The ten University of Edinburgh students taking part in the Swahili Summer School have now been in Tanzania for a little over a week. This is an intense period of studies organised by Tom Molony and Steve Kaye, CAS lecturers. The students arrived in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s commercial capital, on 25th July. The next day they flew to Mwanza, Tanzania’s second city on the shores of Lake Victoria. After Sunday lunch they continued to Butiama, the final destination and their home for the next four weeks. In Butiama they were greeted by their host Madaraka Nyerere, a son of ‘Mwalimu’ (teacher) Julius Nyerere, the first President of Tanzania. Butiama sits at an altitude of around 1,400 metres above sea level (higher than Ben Nevis!), and is populated by the Zanaki ethnic group.

The daily routine in Butiama starts with breakfast at 0800, followed by the first lesson of the day at 0900. After a short tea break at 1100, the students are split into groups for tutorials and conversation practice with Gaudensia, Grace and Saidi, experienced Tanzanian Swahili language instructors from different parts of the country.


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So far the students have mastered: greetings in Swahili (there are many!); numbers and time; and food and market vocabulary. They are also now competent with the past, present and future tenses in both the affirmative and negative forms. Their first examination took place on Friday morning. The teachers were positively surprised by the fast progress of all the students. This is a reflection on both the quality of those who were selected for this Summer School course, and also the remarkable effort that each has put in to learning Swahili language.

After lunch on weekdays the students have the opportunity to rest and/or do their homework. In the late afternoon various cultural events have been arranged. The first activity this week was a visit to the shops in Butiama, where some of the students took the opportunity to play draughts with a local champion. Others put their basic Swahili to the test by buying mobile phone credit. Later on some evenings the students have taken part in dancing, drumming and singing lessons, given by John, a teacher from the neighbouring Sukuma ethnic group. The students will have eight dancing, drumming and singing lessons in total, with the aim of them performing a show before they leave Butiama.


Another visit to the village was to meet students and teachers at Butiama A Primary School. The schoolchildren sang ‘Tanzania, Nakupenda kwa Moyo Wote’ (‘Tanzania, I love you with all my heart’), to which the unprepared University of Edinburgh students replied with an under-whelming rendition of ‘Flower of Scotland’. This was later redeemed by a rousing performance of ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’.

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On Wednesdays the students and teachers visit the local market. This week students were split into groups of two and were tasked with buying different fruit and vegetables for the group meals. The coming week’s purchases will include buying basins for hand washing clothes. Zawadi, our local guide, gave a clothes washing demonstration today. Students also dyed pots that they have been making this week with the assistance of two potters from the nearby village of Busegwe. The potters – a grandmother and her step-daughter – have learnt the craft from their ancestors, and usually sell their wares at the weekly market in Butiama and in Busegwe. The students’ pots will be fired on Tuesday.

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This weekend’s excursion was to a settlement called Bujora, near Mwanza. The students visited the Sukuma museum and watched, and in some cases participated in, local dances. One dance involved a large python. In addition to learning aspects of local culture, in the late afternoons students also play sports – rounders is a favourite – and in the evenings they watch films. Amongst those movies they watched a Swahili language dubbed version of ‘Kirikou and the Sorceress’, an animated film based on a West African legend. Mariah has now assumed the name ‘Kirikou’. The other students have been given the following local names, which they use with varying degrees of enthusiasm: ‘Amina’ (Molly), ‘Baraka’ (Ryan), ‘Furaha’ (Lauren), ‘Jasiri’ (Saskia), ‘Malaika’ (Josie), ‘Neema’ (Jenny), ‘Pendo’ (Mairi), ‘Pipi’ (Emily) and ‘Warioba’ (Blair).


By Tom Molony (Senior Lecturer in African Studies)


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Ask a physicist how distant Edinburgh is from Glasgow and he/she will confidently produce a figure in kilometers. Ask a political geographer and you may be confronted with a disheartening reply: what is distance? The New Political Topographies conference last May, hosted by the Centre of African Studies in Edinburgh, convened not a few scholars of the what-is-distance breed. It was hardly surprising therefore that intricate questions surfaced every so often. As eager fellows of the what-is-distance brotherhood, Jana Hönke and I also contributed our little grain of sand to the mess conference. Thus our paper asked: which analytical road to go down to apprehend how African ports are governed? Topographies or topologies?

Queried about how ports are governed, many political geographers would cheer up with relief and provide a confident answer: ports are operated as territorial spaces and, as such, enforcing the rule over goods and people within their premises involves a twofold mechanism: exclusive jurisdiction by a handful of public agencies, and securitization of access. Only under that premise can cargo be inspected, appraised and taxed – the ultimate goal of state authority in African ports, as well as in ports anywhere. For many a political geographer, hence, scrutinizing the ways in which power is exerted locally – that is, a topographical approach – is the obvious analytical choice. Political topography tends to imagine ports as enclaves – like, say, mines – in order to disclose how intensively and extensively port authorities wield power.

Inspecting second-hand cars in the port of Dar es Salaam. Source: TICTS.

Inspecting second-hand cars in the port of Dar es Salaam. Source: TICTS.

The archetypical ‘what-is-distance political geographer’, though, might feel unimpressed by the hasty reply of his/her colleague. He/she would probably point instead to the fact that African port authorities have seen their arms twisted by, when not enthusiastically embraced themselves, a transnational utopia of unhindered logistical flows. Over the last decade the volumes of minerals and raw agricultural produce shipped eastwards from Durban, Dar es Salaam or Mombasa have multiplied. At the same time, mammoth vessels have become a common sight in African harbors. They carry cheap plastic homeware from China for the Mama Biasharas of East Africa as well as fancy smartphones for the rising upper class. Ports around the continent, since long the interface of extensively internationalized economies, have felt compelled to accommodate to a new paradigm of logistical expansion. According to a globalized logistics mantra, African customs and port authorities must now conceive of performance as a blend of revenue targets and expeditious cargo clearing. Accordingly, speed, dwell times and mobility have become the words of the day in the administrative jargon. Likewise, that jargon has also been colonized by fresh representations; bureaucratic imaginaries of ports as checkpoints have given way to representations of the latter as maritime gateways. Consequently, territorial strategies of taxation and securitization have muted in parallel. They have done so as a response to ideals – still to be accomplished – of seamless connections between ports, their hinterlands and nodes of consumption that remain distant in space yet not in time anymore. Unsurprisingly, for transport geographers, mobility as well as topological accounts of authority unrelated to physical closeness, have gained prominence vis-à-vis topographical perspectives centered upon authority over enclosed spaces. What-is-distance political geographers have felt vindicated.

Undeniably what-is-distance political geographers have much to say about how ports are governed. However, we also esteem conventional notions that claim, for instance, that taxation in ports remains to a large extent a territorial affair. Why not exploring then a métissage of geographical sensibilities? Our paper tries to do so, thereby advocating for a ‘topolographist’ approach cutting across topographies and topologies. The paper explores the fertile intersection of two processes: the production of territoriality and the topologies of proximity/distance in and around ports. Such an intersection lies at the core of a relentless respacing of Africa in which ports as well as cognate large-scale infrastructures play a chief role.

Future posts in this blog will explore how infrastructures are reshaping the political geographies of the African continent. In particular, we will share specific insights obtained from a ‘topolographist’ exploratory analysis of the port of Dar es Salaam, its vicinities and the broader East African region. In so doing we expect to contribute to the chorus of narratives accounting for how global and local economic forces are attempting to redraw African geographies according to their own convenience.

By Ivan Cuesta-Fernandez

Originally posted here

As Nassim Nicholas Taleb argues, people hugely underestimate the impact of the improbable. I find myself very comfortable pretending my personal interests are “objectively relevant”, that my chosen topic is intrinsically “interesting”. But I have to acknowledge that my discovery of Chad and its capital N’Djamena as a subject of study is accidental. I owe it to seasoned Chad specialists, such as Karine Bennafla and Géraud Magrin. They tickled my curiosity towards this fascinating country.

Thanks to a Global Development Academy (GDA) scholarship, I was lucky enough to conduct fieldwork in N’Djamena over the month of June 2015. A friend of mine, Mathilde, working for the CILONG, a centre of liaison connecting together NGOs, kindly hosted me and helped me gear myself up for my research. I was rapidly embedded in a crew of Chadian and French residents who made my stay amazingly human.

So many variables factor in the final topic one decides to research. I came to Chad with the idea of investigating the Chad-Cameroon oil development project, and more specifically the part of civil society in monitoring extractive activities since 2003. Well… a strikingly ambitious task for an overly-researched topic, I soon realised! Especially since the pioneering contributions brought by Chadian scholars such as Gilbert Maoundonodji or Remadji Hoinathy. Inch by inch, I modified my angle and paid more attention to the work of the oil watchdogs in observing the increased militarisation of the state, relying on substantial contributions made by Roland Marchal, Andrea Behrends, Marielle Debos and others.

Chad (Mazaaz)

I was especially impressed by the diversity of N’Djamena’s settlement; the particular location of Chad at the crossroad of Africa explains the motley crowds one observes in the streets. N’Djamena is not only an internationalised city due to the presence of NGOs, multinationals or U.N agencies on the ground. It is also because of various waves of migrations gathering nationals from all Africa’s corners. Having lunch with a Guinean medic narrating his staggering experience of humanitarian work in Central African Republic, jabbering about politics with the Sudanese manager of a café in classical Arabic, which this man masterfully commanded, or discoursing on Chadian military history with a Cameroon-born officer who went through the murky troubles of rebellions: here are a few of the situations one could be brought into, by keeping one’s ears and mind open. The variety of religious faiths, and manners of living them, also strikes the foreigner used to more monolithic expressions of beliefs.

I was warmly welcomed by 17 interviewees who openly shared their views with me on a wide range of topics relating to my research. I rarely felt I should avoid any sensitive aspect, and their replies would often go beyond my questions, sometimes turning interviews into lively debates on the future of Chad. I agreeably found a great deal of my Chadian interlocutors passionate about politics and history.

Obviously, Chad has its stains of dark, especially now. Boko Haram carried out its first deadly attacks in the capital city when I was there and the security context is deteriorating. I could witness increased restrictions being imposed by the military and the police; foreign nationals limited their movement to “imperative professional duties” and various NGOs went a step further, barring their employees from leaving their residence.

Foreigners take security issues seriously indeed. Prior to the attacks, the French embassy and other foreign and international institutions based in N’Djamena issued very strict recommendations with regard to behaviour. So the events brought everyone to the brink of paranoia, which is perfectly understandable.  Foreign officials advised against all public outdoor spaces such as markets (where several attacks then took place). Once, when my driver announced to me that we would make a detour since “Passing by the presidency is not a good idea” given the recent events, I understood some aspects of the fear instilled in peoples’ minds in a country historically marked by violence.

 Yet, as long as one follows the rules prescribed by common sense and N’Djamena’s residents, things are likely to be fine. Well, there is not much individuals can do anyway. “Be cautious” is not a really meaningful word of advice, my friend Mathilde remarked. One of the sentences I would hear on a frequent basis was: “We’re not gonna stop living because of this”. Indeed, what else can one do, than simply continue his or her life in spite of tragic events?

My main regret is tied to the brevity of my journey. I indeed cannot pretend I “know” Chad after three weeks in the capital, even if I did spend a reasonable time moving from one place to another. N’Djamena is special, and not representative of the country as a whole. Obviously, I wish I could have stayed a few more weeks and explored Abéché, Sahr or even Faya-Largeau in the North. I also wish I could have gone to the producing region of Doba in order to observe oil extraction and channelling. It would help me see the uneven geographical and cultural balances of Chad as a complementarity rather than a fault line, as it is usually portrayed. Indeed, Chad is depicted as a country profoundly divided between North and South. This narrative is historically constructed and, as such, questionable. There is no “naturalness” of the North/South divisions. The proof is that it is a quite recent one.

To wrap it up, Chad leaves me with the bittersweet and contradictory taste of a place filled with individually fantastic people embroiled in a turbulent context, which oversteps all of us. If Chad’s future is riddled with uncertainties, I am convinced that more researchers should pay attention to it, since it may be geopolitically decisive for the larger Africa.

Ismaël Maazaz

(MSc African Studies and International Development)

Off-grid solar power is flourishing in sub-Saharan Africa – affordable products are providing electricity to millions previously without access.  But this clean tech is also adding to existing rubbish dumps in the region.

E-waste – e-speak for used electrical or electronic goods – was born on 22nd March 1989 in Basel, Switzerland.  The Basel Convention, which opened on that day, is a United Nations treaty that restricts the trans-boundary movement of hazardous waste through export bans.  Its regulatory, government-level approach has set the tone for e-waste management ever since.  Although successful in some contexts (e.g. Switzerland), this tone is less relevant to those far from neoliberal centres of power, in countries where the face of governance itself is somewhat different and electronics are sold, used, and re-used in completely different ways.  Similarly irrelevant to the African setting is research dominated by economists and environmental scientists who focus on solving the e-waste problem in the ‘West’.  Their saving narrative obscures the non-Western setting and income-generating opportunities that handling e-waste can provide elsewhere in the world.

Despite playing a central role in global e-waste flows, as a recipient of illegal imports and increasingly as a producer of its own, Africa is under-represented in the research.  The unfortunate irony is that it is in the less influential, less regulated – less ‘developed’ – countries of Africa that one finds those closest to e-waste, those whose livelihoods depend on it and who are least equipped to process toxic batteries and circuit boards safely.


E-waste begins its physical life in China where the majority of electronics are produced, before the majority of those goods are sold and used in the Global North.  When broken or replaced by the latest model, what now constitutes e-waste finds its way, in spite of the Basel Convention, to countries of cheap labour such as Ghana or Kenya.  Here the waste is processed and useful components are returned to China to be input into new processes, leaving the rest in African rubbish dumps. However, the growing solar industry in sub-Saharan Africa is bucking this trend: moving directly from manufacture in China to first hand sale in Africa, the flow of solar products bypasses Europe and North America.

This unique geography undermines the effectiveness of the Basel Convention, and similar international agreements.  Their import and export rules are less effective when the waste they are trying to contain is already contained – i.e. when it has been domestically produced.  This direct Sino-African link is bolstered, and the volumes of e-waste increased, by the growing consumption of mobiles, TVs and computers in the region.

Figure 1 - The side of a collection truck at an e-waste processing centre in Nairobi, Kenya [2014].

Figure 1 – The side of a collection truck at an e-waste processing centre in Nairobi, Kenya [2014].


The Basel Convention and its imitators at regional and national levels target governments and manufacturers.  Consumers and those earning their living from e-waste are absent from the agreements themselves and their framing.  Whilst this is not surprising, the global nature of these waste flows necessitates universal involvement in its management.  Efforts to adhere to the legislative agenda are split between economic incentives and changes in product design.  Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) requires manufacturers to take back used products and organise proper disposal.  In Japan disposal fees put the ‘burden’ on the consumer, requiring them to pay upon disposal to fund producer take-back schemes.  Elsewhere, environmental scientists have pushed the idea of Design for Environment (DfE) sometimes known as Design for Disassembly (DfD) – reflecting the primary challenge of e-waste processing: the separation of its component parts.  But again, the disassemblers themselves are not present in design discussions.

The absence of reliable energy infrastructure is fuelling the growth of Africa’s off-grid solar industry.  The state is similarly absent in the management of waste.  This sparse state infrastructure, coupled with the prevalence of informal labour, makes sub-Saharan Africa, like much of the Global South, a unique regulatory environment – one where EPR and disposal fees might need to be rethought.

Fix it

There is insufficient research on e-waste in Africa – where much of it ends up.  Responses are not consulting the recyclers there who deal with it nor are they considerate of distinct political contexts.  Animations such as Annie Leonard’s Story of Electronics, CBS news features or damning reports from Greenpeace are effective ways to raise the profile of the e-waste problem.  However, responding to their dramatic narratives with commercially-driven, legally-framed, and environmentally-motivated measures is not the solution.

The case of solar products highlights the problems within current e-waste management.  The unique geography of Africa’s growing solar industry, the legacy of imported e-waste and the increasing internal generation of waste electronics needs a more effective and relevant response than producer-focused regulation.  E-waste may yet prove a positive opportunity for sub-Saharan Africa but only if the research on it and responses to it allow.

[Originally posted on Declan Murray’s blog]

Follow Declan on Twitter: @declanrmurray

Originally posted on Pete Chonka:

DSC_1282As a British, white and male PhD candidate doing research in Somalia in the field of ‘African studies’ the recent furore surrounding the #CadaanStudies has left me feeling distinctly uncomfortable.

This is no bad thing.

The debate which has been generated around the ‘whiteness’ of scholarship on the region (and, while we’re at it, the continent at large), its colonial baggage and lack of reflexivity is extremely relevant. The way it has coalesced around and been magnified by the power of the ubiquitous hashtag says a lot about the discursive zeitgeist of the twitter-sphere, and is  both remarkable and progressive. These are serious issues and it has been fascinating to see this outpouring of critique towards the structures of academia and the wider global inequalities which they reflect or, it could be argued, reinforce through the knowledge/power dynamics of academic institutions and policy-making.

From this debate has emerged a particular…

View original 1,145 more words

Congratulations to Jaye Renold for recently winning a “Visualising Sustainable Development” competition organised by the University of Edinburgh’s Sustainable Business Initiative. Jaye’s illustration was inspired by a visit to Cairo’s waste collectors, the Zabbaleen, in 2013.

What does a sustainable world look like? During the University of Edinburgh’s Innovative Learning week students were asked to share their perspective on sustainability through artistic expression – whether painting, photography, illustration, or sculpture – in order to show how they understand and interpret sustainability.

The competition was open to all, staff, students as well as the public. Entries were judged by Dr Kenneth Amaeshi (Director of Sustainable Business Initiative), John Brennan (Head of Edinburgh School of Architecture), and Ben Twist (Director of Creative Carbon Scotland).

Jaye is a fourth year Social Anthropology student who has recently completed a dissertation on street recyclers in Chile. She developed her interest in waste and recycling through setting up The Swap and Reuse Hub, a cooperative located near the University of Edinburgh’s central campus.

The Zabbaleen waste collectors of Cairo

The Zabbaleen waste collectors of Cairo

See Jaye Renold’s winning illustration enlarged !

And click here to see a fascinating TEDx talk on the Zabbaleen by University of Edinburgh anthropology lecturer Jamie Furniss.

On Saturday, the 7th of March the University of Oxford held a “Researching Africa Day” at St Antony’s College. It was an opportunity for PhD/DPhil students to present research related to “imagining welfare in contemporary Africa”, and Edinburgh was well-represented by four speakers. It was a really engaging day, with thought-provoking comments from several Oxford professors who acted as discussants, and a barrage of questions from the audience. The all-important networking happened at the pub afterwards. I heard someone declare it “one of the best student conferences ever”.


The presenters from Edinburgh:

Megan Canning (International Development) who presented on Labour, Livelihoods and Gender Inequality: Winners and Losers in the Malawian Sugar Industry:

Oxford’s Researching Africa Day was a great opportunity to present in public for the first time the findings from my 2014 fieldwork forming a pilot study for my PhD.  The questions which surfaced in the panel discussion were useful for me in reflecting on my methods and frameworks at a critical stage before going back to the field.  It was also an important opportunity to reflect on the work of other early researchers with some relevance to my own work, such as Duncan Money’s (Oxford) historical account of corporate sponsored leisure activities on the Zambian Copperbelt, or Hannah Dawson’s (Oxford) study of work and unemployment amongst male youths in South Africa.  I also really appreciated the chance to listen to my fellow University of Edinburgh colleagues present, which helped me to better understand some of the fantastic research being conducted by friends right here in CAS.

Ismaila Ceesay (African Studies) who presented on Chanting to Hustle: a Study of the Income Earning Activities of Urban Youth in Gambian Cybercafes:

The Researching Africa Day event provided me and other emerging scholars the opportunity to share our work with a wider academic audience. The quality of the presentations were brilliant and thought-provoking. The presenters successfully reflected on the changing nature of welfare in Africa and how it is provided. The diversity of the themes covered in the various panels (epidemics, transitional justice, leisure, colonial science, gender etc.) demonstrated the interdisciplinary approach to welfare provision in contemporary Africa. The quality of feedback from Prof. Jonny Steinberg, my panel discussant, and the audience were of the highest quality. In particular, the insights gained from these interventions enhanced my overall approach and understanding to studies of youth in Africa in terms of how they are viewed and their transition to adulthood.

I was greatly fascinated by Dr. Moguerane’s closing remarks which reflected on and engaged with the various presentations in a way that merged the different themes, thereby producing a single disciplinary approach to ‘Imagining Welfare in Contemporary Africa’.

Laura Martin (African Studies) who presented on Institutionalising Local Transitional Justice: Examples from Sierra Leone.

I presented research on the role and impact of Fambul Tok in rural Sierra Leonean communities.  The conference was a good opportunity for presentation practice in a slightly more informal setting.  It was also great to interact with other scholars at a similar stage and see what other types of research are happening in African Studies currently.

Declan Murray (International Development) who presented on There is a Light and it Does Go Out: Following Broken Solar Products in Kenya

Research in Africa Day was the first conference I’ve presented at, and whilst I don’t know when I’ll next have to make the solar products of my PhD relate to old Zambian railway girders or photos of contemporary Cape Town (the foci of my co-panelists), the day definitely forced me to think about my research in new ways.


Well done,
Maurice Hutton

Declan Murray presents

Declan Murray presents


Professor Miles Larmer: discussant for Megan Cannin's panel

Professor Miles Larmer (discussant) and Megan Canning discussing her research


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