Research, Publications and News from Chris Huggins

Combining Scholarship and Activism: Challenges and Opportunities

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Alison Des Forges. Photo © 2005 Human Rights Watch, used under a creative commons license.

In an article commemorating the late Dr. Alison Des Forges, two major scholars argue that, “scholarship and activism are often seen as separate domains — even as antithetical to each other. Activism is understood as moral action, defined by commitment; scholarship is assumed to be an analytic endeavour, defined by rigour…  An activist optic is often assumed to distort ‘objective’ scholarship, while a scholarly approach is assumed to obscure the compelling clarity essential for activism.” (Newbury & Reyntjens, 2010). Dr. Des Forges, who passed away in February 2009, combined activism with scholarship with regard to her work on the African Great Lakes.  Similarly, Prof. Lee Ann Fujii, who passed away in March 2018 and also conducted research on post-conflict countries, including Rwanda, was described as “an activist at heart” (Busby, 2018) who practiced her activism through her mentorship and battles she fought on campus (McNulty, Tolley, & Turner, 2018). These two inspiring scholars provide examples of how academic work might involve more that accumulating citations; and of how activism and advocacy can be informed and supported through careful research. Indeed, scholar-activism has a long history (Hale, 2008).

In a panel event and roundtable discussion on April 5th 2019,  we commemorate the legacy of two individuals dedicated to breaking down the barriers between activism and scholarship, and we invite participants to reflect on the opportunities and challenges that social and political engagement represent for academic researchers.

Themes for discussion include:

  • forms of activism and ‘voice’ in research and the classroom;
  • legal constraints on contacts with some of the actors and communities we engage;
  • institutional dimensions of scholarship-activism, such as the ways in which universities and colleges – and even research communities themselves – open or close opportunities for collaboration between activists and researchers;
  • ethical dimensions, such as questions around confidentiality of research data and relationships between researchers and research participants in a context of decolonizing scholarship;
  • implications of global online connectivity for scholar-activism;
  • theoretical dimensions, such as the ontological and epistemological challenges of working with particular theoretical frameworks in the name of human rights and social justice.

The event is being held at the Human Rights Research and Education Centre, University of Ottawa, from 9am -12pm. The meeting is public but participants should RSVP to hrrec@uOttawa.ca.

I will update this page following the event, to provide a short personal reflection based on some of the highlights.

 

References

Hale, C. 2008. Introduction, in Hale, C. (ed.) Engaging Contradictions: Theory, Politics, and Methods of Activist Scholarship. University of California Press

Newbury, D. and Reyntjens, F. 2010. Alison Des Forges and Rwanda: From Engaged Scholarship to Informed Activism. CJAS / RCEA 44 (1) 35-74

Panel Event in Ottawa: Governance of African Land Rights, and Implications for Women

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I am very happy to be part of this event, alongside the Coalition for Equitable Land Acquisitions and Development in Africa (CELADA) CELADA works particularly on the ways in which commercialization of land has impacts on communities in Sub-Saharan Africa, and has held many events in the past on the ‘Global Land Grab’ and related topics. The event is co-sponsored by the School of International Development and Global Studies (SIDGS)

As many readers will know, Canada has a Feminist International Assistance Policy which also involves 50% of all overseas assistance funding going to programmes in Africa. In most African countries, agriculture and other resource-based livelihoods remain important to the majority of the population. In farming communities, women are responsible for much of the labour – at least 50% although it is often said to be 70% – but they rarely have full control over the land that they farm. It is extremely rare for women to actually have full legal ownership over land, for various legal, cultural, financial and other reasons. Some countries, such as Rwanda and Kenya, among many others – have put in place laws on inheritance and land ownership which provide women with legal rights to register land in their own name. However, in practice, there are often barriers which prevent women from taking ownership. This is especially the case for those who are not formally married or are second or third wives (i.e. in polygamous households).

The event invites students, faculty, and policy makers to explore the potential for Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy to strengthen African women’s access and rights to land. I will be moderating a panel discussion which features four highly experienced, expert women who will talk about different aspects of this topic. These panelists are:

The event takes place on Wednesday March 27th from 15:30 – 17:30 in FSS4006, Faculty of Social Sciences Building, University of Ottawa Campus, 120 University Private. Presentations will be in English, followed by a bilingual discussion. There is no entry-fee.

I will update this blog after the event with some notes on how it went and what the next steps may be. I think that there is lots of work to do in helping the Canadian government identify useful entry-points for programming on women’s access to, and control over, land.

La sécurité foncière et l’accaparement des terres au Rwanda après le génocide (Land Tenure Security and Land-Grabbing in Post-Genocide Rwanda)

Au cours de la dernière décennie, le concept d’« accaparement des terres» a été fortement associé à «l’accaparement mondial des terres», défini globalement comme «l’acquisition de terres à grande échelle le plus souvent dans le Sud» (Kaag et Zoomers, 2014: 1). Néanmoins, l’accaparement mondial des terres n’est que l’un des nombreux processus qui aboutissent à la dépossession des populations du Sud. Dans des pays comme le Kenya, le terme «accaparement des terres» est utilisé depuis des années et désigne l’acquisition de terres à petite échelle par des moyens illégaux ou illégaux, généralement par des élites politiques et économiques. Cela indique la nécessité de considérer l’«accaparement des terres» comme un phénomène à facettes multiples, impliquant des acteurs à différentes échelles, y compris les échelles «locales» ou à micro-échelle. 

En examinant l’accaparement des terres à différentes échelles par différents acteurs, cet article suit l’approche exposée par Ansoms et Hilhorst (2014), qui soulignent que, dans la région africaine des Grands Lacs, «les transferts de terres contestés se produisent à de nombreux niveaux –  au sein des familles, entre voisins et au sein des communautés – et peut impliquer des autorités officielles et coutumières, des groupes armés et des acteurs extérieurs »(page 3).  Il est également important de considérer comment les différents systèmes de droits fonciers et les normes associées se sont développés historiquement, afin d’apprécier comment ils ont été construits et mis en place socialement et politiquement.

La terre a une importance fondamentale pour la population du Rwanda et l’etat rwandais, en ce qui concerne l’accès à cette ressource précieuse dans un pays densément peuplé, et aussi au niveau des implications symboliques et pratiques  touchant les changements dans l’utilisation de la terre (subsistance ou commerciale ; polyculture ou monoculture; individuelle ou collective; rurale ou urbaine; etc.).  La concurrence pour les terres est quelquefois identifiée comme un des facteurs qui a contribué au génocide (comme cela sera discuté dans cet article). Actuellement, la sécurité foncière est particulièrement importante à cause du rôle central de la terre agricole dans un programme ambitieux de croissance économique au niveau national.

Mon article,  La sécurité foncière et l’accaparement des terres au Rwanda après le génocide, publié dans Conjonctures de l’Afrique centrale 2018 présente plusieurs définitions pour les genres d’accaparement des terres au Rwanda, qui constituent une typologie de spoliation des terres. Le Rwanda est généralement perçu par la communauté internationale comme une île intégrée dans une région très corrompue. Même si le gouvernement a tendance à limiter l’accaparement des terres plus que ses voisins, cela se produit néanmoins dans le Rwanda contemporain.

L’article a explique le contexte politique dans lequel différentes formes d’accaparement des terres ont eu lieu, et  esquisse l’économie politique de l’accaparement des terres depuis le génocide. Les principaux aspects de cette économie politique comprennent le soutien du gouvernement pour les « investisseurs nationaux » qui envisagent de « moderniser » la production agricole, même si cela implique une spoliation; la marginalisation historique de la minorité Batwa; la capacité de certains administrateurs locaux à abuser de leurs pouvoirs sans être mis au défi par la population locale (en raison d’un climat politique autoritaire de conformité des citoyens); et un refus de réexaminer ou de réévaluer les mesures impopulaires mises en place par l’État dans le passé (telles que le «partage des terres»).

Une version pré-publication de l’article est disponible ici: Huggins Conjonctures 2018- version pre-publication

gisenyiGisenyi, Rwanda. Photo: Chris Huggins

The pyrethrum sector reveals a lot about ‘developmental patrimonialism’ and the limits of governmentality in Rwanda

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Photo: Chris Huggins. This woman was not interviewed during the research

Have you heard of pyrethrum? Maybe not, but you may have used a pyrethrum-based product, especially if you live in Africa, where insect-killing sprays are used daily to combat mosquitoes and other flying pests. Pyrethrum is a variety of chrysanthemum flower which can be dried and processed to produce an insecticide, pyrethrin, used in common household products such as Raid® and Baygon®.

I conducted field research into the pyrethrum sector between 2011 and 2013, and updated my information with secondary data in 2016. The resulting paper, Discipline, Governmentality and ‘Developmental Patrimonialism’: Insights from Rwanda’s Pyrethrum sector was published in the Journal of Agrarian Change Volume 14, Issue 4.

A prepublication version of the paper is available here: Pyrethrum zone in Rwanda Accepted Version

The pyrethrum-producing area is different from other parts of Rwanda, partly because of the ecological peculiarities of the flower: it can only be grown on volcanic soil, above a certain altitude is therefore produced by a few countries (including Kenya, Tanzania, Tasmania, and Ecuador). The area is therefore very spatially concentrated (along the mountainous northern border of Rwanda). It is also different because farmers in this area are only permitted to use the land on the condition that they devote 40% of the area of their fields to pyrethrum – even though other crops, such as potatoes, are more profitable. The pyrethrum zone is therefore an area where farmers are targets of monitoring, and spatial discipline, by the pyrethrum company (which is owned by the military).

Despite these unusual attributes of the pyrethrum zone, I argue that the intention of the government to impose disciplinary systems, which limit the options available to farmers  and push them towards certain forms of commercial production, is found in other situations where administrators, businesspeople, and other powerful actors exert control over the agricultural sector. In this sense, the densely-populated and intensively cultivated hills and valleys of Rwanda represent various diverse ‘spaces of governance’ in ways discussed in my book.

The pyrethrum zone is also an interesting place to study because of the role of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in funding technical and management changes in the pyrethrum commodity chain. In 2009, the ‘Pyramid Project’ was launched, with the involvement of the pyrethrum company (SOPYRWA), USAID, the US-based multinational pharmaceutical corporation S.C. Johnston, and the US-based Norman Borlaug Institute (which is heavily invested in ‘green revolution’-type agricultural modernization). The Pyramid Project aimed to ‘help increase incomes and the quality of life for thousands of Rwanda pyrethrum farmers, while boosting the sustainable supply of pyrethrum in East Africa’ (Schattenberg 2009). However, in this article, I argue that this project actually made life more difficult for small-scale farmers in the pyrethrum area, while benefiting the companies involved. The economics of pyrethrum cultivation are unfavourable to producers, and the new systems introduced by the USAID-funded project resulted in greater labour demands, and more use of expensive chemical fertilizers by smallholders.

Indeed, a 2011 US government audit of the project found that: ‘Although the project had enhanced drying facilities, conducted business training, and exceeded its annual target for production of pyrethrum, few farmers interviewed stated that their incomes had improved because of those activities’ (Office of the Inspector General 2011). In interviews, I found that most farmers felt angry and exploited because of the low prices that the company paid for pyrethrum. Whereas the project does not seem to have increased smallholder incomes, SOPYRWA achieved a 380% increase in export revenues.

In the conclusion of the article, I engage in a debate between proponents of part-owned companies in Rwanda, such as David Booth and Frederick Golooba-Mutobi’s 2011 paper and Pritish Behuria’s article from 2017 which uses the pyrethrum zone as a case study.

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Pyrethrum seedlings, Musanze District, Rwanda. Photo: Chris Huggins

 

 

 

Challenging aggregated quantitative data with multiple, comparative micro-level case studies: a multi-author paper on rural reforms in Rwanda

RwandaBookBlog2Photo: Chris Huggins

As readers will know from other posts on this website, Rwanda is regarded by many as a development ‘success story’. In this success narrative, a high annual GDP growth rate, supported by investments in local health services, education, and the agricultural sector, has resulted in a fall in poverty across the country. This narrative is supported by evidence from the Household Living Conditions Surveys (known by their French acronym, EICV). Unlike some other low-income countries, Rwanda has a relatively well-resourced and high-profile statistics agency, the National Institute of Statistics. This agency has conducted large-scale household surveys every 5 years or so since 2000/1.

However, as documented on the ROAPE blogsite here and here, major criticisms have been put forward of the official narrative, based on the EICV data. Specifically, researchers have argued that the basket of foods that the EICV uses to calculate the cost of living (which is key to establishing changes in level of household food security, disposable income, etc) has changed, which undermines the claims of the government that poverty has significantly reduced over the last decade.

As part of this set of concerns around official narratives, I was invited to be part of a multi-author effort to collate detailed, micro-level data from multiple studies in order to identify key patterns emerging from different case studies across the country.

rwanda map from modernisation paper.pngFieldsites discussed in the paper are indicated above with a red dot.

This approach was explicitly chosen in order to counter the argument that micro-level quantitative data, which rich in detail, cannot provide a ‘comprehensive’ view of events. The resulting article had ten authors: An Ansoms, Giuseppe Cioffo, Neil Dawson, Sam Desiere, Chris Huggins, Margot Leegwater, Jude Murison, Aymar Nyenyezi Bisoka, Johanna Treidl, and Julie Van Damme. 

In my view, this paper is interesting not only for the range of empirical material presented, but also as a contribution to a wider debate on methods. How can we reconcile major differences between the results of different studies? How can the results of studies using very different methods, and conducted at different scales, be interpreted? This paper uses the work of James C Scott to argue that certain forms of data are particularly amenable to being selectively used within broader governance strategies to further pre-ordained objectives. In the words of the authors: “national-level statistics are instrumentalised by governance structures to make reality legible. Through the process of codifying they “do not merely describe, observe, and map; they strive to shape a people and landscape that will fit their techniques of observation” (Scott 1998, 82)”

This research has also been discussed in this blog post.  

The pre-publication version of the paper is available for download here: The Rwandan agrarian and land sector modernisation prepublication version.

How are mine sites created as ‘places’ in the popular and academic imagination, and what are the implications of this for women in the artisanal mining sector?

 

 

33Coltan in the DRC. Photo: Chris Huggins

In 2016 I was fortunate to be able to collaborate with Prof. Blair Rutherford and Prof. Doris Buss, both of Carleton University, on a publication project. This article, available in a prepublication version below, draws together research in Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo (as well as some insights from preliminary work in Sierra Leone and Mozambique).

Profs Rutherford and Buss are working on a really great project, looking at the role of women in the artisanal and small-scale mining sector in several African countries. This article included some of their early findings from that project.

The article argues that sites of artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) in sub-Saharan Africa are often places of contestation and dispossession, particularly because mining laws and policies have generally been crafted to foster large-scale mining. This paper builds on research mapping the multiple ways in which ASM is associated with various wrongs – criminality, illegality, immorality, destructiveness – to consider how various, complex gendered relations and place-making practices within mine sites are occluded as a result. We consider these erasures in the context of ASM formalization efforts linked to particular state visions. We note that while negative perceptions of ASM persist, governments, donors and mining companies are increasingly engaging in different forms of negotiation with ASM representatives, particularly through establishing legal ‘ASM zones’ and encouraging or mandating artisanal miners to form associations or cooperatives: processes of formalization. With reference to African case studies, we outline potential issues and challenges in efforts to formalize ASM, while offering insights into how the politics of place-making inform these initiatives. Focusing in particular on the gendering of both the dominant place-making of ASM by policy-makers and regulators and the actual emplaced practices of ASM activities in specific mining sites we highlight the multiple, at times competing and other times overlapping, visions of space at work in this widespread economic activity.

My work on mining continues, and I will be posting more updates and sharing articles and chapters over the coming months.

The article is available here: Geoforum Prepublication version.

 

Land grabbing and land tenure security in Post Genocide Rwanda

This chapter was published in Losing your Land: Dispossession in the Great Lakes”, edited by An Ansoms and Thea Hilhorst. James Currey (Oct. 16 2014)

Losing your land image

The chapter argues that land is of vital importance to the people of Rwanda and the Rwandan state, both in terms of access to this scarce resource in a densely populated country, and in terms of the symbolic and practical ramifications of changes to different kinds of land uses (subsistence or commercial, individual or cooperative, rural or urban, polyculture or monoculture, etc). In the past, access to land has been a source of socio-political controversy and conflict, particularly during the colonial era and in the decade prior to the 1994 genocide, when land became increasingly concentrated in the hands of political and economic elites. Competition over land is sometimes cited as one of many factors that made the 1994 genocide possible, as will be discussed below. Currently, land tenure is particularly important because of the role of agricultural land, in particular, in an ambitious programme of national economic growth. The Government of Rwanda is committed to reaching the status of a middle-income country by 2020 (MINECOFIN, 2000) and wants the rural sector to drive economic growth, through rapid commercialisation. Accordingly, the government is engaged in several far-reaching rural transformation strategies including a large-scale agricultural reform which relies upon regional crop specialization and compulsory land use consolidation; and a national land registration exercise. In urban areas, many informal or ‘unplanned’ settlements are scheduled for demolition in order to accommodate the construction of buildings for the formal sector (housing, commerce, and infrastructure).

Compared to other Sub-Saharan African countries, the Rwandan state has an unusually strong capacity to monitor and regulate the activities of its local representatives as well as private citizens. It has also demonstrated a general willingness to achieve the ‘Rule of Law’; and so, the state is unlikely to tolerate outright ‘land-grabbing’ in the sense of illegal acquisition of land through intimidation, and/or corruption. The registration of land holdings across the country and issuance of land leases to landholders  may potentially reduce land-grabbing. Nevertheless, it is important to realise that the post-genocide Rwandan state has been willing to curtail the land rights of citizens under certain conditions, and that the extent of land-grabbing since the 1994 genocide is far from negligible.

This chapter complements the chapters in this volume by Ansoms et al and Manirakiza and Ansoms by providing more detailed definitions of various kinds of land-grabbing in Rwanda, in the form of a systematic typology of land grabbing. Our personal view is that the strict legal definition of land grabbing (i.e. outright criminal theft of land through intimidation, force, or fraud) is too narrow to encapsulate the complexities of changes in land ownership and use in countries such as Rwanda. In considering the legitimacy of such changes, it is important to consider not only the domestic legal framework, but also relevant international laws (Leckie and Huggins, 2011). While under international law states are free to choose how land is allocated and how rights will be articulated and administered, they must follow a systematic legal procedure when redistributing rights to land. International law outlaws the arbitrary infringement of property rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations, 1948) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which Rwanda is a signatory, bind states to abide by due process guarantees, outlawing arbitrary infringement of property rights. This places responsibilities on the state to provide clear criteria for the redistribution of land rights, and prohibits ad hoc decisions which are not supported by legislation. The Government of Rwanda has generally claimed to have limited the land rights of some citizens only in the interests of the public good; but it has not always explained the logic of those decisions in a transparent way.

The term ‘land grabbing’ used in this chapter, therefore, refers to decisions curtailing the rights to land which have not been part of a systematic process, which lack a clear legal and/or regulatory basis, and/or which have not been shown to be in the public interest. In order to understand how definitions of land rights are changing, it is important to first consider the general structural issues and historical patterns which affect land tenure security in Rwanda. We then provide a systematic typology of land-grabbing in Rwanda, before discussing the various factors that appear to mediate the government‘s attempts to limit land-grabbing.

The pre-publication version is available below:

Land grabbing and land tenure security in Post Genocide Rwanda Prepublication

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