis iuris principle, Resolution 16(1) of the Cairo Declaration from 1964 thus laid the legal foundations for the intangibility, even sanctity, of African borders, as they were geographically defined during colonial times, aiming to forestall potential disputes related to territorial sovereignties.

Nevertheless, African borders have often been perceived as “barriers” to development, particularly due to their historical creation, their contested nature and, in most cases, their lack of physical visibility (demarcation) on the ground. Indeed, borderlands are areas with high conflict potential. To quote from the GIZ project offer:

 “When African borders were determined [most prominently at the Berlin Conference of 1884/85], ethnic groups were arbitrarily divided or put together in multinational states; in many cases with no consideration of the interests of the people involved. The borders drawn on the maps were never precisely demarcated, especially in inaccessible areas. For pragmatic reasons, natural but imprecise orientation points, such as rivers or mountains instead of boundary posts, often served to demarcate sections of the border. For fear of provoking (new) conflicts by redrawing the borders, the independent African states took over these badly and imprecisely demarcated territorial borders – a legacy of the colonial period – in 1964, and these were confirmed in further OAU and AU Declarations and Resolutions. In the course of the ensuing decades, some of the dysfunctional borders became a recurring bone of contention, particularly in the context of conflicts over resources.”

In this vein, the African Union Border Programme (AUBP) was created in 2007 on behalf of the Assembly of African Heads of State and Government with the vision of “uniting and integrating Africa through peaceful, open and prosperous borders.” Commissioned by the German Federal Foreign Office, GIZ supports the implementation of the AUBP at the continental, regional, national and local levels. Rendering technical, financial and strategic assistance, GIZ and AUBP are currently involved in 15 African countries through respective staff and partners on the ground.

Operationalisation of the Programme

As a matter of state sovereignty, borders are primarily managed on a bilateral level. Two African states must officially agree to demarcate their joint border by erecting boundary pillars which mark the end of one jurisdiction and the beginning of the other. As opposed to demarcation – which is (almost) a plain field operation – border delimitation is a more complex (and more politically charged) process, necessitating solid reference material for the definition of the boundary line. Not only historical maps, treaties and contracts play a legal role here, but also the analysis of up-to-date satellite imagery depicting the topography, infrastructure and human settlements of the borderlands.

At the same time as supporting AU member states in conducting desk and field work for border delimitation and demarcation, the AUBP actively promotes cross-border cooperation. For example: A border dispute between Burkina Faso and Mali had been settled by the ICJ in 1986, and GIZ/AUBP facilitated the complete demarcation of the border by 2010. Yet, land use and resource conflicts continued to persist between local populations and nomadic tribes in the borderland. To alleviate tensions, upon consultation with respective village representatives, jointly managed granaries and a cross-border health centre, equidistant from Ouarokuy (Burkina Faso) and Wanian (Mali), were installed to facilitate good-neighbourly relations between the border communities.

As a third component, the AUBP seeks to build African support capacities to enhance the future sustainability of African border management. This includes strengthening relations with African universities, research and training institutes, and encouraging the creation of academic/training modules to develop an African knowledge infrastructure which inspires pragmatic approaches to border management. A material output of this effort is the publication of a series of guidebooks, available via this link: http://www.aubis.peaceau.org/guide-books-and-documents-african-borders.

Regional Meeting in Zambia

It was an enriching experience for me to participate in the biannual review/planning meeting between four AUBP implementation countries in Siavonga, Zambia. The delegations from Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia, are usually constituted by Surveyor Generals and their staff, working within their national government ministries dedicated to border issues. Every reunion includes a site visit.  In July 2013, this was the Kariba Hydro-Electric Power Station, one of the largest dams of the world, dividing the Zambezi River between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and representing another landmark of cross-border cooperation.

Photos: Zambezi River – Kariba Dam (constructed between 1955 and 1959) – Zimbabwean tourists



Back in Lusaka, a thriving capital with American-style malls and infrastructure not to be imagined in Addis yet, a visit at the Zambian Survey Department under the Ministry of Lands, Natural Resources and Environment, provided insights into the technicalities of the mapping, survey and cadastral services of the Department and served as primary source for the GIZ needs assessment (particularly in relation to necessary material procurements). 


 Image               Image

Photos: Photogrammetric stereo-plotter (mainly used for the production of topographic maps), Map section of the Zambia-Malawi border which crosses local infrastructure (Katete School).

Kristin Fedeler

MSc Africa and International Development (2011 – 2012)

(To be continued next week)

I went to a cracking lecture Monday night courtesy of Edinburgh University’s Global Development Academy (link). It’s always a pleasure to hear Duncan Green (link) speak. He bridges the sometimes gaping divide between practitioner and academic and their linguistic worlds. It was a pretty broad-brush look at the changing development landscape since 2008; everything from the financial crash to the ‘Arab Spring’ and all the geo-political seismology in between. There was something for everyone in the room, reflected in the wide-ranging nature of the questions.

One question, however, has given me pause for thought. Someone asked how researchers can maximise their impact in the policy/practitioner sphere. Green gave examples of longitudinal studies, returning to particular communities over time. There were examples of challenging dominant economic indices, such as GDP, which say little about the well-being of poor people. This is good. What is less relevant, he suggested, was some obscure discourse analysis on a policy paper – ‘we don’t read it’ he said, ‘nothing post-modern please!’ and we laughed.

I felt my cheeks flush, given my sympathies with post-modern, or more accurately, post-structuralist, thought in my research. ‘Damn it’, I thought, ‘I’m so irrelevant’. As I mused a bit more on Green’s talk, however, I realised that much of the content is actually the stuff of post-structuralism (and/or critical theory).[i] Post-structuralism is still dominated by the influence of Foucault’s work, despite his rejection of the term (but whose name I’ll lazily borrow for brevity). And the academic practice of post-structuralism (whether we like the term or not) has had a profound influence in ways sometimes as covert as the workings of power it tries to excavate.

Firstly, the lecture’s recurring theme of power. Foucault’s all-encompassing, subjugating brand of power is infamously vague and at times conflated with authority, legitimacy/legitimation and all sorts. Not to mention the fuzzy definitions of ‘governmentality’ and the (mis)applications this has given rise to. Overly broad political concepts were Foucault’s bread and butter to the point where they sometimes said so much they said nothing at all. However, few would contest that Foucauldian thought has contributed to a broader conception of power from a classical one of power over (normally vis-à-vis institutional power/authority) to a more nuanced, situational and relational understanding. Power does not exclusively reside in individuals or institutions, but is relational within each ‘complex strategic situation’ in a particular society (Foucault, M., The History of Sexuality, 1979, p.93). ‘There are hidden power dynamics in this room that I can’t see’ Green said. Quite. Localising power, contrary to Foucault’s critics, is actually quite ‘empowering’, to borrow some dev-speak.

Secondly, Green’s musings on how and when power speaks to knowledge. There has been no fundamental reform to the international financial system that precipitated the crash. Indeed. In fact, there has not even been any fundamental challenge to the (neo)classical macroeconomic principles that it is grounded on, nor how they are taught in universities. Why? Well, Chakrabortty spells it (link) out but it’s the power/knowledge nexus through and through; knowledge has always been bound to the interests of the most powerful. And knowledge production, including in development, has always been dominated by centres in the industrialised north. It’s this process that NGOs like Oxfam profess to subvert.

Thirdly, I wouldn’t dismiss discourse analysis given the power of the written word that Green himself took pains to emphasise. He deconstructed the recipe for a good campaign, highlighting how the language messaging is couched in is deliberately equivocal, multi-faceted and referential. In fact, sometimes in the process of bid-writing, it is good for NGOs to play the game in using free market-laden terminology to speak to power. Spin-doctors, politicians, marketers, campaigners and even statisticians have been doing this for years; fudging language, imbuing it with ambiguity, finding ways to resonate with broader norms and stereotypes, including negative ones. Discourse analysis is one tool in prising this apart. For Foucault, the point is to ‘discover who does the speaking’ and ‘the positions and viewpoints from where they speak’ (ibid., p11).

But post-structuralism isn’t all discourse analysis. And there is an issue with it is whereby systems of power become fixed and subjectivities subsumed. The other side to post-structuralism, therefore, places localised political and social practices more central to the field of analysis. This is not necessarily in a bid to bolster or qualify policy-making but as reversal of dominant epistemologies, or as Foucault would put it, the ‘insurrection of subjugated knowledges’. As O’Malley & Clifford point out (Governmentality, criticism, politics, Economy and Society, 26(4), 1997), this element of Foucault’s work has been neglected. Yes, Foucault’s own empirical work itself was poor. Doesn’t mean the approach is.

Fourthly, Green’s interest in complex, adaptive systems. I don’t think anyone embraced the complexity and breadth of societal systems, both at the macro and micro, more wholeheartedly than Foucault. He was panoptic to a fault. This, as Green said, stops much in the way of prediction, but we get a hell of a lot better at understanding. Complexity theory, along with other thrusts in the world of science, has undermined social scholarship’s aspirations of a ‘scientific’ mode of enquiry, should such a thing have existed. The ‘Newtonian’ conception of cause and effect has little relevance in the messy and unpredictable world of the ‘sciences of man’ (Taylor, C., Interpretation and the Sciences of Man, Review of Metaphysics, 25(1), 1971). We can’t isolate and measure this stuff, so let’s get up close to try understand it.

Oxfam has a long and proud tradition of asking the bigger, more politicised questions regarding developmental discourse and practice. This comes down to its position at the top of the NGO tree. When they go to ask DFID for a million quid they take notice. Part of this is because they are very good at what they do and attract the best minds. It’s also to do with the security and diversification of their funding. They’re able to innovate, collaborate and self-critique from a position of power. They don’t lose funding if they admit failure – they write a paper and everyone reads it. These aren’t luxuries smaller NGOs can afford. That’s why most NGO activity is a murky, unregulated, grey area where accountability is pitifully poor. Oxfam should be applauded in its ability to challenge dominant discourse, the production and reification of ‘knowledge’ and to amplify the voices of those excluded. No wonder they don’t have time to read anything ‘post-modern’ – they’re already doing it.

Kathy Dodworth, PhD Student in Politics.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Kathy Dodworth @dodgington

Duncan Green @fp2p

[i] Post-modernism refers to a broader literary/cultural movement, often conflated with post-structuralism. I use the term where quoting Dr. Green. Post-structuralism shares a critical position with regard to studying society via distinct categories and the tools of deconstruction/textual analysis. Critical theory, associated with Habermas and the Frankfurt School, also shares these tools but is more optimistic in human capacity to transcend the categories/constructs used to define them.

Over the past few weeks the disappearance of a drill-ship belonging to Ghana’s National Petroleum Company (GNPC) has featured heavily in Ghanaian media. When the story first broke, in mid-October, the newspapers presented a story of a ship that had just gone of the radar. A radio-host suggested that maybe the ship was attacked by pirates? As the story unfolds, the pirates in this case are not those at sea, but those well placed inside government offices.

When Ghana discovered domestic oil of the west coast they decided to commercialize its national petroleum company to utilize its oil resources according to ‘international best practices’. The rebranding of the company included removing its regulatory powers to detach the company from the state bureaucracy. So far, GNPC’s previous entanglement with the government is bringing down its new strategy as an efficient national petroleum company seeking to maximize the Ghanaian share of the petroleum resources. The disappearance of the ship is one of these examples, having to give away its share of the jubilee field to China for a loan is another.

As it turns out, the drilling ship belonging to GNPC was sold in 2001 to pay a judgement debt to the French Bank Societe Generale ordered by a UK court. However, there are no transcripts or documentation that the sale of the drilling ship was ordered by the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum. Furthermore, the Bank of Ghana is not able to trace the sale or the record of whom received the money. The 24 million worth drilling ship is gone, and so is the money. Even the deal that was struck with the French bank in the 1990s is questionable. What is the result of this mess? It is too early to make final conclusions; people are still blaming their predecessors and holding on to details that exclude them from the case. As for the new and improved GNPC, they have hired a new CEO, one with a reputation for cleaning up the downstream petroleum industry, and who is now expected to do the same with the upstream industry.

My research is actually based in the downstream petroleum industry, which is the refining, marketing and retail of petroleum products. The GNPC is a part the upstream, the development and extracting of oil-fields. However, the story of the ship that disappeared seems to reflect Ghana’s petroleum industry as a whole. Huge resources go missing, there is a short process of shame and blame, and the same people who were to blame are relocated to another part of the industry. For the downstream industry this is well exemplified with the countries only refinery, Tema Oil Refinery (TOR). The refinery’s debt is extremely high, and a great portion of that was attracted within the last 15 years. Some of the people who were responsible for the mismanagement of the refinery now own one of the biggest oil-import companies, making of course a huge profit on the fact that the refinery is not working properly (while also being responsible for it!).

Who pays for this? The Ghanaian petrol consumer. In the petroleum product price build up, one of the price factors is the ‘TOR debt recovery levy”. This means, that whenever Ghanaians pay for their petrol at a filling station they also pay for the mismanagement of TOR (implying that they are paying official price at a legal station). This is of course not common knowledge among the Ghanaian population, which is repeatedly assured by the government that the Ghanaian oil story is going to be a very different one to that seen in sub-Saharan Africa the last decades.

Monica Skaten, CAS PhD student

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

While studying the MSc Africa and International Development program, I applied for a work-based placement (WBP) with the Scottish Fair Trade Forum. My interests within development studies have always been largely sustainability-oriented, and, for me, this provided the perfect platform to further this interest within a research capacity, especially in light of Scotland’s recent achievement of ‘Fair Trade Nation’ status in early 2013. It was a six to eight week ‘internship’, where I was to conduct qualitative interviews in two Scottish towns of my choice: one with Fair Trade Town status, the other without. Using both towns, I explored the way ‘spatiality relations’ and ‘spaces’ impact Scottish Fair Trade within the context of social justice and an ‘ethic of care’, and how the politics of space can be both enabling and exclusionary for certain audiences in Scotland, as well as for Fair Trade producers in the ‘global South’.

The topic of the research itself evolved significantly throughout the beginning stages of the project, and actually only became a concrete focus after I shadowed a Fair Trade Steering Group committee meeting in Balerno, a small town on the outskirts of Edinburgh, that highlighted the importance of the church as a platform for Fair Trade advocacy, specifically within their locale. With the guidance of my contact at the Forum, I shadowed a number of these Fair Trade meetings in local municipalities before my placement began, in order to get a sense of the kinds of issues I would be dealing with during my research, and to observe the aspirations and limitations that both Fair Trade, and non-Fair Trade Towns were experiencing.

After hearing the issues raised by committee members and townsfolk alike, I realised just how critical a role ‘space’ played within the Fair Trade movement, whether it was through the influence of the church and Christian-sponsored ethical consumerism, or how the presence of the Fair Trade logo and Fair Trade goods on supermarket shelves impacted consumerist behaviour. These were physical elements of Fair Trade’s socio-spatialities, and I extended this research further to include its semiotic engagement with producers as ‘the others’, and the binding relationship it created within its ‘environment of responsibility’.

The interviews themselves were conducted in Musselburgh, and Dalgety Bay; both towns I chose for their relative proximity to Edinburgh, and their comparative population size, and I was fortunate to speak to a few committee members on the Fair Trade Steering Groups of both towns for my research. It was an immensely rewarding experience! We usually met for coffee, and I voice-recorded each interview, (about an hour long), individually and separately, and transcribed them at home. After that, it was a matter of highlighting the key elements and discourse that typified the inclusionary and limiting aspects of the ‘spaces’ of Fair Trade, and pinpointing the issues raised within a physical, social and ethical context. The result, as to be expected, was nothing like I had imagined it to be in the project’s early conception, yet was more interrogative of the many facets of Fair Trade as a form of alternative development. It opened my eyes to the sheer complexities of sustainability, ethical consumerism and its global consciousness.

In the journal entries we were to keep throughout the project, I fully acknowledged my ignorance about the Fair Trade movement in the early stages of the research, which quite simply boiled down to a naïve one-track conception of a linear process between producer and consumer, and the mutual benefits reaped along the way. However, thanks to the absolute wealth of debates surrounding the efficacy of Fair Trade in the economic market on the Internet, in literature, and even within the discourse of my interviewees, my perspective allowed for a more informed analysis that even touched on the psychology of ‘well-being’ within a moral economy, and the difference between ‘Fair Trade’ and ‘trading fairly’. It was a complex topic that seemed to change course continually, but the overall scope was an incredibly interesting field to research. I loved having the opportunity to debate with my interviewees about the various approaches to Fair Trade and its achievements and challenges, and how each interviewee was intensely passionate about the movement. This was conveyed to me in the way Fair Trade had already impacted their town, or how they hoped it would in the near future.

When I ‘shadowed’ the Fair Trade Steering Groups in different towns, including ones outside my research groups, it was always interesting to note where the meetings were held, who from the community was present, and the issues they focused on in order to integrate Fair Trade within everyday life as much as possible. In terms of my research and the significance of ‘space’, the fact that almost every meeting I attended was held inside a church, reflected the initial discussion of how ‘socio-spatialities’ affect Fair Trade. It was fairly commonplace that the power and spread of religion was used as a major platform for promoting Fair Trade, as its outreach in small communities is relatively widespread. I noted, however, that this was as much exclusionary as it was inclusive, and it was also interesting that the church played a much more insignificant role within large cities such as Edinburgh, where more ‘neutral’ territories were used, such as city halls. This was just one aspect of many in the incredibly nuanced moral geography of Fair Trade. My overall observations informed three segments: the geographies of distance and locality, geographical socio-spatialities, and the ethical connection and the quotidian. While I made each area its own category for the sake of organisation, each is inextricably linked to the other, where they contribute to ethical debates on what it means to play a role in a moral economy. It goes into defining awareness, as well as interrogating the limitations that ethical advocacies present for the movement itself to exist within the realm of ‘social justice’. Within my conclusions, I noted how significant these discussions are for Fair Trade organisations, and the implications for other NGO’s as they co-exist in alternative development with mainstream global economics.

Overall, it was an intellectually rewarding and informative experience, providing me with an insight into the inner workings of Fair Trade communities and those still aspiring to achieve that status. The final report for the Scottish Fair Trade Forum was designed to shed light on this niche area within Fair Trade as Scotland continues to forefront the international Fair Trade movement, and I hope that it proves useful for them in the future!

 Grace O’Donovan, former CAS MSc student


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.