P 44

Global Disconnections. Fragmentations of Knowledge and African Strategies of (Re)connecting

Panel abstract
Ethnographic studies in recent decades could not ignore the influence of so-called globalization on African life-worlds. Anthropological approaches to globalization have turned our attention to diverse ‘global flows’ of things, ideas or persons. Such notions of globalization as connection, however, have been complemented by arguments claiming that these processes simultaneously bring about experiences of disconnection, friction and incongruence. The integration of local actors into global networks is not only contingent upon new forms of communication or social relations, but has also led to new intransparencies and experiences of “abjection” (James Ferguson), of removing knowledge from its object and of disconnecting actors from coherent epistemes. The world-wide expansion of neoliberal economies, institutional arrangements and regimes of knowledge has resulted in the separation of sign from referent and epistemological fragmentation. On the local level, globalization requires actors and communities to bridge gaps in incoherent knowledge systems by means of cultural appropriation, signification, translation and narration. Examples for these practices include the re-interpretation of global economic developments in discourses on witchcraft in Cameroon (Geschiere), the way the spread of global human rights disempowers poor Malawians (Englund) or how globally sought-after minerals are given social and historic value in the Eastern Congo (Smith).
The panel will explore processes of (dis)connection, epistemological fragmentation and/or local strategies of signification, translation and narration on the African continent. How do sign and referent become (dis)connected? What processes are at work in knowledge regimes? Who are the submitters/brokers/recipients involved in processes of knowledge (dis)connection and (re)construction?

Time: Thursday, 28/06/2018, 8.30 - 10.30 am
Venue: Seminargebäude, S 204

Alexis Malefakis (Ethnographic Museum of the University of Zurich, Switzerland)
Tim Bunke (University of Konstanz)

James Odhiambo Ogone (Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University, Bondo, Kenya)
Valerie Hänisch (University of Bayreuth)
Medinat Abdulazeez (Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, Nigeria)
Peter Kneitz (University of Halle-Wittenberg)
Emmanueill Turinawe (Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda) and Kerry Holden (Queen Mary University, London, UK)


Paper abstracts

James Odhiambo Ogone
Remixing Modernity: Navigating Global Cultures Through Cultural Translation in Kenyan DJ Afro Movies

The contemporary modernity debate appreciates the reality that webs of global connections and their attendant politics are more intriguing than simplistic. Confronted with the powerful presence of media technologies, African cultures have been compelled to creatively reinvent themselves. Strategies adopted in this process have been governed by an ambivalent logic that seeks to uphold connection while simultaneously enhancing disconnection from the global cultural economy. In the absence of a robust film industry in Kenya, foreign films have tended to monopolize the market. While the films significantly grant the local audiences connection to global cultures, they simultaneously disconnect them as they frequently present unfamiliar characters, themes, events, and places. Therefore, there is need for ‘cultural translation’. To enable the locals make sense of the world represented in the foreign films. An interesting phenomenon in Kenya involves the foreign films being pirated and re-mixed for the local market by an emerging crop of innovative video deejays, such as DJ Afro. This paper intends to demonstrate how the foreign films, otherwise presumed to be complete products, are technologically reconfigured and refracted through the prism of local cultural sensibilities to reinstitute contextual relevance. In addition, the paper hopes to interrogate how local perspectives, previously silenced in the foreign movies, are given voice in the remixed films. By exploring the political relationship between the dominant global media economy and the subversive Kenyan film market, this paper will shed light on the growing preference among contemporary postcolonial cultures for a modernity ‘done’ their own way.

Valerie Hänisch
After the Sahara Tourism

Tuareg craftspeople, called inadan, made a good deal out of the tourists who came to Niger to visit the desert for many years. In these interactions they have learned French, developed selling strategies, and invented successful stories about necklaces, knives, and paperknives which they were offering. Now, their work was called Tuareg art work and thus the smiths won a new self-confidence. The inadan have been very smart in dealing and joking with the tourists, made friends, and finally brought the jewellery from the desert dunes to France, other European countries, and the US. Anthropologists have described them as global players, moving easily between different worlds and having managed to adjust their traditional craft to a global market. Some have speculated whether wealthy Europeans became the new patrons replacing Tuareg noble people with whom the inadan are connected in long standing relations through generations. With the Tuareg upheavals in 2006/7, followed by a growing insecurity of the Sahara, all at once, they got disconnected from the global market. The tourists stayed away and left them behind with all the craft work designated as souvenirs. However, the inadan have not given up and until today try hard to reconnect. Many young men moved to Niamey in the hope of finding in the secure capital at least some tourists or a possibility to travel further to Europe following their well-paying clients. Why did they get cut off after all, if it is true that they were already ‘going global’? And how do they try to catch up with the Global North? I will offer a thick ethnography based on long-term and recent field research in Niger.

Medinat Abdulazeez
Connecting Local Grievance to Globalized Narratives: The Boko Haram Insurgency in Northeastern Nigeria

The emergence of Boko Haram has been explained as an expected outcome of decade-long socio-economic, political, and religious decay in Nigeria’s northeast. The area, bordering Lake Chad countries, including Niger, Chad, and Cameroon, is the least formally educated and most poverty-stricken in Africa’s most populous nation. Endemic corruption was rife, so was lack of access to basic amenities. Precolonial legacies of hierarchical aristocracies and the limited spread of Western education further culminated in heightened social inequalities, spreading alienation, and discontentment. It was such a society that Boko Haram sprung out from, beginning their insurgent evangelism through welfare programmes which fed its members, provided start-up capital, and offered free education in its Madrasa (Islamic School). As described by Hillary Matfess, Boko Haram was one of those groups serving as a kind of para-government filling the gap left by the absent state. This act of welfare evangelism was however Boko Haram’s way of connecting to globalized jihadi narratives exemplified by Hamas and Hezbollah. It exemplified institutionalizing the Islamic sense of unified identity – Ummah – which connects Muslims in all parts of the world and connotes that every Muslim bear the pain, hurt, or joys of the other. It was the first step in plugging Boko Haram’s Salafist ideological narrative into globalized Salafist/Wahabbist ideologies which sought to activate and spread notions that different groups such as the state (through democracy introduced by the West) were pursuing an anti-Islam and anti-Muslim World agenda. This paper explains Boko Haram’s ability to simultaneously emulate and connect with international jihadi groups who propagated global Salafist narratives to induce radicalized violence, while using local grievances bordering around exclusion and deprivation as a basis of societal acceptance.

Peter Kneitz
Malagasy Dynamics of Global Connecting and Disconnecting: A Case Study on ‘Village Conventions’ (dina) and the Problem of Increasing Insecurity

Increasing problems of disorder in Madagascar led recently to the appearance of a popular movement proclaiming the necessity to build up so-called ‘village conventions’ (dina), as a premise to re-implant justice on local level. While these ideas do have recourse on long established forms on regulations among villagers, they are hooking up, at the same time, on the global ideal of human rights and the virtue of the democratic state. A competition between local and national actors became initiated, aiming at elaborating an adequate format, but including silent sub-discourses on power as well. Legal recognition of ‘wild’ village conventions by adopting formal law was held to be a crucial requirement by political leaders within the logic of the Malagasy Republic, and a necessity to prevent misuse and arbitrariness, including lynch law, which was made subject of public awareness by international NGO’s working for human right issues. Local population regularly disagrees, though, as they experience that the effectivity of the dina-agreements is such compromised. The legal formalization and democratic ‘correctness’ of the dina restore clandestinely but probably not accidentally the same situation of state arbitrariness as before the founding of the dina. In my contribution I will elaborate the dynamic of the ‘village conventions’ based on my ongoing research. The case study will elaborate how the connection and disconnection to global ideas are at stake at present on Madagascar, and how it is subjugated to a complex interplay of power, demanding from all sort of actors to enter the stage of global and local rhetoric simultaneously.

Emmanueill Turinawe and Kerry Holden
Traditional Birth Attendants and the State: The Mediating Effects of Evidence Informed Policy Making (EIPM) on Maternal Health Policy in Uganda

The arrival and rise to dominance of allopathic care in the former colonies entailed the denigration of indigenous healing systems seen as barbaric and ineffective. Conversely, many rural and remote areas remained outside the structures and reach of formal healthcare. Research in the postcolonial era pointed to the value of collaborative partnership with indigenous systems in order to reach remote rural peoples. By the 1950s, the World Health Organization (WHO) together with national governments had set up collaborations with a group of healers, who became categorized as ‘traditional birth attendants’ (TBAs) in the delivery of maternity care. These were trained, equipped, and linked with formal healthcare to help reduce maternal mortality. By the 1990s – coinciding with the rise of the evidence-based medicine, there was growing concern that the integration of TBAs was not achieving the desired outcomes in reducing maternal mortality statistics. This led to the promotion of a new category, ‘skilled birth attendants’ (SBA) – defined to exclude the trained TBAs. With this shift, TBA services were discouraged, banned, and criminalized. Our ethnographic study in in Luwero, Uganda, investigated how this shift changed the assemblage of maternity care and (re)defined the relationship between TBAs, the community, and the state. Issuance of threats of arrest sent TBA activities underground, but their practice remains to this day ubiquitous across Uganda. TBAs’ rewards and the criteria for choosing who and when to offer their help changed. Syncretic, and yet secretive utilization of both TBAs and formal care emerged among expectant mothers. The shifts in policy towards TBAs symbolizes the ambiguity created due to (re)configuration of knowledges as evidence. Drawing from a global menu, the policy shift (re)created knowledge dichotomies and geographies juxtaposing local against foreign. The medicalization of TBAs sought to (re)imagine women as customers of the state, controlled and countable to feed into the universalized accountability of the global health machine.