Borderland dynamics in the Horn of Africa – Some reflections
This paper is a broad ranging reflection of the general situation of crisis in the Horn of Africa region. Rather than carry out a conventional anthropological analysis in which local people and communities emerge as “heroes” and in charge of their own destinies, the analysis here paints a darker picture. The starting point is Talal Asad’s notion of “systematicity” by which structural forces beyond local agency are operating, thus reducing the local possibilities of affecting future life-worlds. The paper focuses on several examples of such “systematicities”, from the problem of the African state, as it grew out of a colonial situation; the contemporary re-emergence of power and violence as productive political forces in forming new territorial realities and creating new forms of sovereignties; as well as the force of historical narrative in forming the way we understand what is going on, moving from the optimism of “national independence” to the pessimistic “lack of freedom” characterizing current understanding of the situation in the Horn of Africa. The paper concludes by pointing at the concept of “crisis” as an example of how embedded our modernist conceptualizations are in preconceived notions of necessary change, changes brought about by external forces, the so-called “International Community,” sometime through processes of institution building, at other times through direct military and violent interventions. The paper ends on a dark note – that the current development is based in a long history of colonial and imperial relationships, producing continuous violence and inequality among and within independent nation-states. Such global power structures require political changes of a type not available in the current global political system, and in the short run current “global systematicities” will dominate and put down attempts at “resistance” and “local agency.” On the ideological level this situation is justified by a need and a duty to deal with the different types of “crises” that exist in the region.
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