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Shifting Sands: Babanusa to Abyei 1953/54

An exhibition exploring the visual history of Abyei, recently opened at the Oriental Museum in Durham. The curator, Zoe Cormack, explains what photographs can tell us about the history of this contested region.

Shifting Sands is an exhibition of Ian Cunnison’s photographs from Sudan, taken during his ethnographic research on the political culture of the Misseriya-Humr between 1952 and 1955. The Misseriya annual migration goes from the edge of the desert in Kordofan to Abyei, where Dinka communities plant crops and graze their own cattle. This region lies on what is now a contested international border between Sudan and South Sudan; Abyei is currently claimed by both states. As part of the peace process that led to South Sudan’s independence there was supposed to have been a referendum in Abyei to determine which country the region would join. This never took place, hampered by disagreements over who had the right to vote. In October 2013, the Dinka community held a unilateral referendum. The Misseriya refused to participate and the ballot took place before, on their annual migration, they had reached the contested region.

Image‘Horse with Anthropologist’

Ian Cunnison (1923-2013) was an important figure in British and Sudanese anthropology. In 1959, after his research in Kordofan was finished, he moved back to an independent Sudan with his wife, Sheila to set up the department of social anthropology at the University of Khartoum. Even after he had returned to England, to take up a position at the University of Hull, he remained closely engaged with Sudanese scholars. During his retirement, Cunnison’s study of the Misseriya took on an entirely new significance. His work was used by lawyers representing both Sudan and South Sudan on the International Tribunal at The Hague to determine the boundaries of Abyei. Cunnison himself was called to give evidence to the court; a sharp reminder that the political significance of academic research can change dramatically.

The exhibition follows the 1953/1954 migration of the nomadic camp of the Omda (chief) Hurgas Merida, with whom Cunnison lived during his fieldwork. The camp moved around 60 times a year; four modules of photographs show different stages of the seasonal migration between the Babanusa in the north, to Abyei further south. It is a sophisticated cultural means of exploiting Sudan’s extreme environmental conditions. Photographs of the migration are interspersed with portraits of members of the camp that explore relationships – both within the camp and between neighbouring communities – in particular the Ngok Dinka in Abyei. These are also striking pictures of everyday life, indicating a familiarity between subject and photographer, which make them quintessentially the product of a close ethnographic relationship.

The photographs tell a unique visual story of inter-ethnic relationships in this frontier zone. Through portraiture and ethnographic details taken from Cunnison’s published work, the exhibition explores these complex dynamics in the camp in the mid 1950s. One portrait that reveals the intricacy of genealogical connections is of a man called Sheybun, the half brother of Hurgus Merida (who was the leader of the camp). Sheybun was one of Cunnison’s closest informants and a good friend (there several photographs of him in the exhibition). Cunnison describes Sheybun as ‘fey’, a carefree and engaging character. Before Cunnison’s research Sheybun had divorced his wife, but he had had a change of heart and was trying to raise the cattle needed to remarry her. One of the people helping him was his mother’s brother, El-Ju, a man of Dinka parentage and one of Hurgas’ closest friends. Sheybun himself was half Dinka. As we learn from Cunnison’s ethnography, several members of the camp were the descendants of Dinka slaves, others where descended from free men who became associated with the camp.

ImageSheybun

Despite the evidence of a recent history of slavery between the Dinka and Misseriya, Cunnison’s photographs capture a time in Abyei that many remember as a time of peace. In 1951 Deng Majok, the paramount chief of the Ngok Dinka had been asked by the colonial government if the Ngok Dinka should join the Southern provinces. He decline and opted to stay in the administration of Kordofan. During this period, Deng Majok sat with Misseriya leaders on the El Fula Rural Council, which Cunnison described as ‘a sphere of apparently friendly and fruitful cooperation between the north and south of the county’. At this time relationships were relatively good; but the situation would change dramatically from the 1960s as civil war began spread into Abyei.

The last photograph in the exhibition is of men from Deng Majok’s court visiting the Misseriya Nazir Ali Nimir at a camp near to Lau (in the Abyei region). The Dinka visitors recline on deckchairs, while Misseryia men sit on mats on the floor. Cattle graze in the background and the Nazir studies a piece of paper. This is not the most visually stunning of Cunnison’s photographs, but it is one of the most lingering: a tantalizing reminder that workable local relationships in Abyei have, in the past, been possible.

ImageMen of Deng Majok and Nazir ‘Ali Nimir in a camp at Lau.

This exhibition marks the donation of the papers of Ian Cunnison to the Sudan Archive at Durham University and is funded by The Centre for Arts and Visual Cultures at the University of Durham.

Shifting Sands: Babanusa to Abyei 1953-1954 is at The Oriental Museum in Durham from 4th April to 4th October 2014.

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Youth responses to social engineering in Eritrea and Rwanda

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Pastoralism and Resilience – A Workshop

Horn of Africa Seminar Series

Oxford Pastoralist Research Day

Pastoralism and Resilience

Current Debates and Approaches to Development in Pastoralist Regions

May 31st, 2013

 12-5pm

Seminar Room, African Studies Centre

13 Bevington Road, Oxford

The recent drought in the Sahel and Horn of Africa has once again drawn attention to the issue of how pastoralist livelihood systems are responding to complex changes in the ecological, political and economic environment. At the same time donors and aid agencies are increasingly advocating for a ‘resiliency and risk reduction’ approach to pastoralist development initiatives.

The aim of the Oxford Pastoralist Research day is to bring together locally based researchers, practitioners and others interested in these communities to share ideas and experiences on what is meant by resilience and to interrogate the various assumptions and theories of change that is informing current policy towards pastoralists and the multiple challenges they are facing.

Confirmed discussants so far will cover the following issues:

Ÿ  Adaptations to drought in the Sahel

Ÿ  NGO practices in Somali region Ethiopia

Ÿ  Land rights and commercialization in the Horn

Ÿ  Herding and learning, models for appropriate education in Ethiopia.

Ÿ  Marketing

Ÿ  Emerging issues-Central Asia.

Students and practitioners are invited to join these discussions and share any aspect of their current research or ongoing project activity. The meeting is open to anyone interested in this topic.

Please register your interest or subject that you would like to present on and send this information to: kitdorey@yahoo.co.uk, angela.raven-roberts@lmh.ox.ac.uk or jason.mosley@africa.ox.ac.uk by May 5th 2013. We will inform you of the final agenda and look forward to seeing you at the meeting.

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‘Post-transitional’ directions in the Somalias — A Workshop

Horn of Africa seminar series workshop 

‘Post-transitional’ directions in the Somalias

April 30, 2013

12:00 pm

Nissan Lecture Theatre

St Antony’s College

University of Oxford

 

As Somalia’s Transitional Federal Charter was being wound down in August 2012, and particularly after the new Federal Parliament elected Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as president in September, a surge of sentiment — loosely organised around the keyword/hashtag ‘Somalia Rising’ — was channelled into discussions on Twitter and other social media and discussion fora.  By and large, commentators focused on the positive implications of the change of leadership taking place in Mogadishu.

After the establishment of a notionally permanent government in Mogadishu, that optimism is set to be tested.  However, long-standing assumptions about Somalia may also need to be questioned, in order to gain a better sense of what has changed, what has not, and what new challenges are ahead.  Related to the question of where Somalia is headed is the question of the state of ‘Somali studies’ after two decades of reduced access for external scholars and an impaired educational environment in Somalia itself.

This workshop will consider a range of political and social dynamics, grouped around two themes — ‘Futures in the Somalias’ and ‘The Future of Somali Studies’.  In addition, we will take advantage of the occasion to launch a special issue of the Journal of Eastern African Studies, guest edited by Markus Hoehne, Effects of ‘Statelessness’: Dynamics of Somali politics, economy and society since 1991.

The workshop is open to all, and will involve a mix of academic and practitioner voices.  Please register interest (or questions) by emailing Jason Mosley, the convenor of the Horn of Africa seminar, at jason.mosley@africa.ox.ac.uk.

 

Directions to St Antony’s College:

http://www.sant.ox.ac.uk/about/directions.html

Programme

12:00 pm Doors open: Nissan Lecture Theatre
   
12:15 pm Welcome

Jason Mosley, African Studies Centre, Oxford University

   
12:30 pm Panel 1: Futures in the Somalias

Crisis and displacement; different solutions for different kinds of displaced

Laura Hammond, SOAS, University of London

 

The role of the constitution in relieving or fostering conflict

Mohammed Seid, Independent legal scholar

 

The evolving role of Islamist groups in Somali politics

Mohamed al-Hadi, Al-Shahid Centre 

 

Whither the fourth estate is post-Transitional Somalia?

Jamal Osman, ITN/Channel 4 News

 

Chair/Discussant: Sally Healy, Rift Valley Institute

   
2:30 pm Coffee break
   
2:45 pm Keynote

 

Transitional Justice in the Somali setting

Markus Hoehne, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology

 

Discussant: Lidwien Kapteijns, Wellesley College, USA

   
3:45 pm Panel 2: The Future of Somali Studies

 

Clan Cleansing in Somalia: The Ruinous Turn of 1991

Lidwien Kapteijns, Wellesley College, USA

 

Insider-outsider and gendered dynamics for Somali researchers in Somalia

Siham Rayale, SOAS, University of London

 

State-building in Somali Studies: Future framework

Mohamed Ingiriis, Goldsmiths, University of London

 

Chair/Discussant: Markus Hoehne, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology

   
5:30 pm Reception: JEAS special issue launch

 

Effects of ‘Statelessness’: Dynamics of Somali politics, economy and society since 1991

Guest editor: Markus Hoehne, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology

   
6:00 pm Dinner (optional)

 

St Antony’s College

(at participants’ own expense)

 

 

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14th Annual Researching Africa Day Workshop

Call for Papers:

Researching Africa: The Flow of Research?

Saturday, 23rd February 2013 –  St Antony’s College, Oxford 

Researching Africa Day provides graduate students with the opportunity to network with fellow researchers, exchange information, discuss research strategies and develop ideas in a constructive, stimulating and engaging environment. The workshop is open to all graduates working on Africa within the disciplines of history, politics, economics, development studies, literature, anthropology, social policy, geography, public health and the natural sciences.

This year’s workshop, Researching Africa: The Flow of Research?, interrogates the process of researching Africa. We hope to explore how research progresses, as well as examine the issues and obstacles that confront researchers at various stages. We aim to question the idea that research always follows a sequence that begins in the library and ends on the word processor. We have divided the workshop into four panels that follow the accepted chronology of research, and we invite papers that either investigate these stages (from the acquisition of material to its presentation), or challenge their relationship to one another, in order to understand the ‘flow’ of research as it actually is.

The four panels are outlined as follows:

1) Accessing

How do we access material? From gaining ethical clearance, to finding our ‘field sites’ and negotiating ‘gatekeepers’, what issues and difficulties do we experience as researchers in Africa?

2) Acquiring

How do we acquire material? From archives and life histories, to images and data-­‐sets, what choices does the researcher make in the process of collection?

3) Interrogating

How do we interrogate our material? From grounding personal experience to the application of theory, how do we make sense of what we have gathered during fieldwork?

4) Presenting

How do we present our material? From the format to the content, what dilemmas are faced and what impact do we make as researchers?

We invite papers on the panels outlined above. Presentations should be between 12 and 15 minutes, followed by a discussion between the panellists and the audience. Please send an abstract of your paper of 200 words by 25th January 2013.

We welcome participation from students beyond Oxford. While the cost of travel is not normally reimbursed, appeals for assistance with travel expenses will be considered in exceptional circumstances. We have limited funding and encourage speakers to pursue funding opportunities at their home institutions first. Accommodation for those who wish to stay the night may be available at certain colleges at your own expense.

Please circulate this announcement to colleagues as widely as possible, and address your submissions and enquiries to:

Ed Teversham, Juliet Gilbert, Khumisho Moguerane, Organisers, Researching Africa Day 2013

RAD.23Feb.Oxford[at]gmail.com 

Call for papers in pdf format.

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‘We shall return’: elections, anxiety and prophecies in northern Kenya

 By Hassan Hussein Kochore

 Hassan Hussein Kochore writes about a ‘we shall return home’ narrative gaining traction in parts of northern Kenya. People are looking north to a post-Meles Ethiopia while worrying what the 2013 Kenyan elections will bring.

In his seminal work on nationalism, Imagined Communities (1983), Benedict Anderson suggested that a feeling of national community is produced by the knowledge that all over the nation people are performing the daily ritual of reading the same newspaper.  This idea is best captured in the name of our own Kenyan newspaper, the Daily Nation.  In Nairobi, one can take for granted the ease with which a newspaper can be obtained from the supermarket, roadside vendors, and hawkers in traffic jams or even by borrowing it from a fellow passenger in a matatu. Many matatus these days actually have a copy of the day’s paper and if you’re lucky enough to sit next to the driver, you can monopolize it. By the time you get to your destination, you’ll have read the whole paper for free!

Then picture a place where a newspaper is hard to come by, a place where you can only ever buy yesterday’s paper, asking a shopkeeper on a Monday morning, “Nipatie Sunday Nation ya leo.” (Give me today’s Sunday Nation). Welcome to Marsabit County in northern Kenya, the nation’s ‘B-side’. Northern Kenya has historically been marginalized, closed off from the rest of Kenya and development actors like the churches. It was only after independence that the Catholic Church, for example, was allowed to build schools in Marsabit. Roads are almost non-existent, with heavy trucks – the most popular means of transport – carving out new roads for themselves every few days in the sandy landscape. It still takes two days riding on the roof of a truck to get to Marsabit from Nairobi. Continue reading

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Somalia’s ‘Constructive Elite’ and the Challenges Ahead

Laura Mann reports from the first event of the Rift Valley Institute’s Nairobi Forum for Research, Policy and Local Knowledge – ‘A Somali Spring?’ A link to the podcast can be found at the end of the post.

On October 11th, the Rift Valley held its first ‘Nairobi Forum’. They invited Ken Menkhaus, Amal Ismail, Jabril Abdulla and Matt Bryden to discuss the post-election climate in Somalia. The former Kenyan ambassador to Somalia, Mohamed Abdi Affey, who was chairing the proceedings, joked: “We wanted to show Kenya what it means to be a democratic nation”.

All parties agreed that Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is a man who combines two clean hands with enormous street cred. There is reason for ‘cautious optimism’ even amidst the challenges ahead. Ken Menkhaus argued that it was not the election of this single remarkable man that was important, but the extensive support network behind him. Describing this network as a ‘constructive elite,’ Menkhaus clarified that this was not a mass uprising ‘Somali Spring’ but a civic mobilization of determined professionals tired of warlordism and ineffective foreign interventions alike. These individuals have been on the ground for the past 20 years, building hospitals, schools, universities and private businesses. They have spent the past 20 years “navigating the streets” as Ken Menkhaus put it. They have learnt how to negotiate deals with difficult parties, how to build trust across clans and most importantly, they know how to get things done. Jabril Abdulla added that these negotiating skills are important. The gradual expansion of the state will not just involve institutions, but people, some benign and some less palatable. Getting warlords to engage in politics is one of the key challenges.

Abdulla added that while elites had gotten him elected, there was nonetheless widespread public support behind his victory. He described how the public ‘legitimized’ the election by broadcasting the news on radios and televisions during the week following the election. However he also cautioned that there were some regions that did not share in the jubilation.

Nevertheless, as each of them said in turn, there is reason for cautious optimism. Continue reading

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Dispatch from Somaliland: ‘The Voice of Students’

Students’ Development Association (SDA) is a voluntary development association established in June 2011 by students in the Development Studies Program at Admas University College, Hargeisa, Somaliland. The association works to support the improvement of education at Admas University College and in Somaliland as a whole.

They have just published the first edition of their newsletter, which you can check out here.

The Voice of Students Newsletter

Read to find out about a range of issues – from water management and agriculture to financial institutions in Somaliland. The newsletter also showcases SDA’s efforts to build a public library in Hargeisa. If you’re headed that way, take a few books of your own to add to their collection!

You can also follow SDA on facebook.

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Peace & Security in Africa: new MA / PhD programmes at AAU & Leipzig

This may be of interest to some of you: the University of Leipzig and Addis Ababa University are launching two joint programmes with a focus on peace & security in Africa – a two-year MA in Global Studies (Peace and Security in Africa), and a three-year PhD in Global and Area Studies (Peace and Security in Africa). The application deadlines are July 9th for the MA and July 16th for the PhD programme.

Here is what the organisers have to say about the PhD:

Starting in October 2012, and in cooperation with the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) at Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia), the University of Leipzig offers a three-year interdisciplinary doctoral training programme in the field of Global and Area Studies with a special emphasis on peace and security in Africa. The programme trains junior researchers and professionals in globalisation research. It qualifies them for employment, among others, in international organizations, in the field of conflict management, prevention and resolution and early warning (as well as other areas of the emerging African peace and security architecture), and as future lecturers, scholars and researchers for the rapidly expanding higher education sector in Ethiopia and its neighbouring countries – enabling these future elites to ‘think globally’.Continue reading

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