Indigenous Pathways of Action and Freedom

​Taiaiake Alfred's "Wasase: Indigenous Pathways of Action and Freedom" (2009) was recommended to me, as I sought out a book (or parts of a book) that might be used to introduce undergraduate students to ethical and justice issues of colonialism in Canada. In some ways, it is similar to Ngugi's work on decolonizing the mind, and in some ways it is similar to Smith's work on decolonizing methodologies, but it is also quite different. The author says that "Wasase is a book that speaks to the imperceptible way that European thought has polluted the minds of Native Americans resulting in cultural blanks. It speaks to reflection: reflection on that pollution. It speaks to revitalization: revitalization of the "Warrior's Way" which is the only way Native Americans will be able to find their way out of the colonizers quagmire" (p. 11).

At points, the book presents forceful challenges to Settler and colonial society, drawing on Memmi and Fanon. Taiaiake presents an "ethical and political vision, the real demonstration of our resolve to survive as Onkwehonwe [first people] and to do what we must to force the Settlers to acknowledge our existence and the integrity of our connection to the land" (p. 19). The way forward, the book outlines, is challenging because the "political and social institutions that govern us have been shaped and organized to serve white power and they conform to the interests of the stats founded on that objective. These state and Settler-serving institutions are useless to the cause of our survival" (p. 20). In a longer passage, the author writes:

  • ​"What it comes down to in confronting our imperial reality is that some of us what to reform colonial law and policy, to dull that monster's teeth so that we can't be ripped apart so easily. Some of us believe in reconciliation, forgetting that the monster has a genocidal appetite, a taste for our blood, and would sooner tear us apart than lick our hands. I think that the only thing that has changed since our ancestors first declared war on the invaders is that some of us have lost heart. Against history and against those who would submit to it, I am with the warriors who want to beat the beast into bloody submission and teach it to behave." (p. 37)

The passion and forcefulness of the opening pages is somehow softened as the book develops the ideas. For example, one might read the above passages as calling for violence as a means to achieve the objective, but that is generally opposed. The place of Settlers, one might assume, is better elsewhere, but that too is clarified: "When we say to the Settlers, "Give it back," are we talking about them giving up the country and moving away? No. Irredentism has never been the vision of our peoples. When we say "Give it back," we're talking about Settlers demonstrating respect for what we share - the land and its resources - and making things right by offering us the dignity and freedom we are due and returning our power and land enough for us to be self-sufficient." (p. 153). One wonders if the inclination to approaches that might be considered within the realm of reconciliation are forgetting the monster Taiaiake introduces readers to? 

On language and labels, Taiaiake explains that many "Onkwehonwe [first people] today embrace the label of "aboriginal," but this identity is a legal and social construction of the state, and it is disciplined by racialized violence and economic oppression to serve an agenda of silent surrender... The integrationist and unchallenging aboriginal vision is designed to lead us to oblivion, as individual successes in assimilating to the mainstream are celebrated, and our survival is redefined strictly in the terms of capitalist dogma and practical-minded individualist consumerism and complacency." (p. 23)​

The Violence of the Green Revolution

Vandana Shiva has long been one of the key actors and advocates promoting locally-driven and owned, agroecologically-oriented and opposing corporate control of the agricultural and food sector. Although it was not her first publication, this message gained a global audience with "The Violence of the Green Revolution: Third World Agriculture, Ecology, and Politics" (1989). With the benefit of hindsight, there are two aspects I see missing from the book, one is a lack of engagement with farmer agency (as if they have no role in corporate expansion, I've written on how farmers can refuse, for example) and limited critical reflection on diversity (it is essentially good, my research suggests we need some more nuance on this). That said, this is an excellent resource and, in particular, it is good to recognize the roots of position that is now widely held so we can recognize the thought leaders. Some points I found interesting:

  • After "two decades, the invisible ecological, political and cultural costs of the Green Revolution have become visible. At the political level, the Green Revolution has turned out to be conflict-producing instead of conflict reducing. At the material level, production of high yields of commercial grain have generated new scarcities at the ecosystem level, which in turn have generated new sources of conflict." (p. 15)​
  • "The knowledge and power nexus is inherent to the reductionist system because the mechanistic order, as a conceptual framework, was associated with a set of values based on power which were compatible with the needs of commercial capitalism. It generates inequalities and domination by the way knowledge is generated and structured, the way it is legitimized, and by the way in which such knowledge transforms nature and society." (p. 22-23)​
  • "The linkage between chemical fertilizers and dwarf varieties that were established through breeding programmes of CIMMYT and IRRI, created a major shift in how seeds were perceived and produced, and who controlled the production and use of seeds." (p. 62-63)​
  • "Unlike the traditional high yielding varieties which have co-evolved with local ecosystems, the Green Revolution HYV's have to be replaced frequently. Seeds, a renewable resource, are thus converted into a non-renewable resource, which each variety usable for only one or two years before it gets overtaken by pests. Obsolescence replaces sustainability." (p. 89)​
  • "The inequality generating effects of the Green Revolution were built into the strategy of 'building on the best' - the best endowed region and the best endowed farmers. The increase in resource intensity of inputs for Green Revolution agriculture implied the increase in capital intensity of farming which tended to generate new inequalities between those who could use the new technology profitably, and those for whom it turned into an instrument of dispossession." (p. 176-177)​
  • "Liberalisation has meant freedom for corporate giants to test, experiment and sell their products without constraint, without controls. This necessarily means destroying for citizens the right to freedom from hazards posed by the new technologies and products." (p. 209)​
  • The "US has accused countries of the Third World of engaging in 'unfair trading practice' if they fail to adopt US patent laws which allow monopoly rights in life form. Yet it is the US which has engaged in unfair practices related to the use of Third World genetic resources. It has freely taken the biological adversity of the Third World to spin millions of dollars worth of profits, none of which have been shared with Third World countries, the original owners of the germplasm. A wild tomato variety (Lycopresicon chomrelweskii) taken from Peru in 1962 has contributed $8 million a year to the American tomato processing industry by increasing the content of soluble solids. Yet none of these profits or benefits have been shared with Peru, the original source of the genetic material." (p. 260)

Page numbers are from the 2016 print of the University Press of Kentucky.


Why Some Social Movements Succeed While Others Don't

​This is the question that drives the recent book by Leslie Crutchfield, "How Change Happens: Why Some Social Movements Succeed While Others Don't" (2018). This book is about social movements in the US, or that are primarily US-led. It offers some interesting case studies, quite descriptive throughout. The author summarizes the objective as seeking to understand why "some changes occur, but others don't? What are the factors that drive successful social and environmental change campaigns, while others falter? This book examines the leadership approaches, campaign strategies, and ground-level tactics employed by a range of modern social change efforts peaking since the 1980s" (p. 3). The key lessons can be summarized in six points:

  • "Winning movements are fueled by energy that materializes from the bottom up." (p. 12)
  • Do "the yeoman's work of pushing for improvements at the state and local level, advocating town by town, racking up small wins and building momentum incrementally, rather than going for national change at the start." (p. 12)
  • "change public attitudes so people believe the changes they seek are fair and right" (p. 13)
  • Put your "egos and organizational identities to the side (if only temporarily) so disparate factions can come together around a common agenda" (p. 13)
  • "Businesses can affect major change by altering their employee policies; raising their influential voices in public debates; and leveraging their innovation capabilities, as well as their brands and customer loyalty, for causes" (p. 13)
  • "Instead of small handfuls of elites dictating to troops from the top down or an amorphous mob of activists genuflecting for change from the bottom up, the most effective movements find the balance between the "leaderless" and the "leader-led" extremes" (p. 14).

I found the book somewhat repetitive. Given two years had passed since "How Change Happens" (Duncan Green's version) was published, and all the hullabaloo around it, it is odd that the author does not even cite Green's book (same title, same topic). Many of the key concepts this book tried to introduce (e.g. complexity, systems) where already introduced in Green's book. Maybe more disappointing is that Crutchfield does not employ complexity or systems approaches consistently, but rather uses them narrowly and in a specific way. Other findings in this book are reflected in a range of existing books (which are also not cited), such as those on leadership, which includes books that are also specific to the US context. Two relevant omissions were McChrystal (2015) and Bond and Exley (2016). The lack of engagement with all this relevant literature is unfortunate, particularly given the research produced was done by a large team. If you are looking for a book on this topic, I would suggest Green's 'How Change Happens' before this one (unless you are seeking out the specific US case studies).​

Land Tenure in Eritrea (1966)

An earlier post highlighted the first land tenure survey in Ethiopia, this post presents "Land Tenure in Eritrea (Ethiopia)" (1966) by Ambaye Zekarias. This publication is part of a broader set of literature that emerged during the 1960s (see broader literature here, with historical studies being a particular strength). The forward of this particular book was written by the eminent historian Richard Pankhurst, who himself wrote a history of land tenure in the 1960sThis book is not a land survey of Eritrea, but a summary of the types of tenure, covering both the traditional systems and those introduced by colonial occupation. In addition to being a historical reference for the pre-land reform period, it provides a good reference of terminology for a unique context where colonial systems created parallel systems to the traditional ones.

The book opens with a statement rarely made about Ethiopia: "The purpose of this book is not land reform, there is no land problem in this region of Ethiopia. There is plentiful of land [sic], the systems of land tenure with proper with proper adjustments would be models worth supporting. Here every qualified member is entitled for arable land, thus land is extended to every individual." (p. iv). I would be interested to hear from Eritrean historians about this claim, and if accurate, more about the processes used to ensure equal access (in a region and time when that was not common) and for how long the land plenty existed.

I was hoping to make these older publications available on this website, but appears that the majority remain protected by copyright. I will continue to explore options about how I can improve access to these difficult to obtain publications.

Factfulness - Hans Rosling

​Hans Rosling passed away in 2017, but his "Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World - and Why Things are Better than You Think" (2018) carries his legacy on. For those familiar with Hans and his work, this is a good summary of a career working to educate. For those unfamiliar with Hans, this is an excellent place to start. The book summarizes ten reasons we (everyone) tend to be wrong, or hold incorrect assumptions, drawing upon examples over the decades. This is an excellent introductory book for students interested in global health.

The book can't be simply summarized, as it covers a lot of ground, however, I would like to highlight one point Hans makes, which seems to be the foundation of a career that aimed to help us think about how to make better decisions:

  • "This is the cruel calculus of extreme poverty. It felt almost inhuman to look away from an individual dying child in front of me and toward hundreds of anonymous dying children I could not see. I remember the words of Ingegerd Rooth, who had been working as a missionary nurse in Congo and Tanzania before she became my mentor. She always took me, "In the deepest poverty you should never do anything perfectly. If you do you are stealing resources from where they can be better used." Paying too much attention to the individual visible victim rather than to the numbers can lead us to spend all our resources on a fraction of the problem, and therefore save many fewer lives. This principle applies anywhere we are prioritizing scarce resources. It is hard for people to talk about resources when it comes to saving lives, or prolonging or improving them. Doing so is often taken for heartlessness. Yet so long as resources are not infinite - and they never are infinite - it is the most compassionate thing to do to use your brain and work out how to do the most good with what you have." (p. 127-128)

Fictions of Feminist Ethnography

​Some of the strengths of feminist scholarship and feminist critique have become more widely utilized and adopted, often without recognition of their origins. Intersectionality and positionality are two examples of approaches of this sort. In many ways, Kamala Visweswaran's book "Fictions of Feminist Ethnography" (1994) is a reflection of the time period of its authoring – feminist critique and scholarship had been developing in the decade leading up to its publication. This series of essays engages with those works and with the author's own experiences in grappling with how these ideas might intersect with ethnographic research and ethnographic writing. The book is rich in references for anyone seeking a work that explores these questions within the broader literature (literally, as the title suggests, including works not normally included, from fiction to dairy).

Some notes:

  • "If we have learned anything about anthropology's encounter with colonialism, the question is not really whether anthropologists can represent people better, but whether we can be accountable to people's own struggles fir self-representation and self-determination." (p. 32)
  • "a feminist ethnography can consider how identities are multiple, contradictory, partial, and strategic. The underlying assumption is, of course, that the subject herself represents a constellation of conflicting social, linguistic, and political forces. Individual narratives can be seen as both expressive and ideological in nature. However, the category "experience" is utilized not to pin down the truth of any individual subject, but as a means of reading ideological contradictions. It could gauge the processes of subject constitution in the articulation of individual with master narratives." (p. 50)​
  • "those of us engaged in identifying ethnography may be moved by different sets of questions concerning power, domination, and representation; how we may ourselves be positioned (and not always by choice) in opposition to dominant discourses and structures of power. The oppositional sense of such ethnography shows that these questions are not only important, but indeed vital for reshaping the practice of anthropology, and point again to the double sense of "identifying ethnography." (p. 140)"

Somalia – The Problem Child?

​In September of 1977 Mesfin Wolde Mariam published "Somalia: The Problem Child of Africa", near the outset of the Ogaden War (which lasted from July 1977 to March 1978). As much as I respect Mesfin Wolde Mariam, this is a problematic book. Essentially, Mesfin challenges the claims that Somalis make with regard to their right of nationhood, some of which are valid. They are given no agency in the decision making process, history rather deems that their land must Ethiopian. The book is highly politicized and presents a highly biased Ethiopian perspective. For a person who is, at least in theory, arguing for the Somali region of Ethiopia to be included in the country, he speaks very poorly of the people and their livelihoods (e.g. p. 54-55). The 'problems' of Somali, as Mesfin describes them, are all external (Italian colonialism, British colonialism, apparent British inculcating of Somali nationalism). No mention is made of how Somalis in Ethiopia have been treated in Ethiopia, their lack of inclusion in the nation (except then they when needed), that they have been neglected from the state, and during many periods of history persecuted because of their faith. Instead, Mesfin tells us that the dreams of a Greater Somali are all of colonial origin and that Somali's have no claim to the Ethiopian Somali region. With reference to this historical moment, the book may be useful for those interested in Ethio-Somali relations, and specifically the rhetoric revolving around the Ogaden War.

The History of Ethiopian – Indian Relations

​This may not be the most rigorous of historical books, but given it was published in 1961, in Ethiopia, "Indo-Ethiopian Relations for Centuries" by Muthanna is a unique find. The first 70-odd pages present some rather tenuous linkages between the two areas, and  ome rather bizarre claims that Ethiopians (and Egyptians) are descendants of Indians (p. 19). Even some of Ethiopia's most important texts (e.g. Kibra Negast) are claimed to have Indian roots (p. 36) as too are the Rock Churches of Lalibela: "in all probability the masons and subsidiary workers must have come from India" (p. 203). However, once the book moves to cover the relatively most recent period (14th century onward), it provides some interesting historical relations between the two nations. The deep historical were largely driven by imperial powers – Portuguese trade, British colonialism, slaves and soldiers moving across the oceans. More modern historical ties (1800s onward), took business and political forms – with India and Indians playing key roles in the right against the Italians and in the decision regarding Eritrea in 1952. As India is now one of Ethiopia's largest sources of foreign direct investment, this book may find new readers as the ties between the nations deepen.

Invisible Countries

  • The "map of the world as we all know today is the product of a series of accidents and historical processes that could just as easily have gone another way" (p. 5). 

Joshua Keating explores why the countries on the map seem so stable by visiting countries that don't exist, in one shape or another. The book, "Invisible Countries: Journeys to the Edge of Nationhood" (2018), while published by Yale University Press, it is not an academic work. It is more journalistic in nature, sharing brief visits or experiences. The author analyzes outlier countries that probably should be countries, countries that are recognized that probably should not be, and oddities, such as countries that may lose their land, e-citizenship and claims of new countries in unclaimed lands. A good airplane or train read for those interested in the topic.

There is an interesting podcast with the author.

Wichale: The Attempt to Establish a Protectorate over Ethiopia

​On May 2, 1889, Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia and Count Pietro Antonelli of Italy signed the Treaty of Wichale. Menelik had a relatively long relationship with Italy in his rise to power, and the Italians supported him as he sought to become Emperor. The Treaty of Wichale, according to the Italian version, gave Italy a protectorate over Ethiopia, while the Amharic version did not. The events surrounding the Treaty of Wichale were of the critical moments that significantly altered relations between the two nations, culminating in the Battle of Adwa in 1896, where an Ethiopian victory maintained and asserted its independence.

Sven Rubenson collected the original treaties and their drafts, in Italian and Amharic, and presents a history of the Treaty of Wichale in his publication "Wichale XVII: The Attempt to Establish a Protectorate Over Ethiopia" (1964). This book was the first of the Historical Studies series published by the Haile Sellassie I University. In addition to reproducing the original treaties, Rubenson discusses the history of the treaty itself, the representation of this period in history (i.e. was Ethiopia a colony for these years or not), and a host of misunderstandings that have arisen regarding it. The author explores opinions about whose action, fault or intention it was to have different texts, with accusations made on both sides as well as possibilities of simple translation error. The matter remains unresolved, but available historical evidence points toward intentional Italian action.

This book is an excellent reference work and provides interesting insight on the use of the Treaty by different writers. At the time of signing, Italy shared the Italian version of the Treaty with European powers, which largely accepted it. The issue of different versions of the Treaty – one version in Italian and another in Amharic – only came to the attention of Emperor Menelik II after a correspondence with Queen Victoria. The discrepancy was identified, and Italian efforts to resolve the issue with Menelik II were not successful. After the signing, in many Italian works, Ethiopia was considered effectively a colony for the period that the Treaty was in effect, while Ethiopian and some alternative sources call into question the claim. Rubenson analyzes past Treaties and explores rich historical evidence in English, Italian, French and Amharic. This is an excellent resource for anyone interested in the subject.

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