Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Asian roots of cultural change in The Gambia

In the last 3 weeks I have been conducting fieldwork in The Gambia and Senegal in the framework of the project AFRASO, an initiative of University of Frankfurt to understand Asia-Africa interactions in a multidisciplinary perspective. My focus is on development cooperation in the agricultural sector. And in the case of The Gambia, the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan) is one of the most important bilateral donors, particularly after 2005. When then president of Senegal Abdoulaye Wade decided to switch diplomatic recognition from ROC to Mainland China, the Taiwanese technical mission was forced to leave the country and reallocated part of their staff to the "smiling coast".  

Some local cultural aspects have become a big headache for the Taiwanese efforts to promote development cooperation as a way to keep on their side one of the few diplomatic allies they still have in Africa. Since British colonial times, one of the problems for agricultural endeavours in The Gambia has been the deeply ingrained gender division of labor in Mandinka culture, the predominant ethnicity, which has also been adopted by other groups, like the Fulani. While men cultivate groundnut, millet, and fruits, rice and horticulture are the exclusive domain of women. 

The main elements of the Taiwanese agricultural technical cooperation in The Gambia are rice production (which I will describe in detail in future posts) and "women gardens". Previous research has shown that indeed one of the main problems for the sustainability of the production in the gardens is the lack of men's involvement in any of the tasks. But this seems to be changing... 

As can be seen in the video below, captured during our visit to the most famous of the gardens (Bajulunding, close the the capital city and the airport), now there are many men involved in the production. It seems like in recent years the Taiwanese have convinced some guys to work there by directly hiring them for a portion of the garden dedicated to the consumption of the embassy staff and for some concrete tasks as operating the machines. 

But this is not the only change. In the video it is possible to see boys working side-by-side with their mothers in the gardens! This is unthinkable in rural villages and was in this same garden some years ago. Maybe it is too early to say, but this can be part of an Asian-driven cultural change in The Gambia. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

A socio-economic characterization of returnee households in the Nuba Mountains

This weekend will start the CSAE conference 2013 in Oxford, the largest gathering of experts on Africa related economic topics and one of the most important conferences about economic development in general.

My co-author Asha Abdel Rahim (University of Juba) will be presenting our work (also joint with Aleksi Ylonen) about households returning to their communities of origin in the Nuba Mountains after the signature of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended Sudan's civil war in 2005.

The session will be available in live web broadcast  here.

Asha collected this data in 2008, when expectations of a long lasting peace were high and the coexistence  between former enemies was not utopical. Unfortunately, shortly after the data was collected the situation deteriorated and the war resumed in the area in 2011, the same period when the former Nuba allies in the south were preparing to secede and create South Sudan. Therefore the Nuba area was transformed in the southern border of Sudan instead of being the (still always isolated) center of the country.

The inherent problems of data collection in post conflict areas implied that some important information (like place of displacement or ethnicity) was not registered, and the restart of the conflict impeded any follow-up. Given these shortcomings, it is difficult to attempt a causal analysis of the effects of displacement  but the uniqueness of the data make it worthy to be described in detail.

In particular, we are interested in compare returnee households with those who stayed in the villages during the war. Around 300,000 persons returned to Nuba communities after the CPA, and in the 8 villages of our sample (344 households), around 40% of the households are returnees.

We actually find many differences:

- Returnees tend to own less assets than stayers. (This is not surprising, and in line with previous findings by Ibanez and Moya, 2010; Fiala, 2012, among others).

- Returnee households cultivate more agricultural varieties, but mainly staples. Stayers are more likely to cultivate cash crops. (Previous studies had shown differences in production structure, but I am not aware of previous findings mentioning this staple/cash crop differences)

Returnees have better health outcomes, in the sense of household members having a lower probability of contracting serious diseases. (This is somehow in contradiction to Verwimp, 2012, but in line with the findings of Hynes et al. 2002)

- We actually relate the last finding to two possible explanations (apart from self selection into displacement): The fact that returnees tend to have better hygiene habits (in terms of washing their hands and other attitudes, potentially learned during displaced) and the targeted support of NGOs in the post conflict period.

We hope that our contribution can help to the post conflict efforts when the current devastating,  and largely unknown and neglected, conflict in the Nuba Mountains comes to and end. Hopefully soon.

A good source of information of the current events in the Nuba Mountains is NubaReports:

Monday, March 4, 2013

Conflicts and Economic Development

I am currently preparing the course that I will be teaching next semester at the IIEP Master of Goethe University:  Conflicts and Economic Development.

It is actually a "block seminar", meaning students pick up a topic and I will be guiding them to write a term-paper during the semester.

This is first time I will be responsible for this course, so I am sharing the syllabus, with the hope to receive some feedback about relevant topics and papers I may be missing. My students (maybe) and I (for sure) will be very grateful to any suggestions!

Topics: Conflicts and Economic Development (MIIEP-Goethe University, Summer 2013)

General readings

Economic determinants of conflicts
Ethnicity, polarization and conflict
Long run effects of conflicts
Effects of conflicts on human capital
Effects of conflicts on health
Violent conflicts and behavior change
International trade and conflicts
Commodity prices and conflict