Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ivory Wars

I have an op-ed in the International Herald Tribune today arguing against militarized anti-poaching as a response to the increasing slaughter of African elephants.

Among other things, the op-ed was inspired by Bryan Christy's excellent article in this month's National Geographic about ivory consumption in Asia and beyond. Christy shows how easily ivory can be procured in markets in the Vatican, the Philippines, China, Thailand, and elsewhere and how easy it is to circumvent the international legal architecture that in theory bans the trade. Given such burgeoning demand for ivory and such innovation on all levels of its sale, going after the hunters, already a fraught enterprise, is doomed to fail.

Christy opens his article with a description of a recent elephant massacre in Cameroon. He stops short of labeling the hunters, but more credulous sources -- such as Jeffrey Gettleman in the NYTimes -- have repeated the accusation that they were "janjaweed," which has a flimsy foundation in fact. It's convenient for governments and conservationists to demonize ivory hunters as "LRA" or "janjaweed," but we really need more study of who the hunters are and the networks involved in the ivory trade. Ammunition tracing like that done by the Small Arms Survey would be a good place to start.

One final note: the Paris-based editors changed some things while I slept here on the West Coast, including deleting the name of the fellowship I hold. I'd like to acknowledge the generous support of the Ciriacy-Wantrup Fellowship and my colleagues in the Department of Geography at the University of California, Berkeley.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Raiding Sovereignty in Central African Borderlands

My dissertation, titled Raiding Sovereignty in Central African Borderlands, is now available for public download.

Rather than swaddle it in caveats, I'll let anyone with the stamina to plow through nearly 450 pages on CAR take a look for themselves -- pdf here -- and I'll be happy to discuss more with anyone who is interested. In the coming months I plan to post more on how my thinking is changing.

And for those who prefer the digested version, here is the abstract:

This dissertation focuses on raiding and sovereignty in the Central African Republic’s (CAR) northeastern borderlands, on the margins of Darfur. A vast literature on social evolution has assumed the inevitability of political centralization. But these borderlands show centralization does not always occur. Never claimed by any centralizing forces, the area has instead long been used as a reservoir of resources by neighboring areas’ militarized entrepreneurs, who seek the savanna’s goods. The raiders seize resources but also govern. The dynamics of this zone, much of it a place anthropologists used to refer to as “stateless,” suggest a re-thinking of the modalities of sovereignty. The dissertation proposes conceptualizing sovereignty not as a totalizing, territorialized political order, but through its constituent governing capabilities, which may centralize or not and can combine to create hybrid political systems.

The dissertation develops this framework through analysis of three categories of men-in-arms—road blockers, anti-poaching militiamen, and members of rebel groups—and their relationships with international peacebuilding initiatives. It compares roadblocks and “road cutting” (robbery) to show how these men stop traffic and create flexible, personalized entitlements to profit for those who operate them. The dissertation also probes the politics of militarized conservation: in a low-level war that has lasted for 25 years, European Union-funded militiamen fight deadly battles against herders and hunters. Though ostensibly fought to protect CAR’s “national patrimony” (its animals and plants), this war bolsters the sovereign capabilities of non-state actors and has resulted in hundreds of deaths in the last few years alone, many of them hidden in the bush. The dissertation then shows how CAR’s recent cycle of rebellion has changed governance in rural areas. Though mobile armed groups have long operated in CAR, they used to work as road cutters and local defense forces and only recently started calling themselves “rebels”—a move that has landed in them in new roles as “governors” of populations. Throughout these various raiders’ projects, the idea of the all-powerful state serves as a reference they use to qualify themselves with sovereign authorities. But their actions as rulers undermine the creation of the unitary political authority they desire and invoke. Failure to appreciate these non-centralized micropolitical processes is a main reason peacebuilding efforts (such as disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration) have failed.

My First Job a Ph.D.: 

I'm now a Ciriacy-Wantrup Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Geography at the University of California, Berkeley. I've been here since I defended at the end of July and am still pinching myself daily over my good fortune at landing out here. 

I encourage anyone whose research focuses on political economy and natural resources from a qualitative perspective to apply for the CW Fellowship. The terms of the fellowship are blissfully open-ended -- basically, to keep working on one's research and writing -- while backed by an incredible network of colleagues throughout the Bay Area. 

Writings, con't

An addendum to my mention of my recent article in Politique Africaine ("Rébellion et les limites de la consolidation de la paix en République Centrafricaine"): it has been pointed out to me that some who might not be interested in/have the time for the whole article might nevertheless like to read the abstract. So, here it is:

"This paper examines the cycle of rebellion that the Central African Republic (CAR) has fallen into over the past decade and the weaknesses of the internationally-led peacebuilding efforts that have been mustered in response. Rather than a unified state, the space maps delineate as the CAR is home to two governing tendencies, both of which take advantage of broader regional dynamics: (1) capital rentiers and (2) hinterland raiders with non-centralized modes of operating. The rebellions represent the instrumentalization of the latter by the former. But these temporary alliances have not unified the two modes of rule. An ever-tighter circle around the president controls capital politics, and rural residents remain marginalized. This paper argues that understanding insecurity and rebellion in CAR requires analysis of the specific dynamics that fostered their creation. In contrast, the peacebuilding structures advocated by international donors are founded on an ideal-type conception of the state that ignores the workings of politics on the ground. In this gap between vernacular and ideal-type politics, capital-based leaders have been able to pay lip service to the state ideals while actually pursuing their own prerogatives, with little fear of sanction. The example of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) provides a case study of how these processes work."

I wrote those words a year ago, and there's much I'd like to tweak now as my analysis of these processes has evolved. But I guess that's the nature of this line of work, and it's what keeps us writing.