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Can the meek professor or ‘Mr Clean’ save the Central African Republic?

3 February 2016

Paul JacksonPaul Jackson is a political economist working predominantly on conflict and post-conflict reconstruction. A core area of interest is decentralisation and governance and it was his extensive experience in Sierra Leone immediately following the war that led him into the area of conflict analysis and security sector reform.

After no candidate received more than 50% of the vote during the first round in December 2015, the presidential election in the Central African Republic is now headed to a runoff.

Anicet-Georges Dologuele, the former head of the Development Bank of Central African States between 2001-2010 and known as known as “Mr Clean”, came first with 23.8%. He was tailed by a relatively mild-mannered maths professor and outsider, Faustin Archange Touadera with 19.4%. Both men have been prime minister at different times: Touadera served for five years in the national unity government of president Bozize in 2008 and Dologuele was prime minister under president Patasse, who came to power in free elections in 1993.

The first round was remarkably peaceful given the recent upheaval within the Central African Republic. And there’s some cause for optimism still. With nearly 2m of the country’s 5m or so people eligible to vote, turnout in the presidential and parliamentary elections reached a high 79%. The election is seen as a potential turning point away from sectarian violence that has blighted the country for the last few years.

Rescheduled five times due to inter-communal violence, the elections will finally produce a new government to succeed interim president Catherine Samba-Panza. She has been tasked with running the show since the collapse of Michel Djotodia’s government in 2014, but has limited credibility and support and has generally been unable to curb the country’s lawlessness.

Whoever succeeds her will find the challenges as immense as ever.

On the ropes

The Central African Republic has never been governed well. The French looted it; the self-styled independent “Emperor Bokassa” who ruled from 1966 to 1979 took the country to a hellish extreme of kleptocracy and borderline insane dictatorship. There have since been five coups and several armed revolts, and the general population lives in both poverty and fear.

The country is rich in diamonds, gold, oil and uranium, but also has one of the world’s poorest populations. It remains divided between an economic and political elite based in the capital Bangui and the mass of the population. The average annual income is around US$320 and life expectancy is one of the lowest in the world, hovering around 50.

The current troubles began in earnest in December 2012 when the mainly Muslim Sélékaalliance began pillaging its way south. Three months later its forces overthrew president François Bozizé, a former army chief of staff who seized power in a coup in 2003. Christian so-called “Anti-Balaka” (literally “machete-proof”) groups then retaliated against the country’s Muslims, who make up around 15% of the population, and the violence has claimed lives and divided communities ever since.

But the lead-up to these elections was calmer. It even included a visit from Pope Francis, his first to a war zone, during which he paid his respects at a mosque. His message of peace and reconciliation has been invoked by politicians throughout the process.

Faint hope

It is hoped that a newly elected government can restore some government credibility and be able to extend authority beyond the capital. The interim government believes that a legitimate government, even with a flawed electoral process, is the only hope for the country to recover from years of upheaval.

The country has a very long way to go. Much of it is still under the control of rival and fragmented armed groups. In December 2015, an ex-Séléka faction that has clashed with UN peacekeepers previously briefly declared an independent state in the north-east only backing down after pressure from neighbouring Chad.

The Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army is still active in the south-east, and a plethora of armed groups run lucrative operations ranging from road blocks to smuggling diamonds, gold and coffee.

All the while, a shaky peace is maintained by more than 11,000 peacekeepers, but even they have become highly controversial, with accusations of sexual abuse by both UN peacekeepers and French soldiers.

Whoever wins the run-off at the end of January will inherit a heavy weight of expectation for democracy in Africa, but also a country that has been subject to systematic abuse since independence in 1960.

More immediately, they will inherit a government that has little writ beyond Bangui, a non-existent state security sector, and a shifting landscape of communal and lawless groups consisting of young rebels with no education, no jobs and no prospects – but lots of opportunities to make a living by picking up a gun.


This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Five years on, Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution continues from the ground up

18 January 2016

saifAdnan Saif is currently studying for a PhD at the University of Birmingham, focusing on issues of collaborative local governance and hybridity in post-conflict countries, particularly Tunisia. He has worked for more than twenty years in local economic development and local government in the United Kingdom as well as undertaking consultancy work and training in local governance and development in many developing countries.

Tunisians are marking five years since the culmination of their “Jasmine Revolution”. Since its longtime authoritarian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was forced out of office in January 2011, Tunisia has been embarking on a long transition to constitutional democracy – a transition that, although very bumpy at times, has nevertheless led to two successful multi-party elections and a new constitution.

The award of the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize to the Tunisia National Dialogue Quartet, representing Tunisian civil society, was but one of many recognitions by the international community of the progress the country has made on its path to a stable and democratic new order.

During my many visits to Tunisia over the last four years, I witnessed the transition process through its highs and lows. My most recent visit was in August 2015, just after the terrorist attack in the coastal city of Sousse that left 38 people dead, mostly British tourists.

In spite of the tragic loss of life and the damage done to the national economy, Tunisians have developed a remarkable resilience and are able to pick themselves up and move on. That capacity is inspired in no small part by the country’s leaders, especially the two “sheikhs”, as some have now began to call them: president Beji Caid Essebsi and Rashid Al-Ghannoushi, respective leaders of the two largest political parties, Nidaa Tounes and Ennahdah.

The two men’s ability to compromise and work with other national social and political movements, such as the Dialogue Quartet, has become the safety net for the country during this tumultuous transition process.

The latest development in the state-building process is the recently published draft local government bill. On the face of it, it seems like a set of technical changes – but in fact, it’s a core part of the project to fundamentally change the way Tunisia works.

Act local

Localism has a particular resonance in post-revolutionary Tunisia. What’s often forgotten is that Tunisia’s revolution started brewing months before, when Mohammed Boazizi set himself on fire in December 2010 in the town of Sidi Bouzaid. And he did so in protest at the harassment and humiliation inflicted on him by a municipal official.

The bill’s aim is to create a decentralised system of government that supports work, freedom and social justice – precisely the slogans of the Jasmine Revolution.

The Tunisians I’ve spoken with have high hopes for a truly decentralised form of government, where they will truly have the opportunity to participate in the decision making process and make their voices be heard. If local governments can respond quicker and more effectively to local issues, the argument goes, Tunisia will be a far more stable and happy place than it was under decades of centralised authoritarianism.

However, there is little debate about the possible costs of decentralisation. Political offices could yet be captured by local elites; after decades of centralised authoritarianism, local legislators are generally inexperienced; and highly localised government can of course be very expensive. Still, the draft legislation does include some safeguards to protect the process. The decentralisation process will be gradual, and economically lagging areas will benefit from extra financial support to keep them from falling behind.

It’ll be a long time before we can tell whether these measures work. But for now, the World Bank at least is willing to give Tunisians the benefit of the doubt: it has agreed a funding package of US$300m in 2014 to support governance reform, endorsing the changes to local governance as “transformational”.

Tunisia still faces huge challenges. But with the constitution in place and responsible political leadership guiding the process, all is by no means lost.


This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Playing together, staying together? Reintegrating sport on the divided island of Cyprus

16 December 2015

Capture 6Laurence Cooley is a teaching fellow in International Development Department (IDD), University of Birmingham. His teaching and research focuses on the governance of deeply divided societies, and in particular the use of power-sharing institutions to manage ethno-national conflict. Recently, he has started to conduct research on the governance of sport in such societies. Here, he reflects on a recent visit to Cyprus, where negotiations about the potential unification of the divided island’s two football federations have been taking place.

In the aftermath of violent conflict in deeply divided societies, the organisation of sport is often left fractured along the same lines that have defined the conflict. Such is the situation in Cyprus, where Greek and Turkish Cypriots have rarely played together since the political trauma of the 1950s. In recent years, however, talks have been taking place between the two football federations on the divided island of Cyprus, and in November 2013 provisional agreement was reached to reunite the two bodies.

Capture 10

One of these, the Cyprus Football Federation (CFA), was formed in the 1930s by seven Greek Cypriot clubs and one Turkish Cypriot club. The CFA was recognised by FIFA in 1948 as the official Cypriot federation. However, in the context of the anti-colonial struggle against British rule in the mid-1950s, Turkish Cypriot teams were prevented from competing in CFA leagues – ostensibly because of security concerns stemming from the growing risk of inter-communal violence – and eventually set up their own Cyprus Turkish Football Association (CTFA), which has never been recognised by FIFA. While an agreement in 1975 allowed for Turkish Cypriot clubs to play friendly matches against foreign teams, this was rescinded in 1983 when the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) was proclaimed. Since 1983, Turkish Cypriot football has existed in a state of almost complete isolation.

Sport was similarly fractured in another divided society, Bosnia and Herzegovina, immediately after the end of its 1992-95 conflict. Bosnia emerged from war with three rival football federations. A way to overcome this division was found in 2002, when a unified football federation was created by merging the separate Bosniak, Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat federations. FIFA and UEFA made an important concession to enable this to happen, however, by agreeing to an interim arrangement allowing the new body to be governed by three presidents – one representing each of the country’s three main ethnic groups – and by an executive committee composed of equal numbers of Bosniak, Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat members.

This arrangement proved to be unwieldy, with a majority of any one of the three groups on the executive committee able to block decisions, and FIFA and UEFA eventually demanded reform. When change was not forthcoming, in 2011 they suspended the federation and subsequently imposed a so-called ‘normalisation committee’, which was able to enact the required reforms. As Jasmin Mujanović and I have argued, in doing so, FIFA and UEFA were able to capitalise on local frustration with corruption and the generally poor state of the domestic game, in a way that might offer lessons for efforts to promote broader political reform in Bosnia.

In Bosnia, there was tremendous resistance to reform on the part of nationalists in both the world of football and politics. In response to FIFA’s demands, Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik once famously proclaimed that “I am against one president being elected for the whole of Bosnia-Herzegovina in any state structure – you name it, even a bee-keeping association”. It was only through a combination of FIFA’s intervention, fan pressure and the happenstance of a club from the Serb entity of the country winning the Bosnian Premier League the season that club teams were to be barred from entering European competitions, that this resistance was overcome.

In Cyprus, by contrast, much of the momentum for change has come from within the local governing bodies rather than from FIFA. The president of the CTFA, Hasan Sertoğlu, has written that the agreement Capture 9reached in Zurich in November 2013 promises to end “more than three decades of isolation” and “to give hope to our clubs, to our players and above all to our youth who all strive to gain access to this global village of the sport called football”. While he initially faced opposition from some Turkish Cypriot politicians, the election of Mustafa Akıncı as the new TRNC president in April 2015 has signalled a political environment more conducive to unification.

While bringing an end to their isolation provides a clear rationale for Turkish Cypriot support of the agreement, the motives of Greek Cypriots are less immediately obvious. The CFA, which has existed as an essentially Greek Cypriot association since the 1950s, already enjoys full international recognition as the official governing body on the island. Nonetheless, there appears to be a significant amount of goodwill towards the Turkish Cypriot football authorities on the part of CFA officials – not least its president, Costakis Koutsokoumnis. While some clubs voted against the proposed unification in a secret ballot held by the CFA, FIFA also holds some power over them. If the talks ultimately fail and this failure is seen to be the fault of the CFA or its member clubs, then it is rumoured that FIFA might unilaterally extend recognition to the CTFA as a second federation on the island.

As Nikos Lekakis has noted, the agreement does not necessarily foresee the creation of a unified league in which Greek and Turkish Cypriot clubs will play against each other. That the leagues might be kept separate, at least initially, reflects concerns about the potential for violence between rival sets of fans (violence between Greek Cypriot clubs is already a significant problem, without the additional complication of the ethnic divide), but also the significant financial gap that now exists between them. While Greek Cypriot clubs regularly participate in European competitions, even the best Turkish Cypriot teams are only semi-professional.

While this arrangement might fall short of the hopes of those who wish to see Greek and Turkish Cypriots once more play alongside one another, it does avoid the problems created by the interim arrangements that were put in place in Bosnia. Rather than merging the two federations as equal partners in a newly created body, if the Zurich agreement is implemented, the Turkish Cypriot league would be affiliated to the CFA in the same way that each of the divisions in the existing league are affiliated. Turkish Cypriot representation in the CFA’s governance structures would follow this model, rather than the power-sharing arrangement that proved so problematic in Bosnia.

There is still some way to go before football on the island will be united, and implementation of the agreement is currently being held up by debates about the need for Turkish Cypriot clubs to be legally registered with the Republic of Cyprus authorities in order to participate in CFA competitions. Nonetheless, while the wording of the agreement between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot football authorities is very careful to note that it “concerns only football related matters” and “does not set any precedent for the Cypriot political issues”, the unification of football would be a hugely symbolic step in the search for a long-term settlement to the Cyprus conflict.

IDD academic awarded SCOPUS Young researcher of the year award for Social Science 2015

4 December 2015

Jonathan’s research is focused on the place and agency of African states in the international system, particularly in the realm of security and conflict. Within this he is interested in the role played by African governments in shaping how they are perceived and engaged with by Western actors. He has a particular interest in eastern Africa and the influence of guerrilla heritage on contemporary patterns of governance, conflict and cooperation across the region. He is also interested in how ‘knowledge’ on African security and conflict is negotiated and constructed in a range of settings.

Dr Jonathan Fisher, Senior Lecturer in African Politics, International Development Department (IDD) has been recognised with the SCOPUS Young researcher of the year award for Social Science 2015.     https://www.elsevier.com/awards/europe/early-career-researcher-uk-awards-2015  Dr Fisher attended a ceremony on Thursday 05 November 2015 to accept his award.

Speaking of his achievement, Dr Fisher said: “Being nominated for the SCOPUS Young researcher of the year award is a great honour and winning feels just amazing. I do what I do because I love it and think it’s an extremely important topic, getting recognition for my research gives me real confidence in taking my work to the next step. This award helps to highlight the importance of understanding Africa’s relationship with the rest of the world.”

Elsevier, a world-leading provider of scientific, technical and medical information products and services, and the US-UK Fulbright Commission honoured the early career researchers for their outstanding contribution to UK science at an awards ceremony attended by over 70 senior figures from government, academia and industry. The keynote speech was delivered by Gareth Davies, Director General for Knowledge and Innovation, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills who said “All the winners should be very proud of their achievements. The UK research base is one of our country’s great success stories and punches well above its weight, so to be at the front of this field is no mean feat. I wish them every success for the future.”

Working closely with the research community, Elsevier recognises and rewards researchers for their vital role in advancing science.  The Scopus Young Researcher UK Award programme began in 2011 to highlight the work of early career researchers through six awards across a variety of subject disciplines.

Explainer: what is going on in Mali?

23 November 2015

Paul JacksonPaul Jacksonis a political economist working predominantly on conflict and post-conflict reconstruction. A core area of interest is decentralisation and governance and it was his extensive experience in Sierra Leone immediately following the war that led him into the area of conflict analysis and security sector reform.

After a week in which Europe was rocked by terrorism on the streets of Paris, gunmen entered the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, the capital of Mali. A hostage situation unfolded and French and Malian security forces battled for control of the building. It is a hotel that is known to be frequented by foreigners and represents an escalation of violence that has been building in Mali during 2015.

Islamist attacks have been concentrated in Mali’s north, but spread during 2015 to the centre of the country – and then to the south and the borders with Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso. On March 6, there was a terrorist attack on the restaurant La Terrasse in Bamako, in the south-west of the country. Five people were killed and nine were injured.

On June 10, there was an attack by armed men on Malian security forces in the town of Misseni, near the border with Ivory Coast. And on August 7, armed men attacked the town of Sévare in the Mopti region, north-east of Bamako. The attack lasted several hours, including a siege at a local hotel. Twelve people died, including two foreign nationals.

Coup, rebellion, intervention

The current cycle of violence in Mali, a former French colony, began in 2012 when Tuareg soldiers returned to northern Mali after fighting in the Libyan civil war. Forming the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), they fought against the Malian government to win independence for the northern region of Azawad.

This conflict led to a coup that removed the president, Amadou Toumani Touré and the suspension of the constitution of Mali. Following this, the MNLA took control of three cities in the north and proclaimed Azawad’s independence from Mali in April 2012.

Taking advantage of this conflict, several Islamist groups moved in to intervene. Ansar Dine – which is Arabic for Defenders of Faith – and two other jihadist groups, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb (AQIM) and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), were originally allied to the MNLA, but escalating violence led to international intervention by a French and African force that effectively destroyed the organisational structure of these groups.

The French government deployed its air force and 3,000 troops in 2013 to secure the north of the country at the request of the newly installed president, Dioncounda Traoré. Known as Operation Serval, the intervention lasted until July 2014 when the troops were redeployed as part of a wider offensive to combat unrest in the Sahel region.

A UN force, MINUMSA, has been on the ground since April 2013 with the aim of securing the north of the country – and, as of the end of June 2015, had just over 10,000 personnel in Mali.

Tuareg nationalists and Islamists struggled to reconcile their conflicting views for the newly independent region and, after several clashes, the MNLA renounced their claim of independence for Azawad and engaged with the Malian government in negotiations on its future status in 2014.

Despite talks resulting in in June 2015 in a UN-brokered peace between the main factions on both sides, the continuing violence illustrates the differences between the Tuareg nationalist and Islamist groups, but also the difficulties in maintaining peace in the country.

According to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), several armed groups have increased violence against civilians accused of supporting French and UN troops deployed in the country. Small groups of Islamists and some Tuareg groups wedded to independence have managed to remain active and carried out occasional attacks in the desert.

HRW says that continuing criminal violence by these groups, as well as widespread abuses by the security forces, represents a serious threat to the population of Mali. HRW regards these two elements as fuelling discontent among the general population that could lead to increased recruitment to both Islamist and Tuareg groups and a threat to the gains made since the Franco-African intervention in 2013.

Localised terror

The similarity of the violence to other Islamist attacks should not, however, lead to us regard Mali as part of a monolithic Islamist threat. While there are several Islamist groups in Mali, such as the group Al Mourabitoune, they do not all share the same values or represent a global view of Islam. Much like the Nigerian Islamists of Boko Haram, the Islamists of Mali are products of very localised conditions, specifically decades of neglect and marginalisation in the north of the country.

Many of the Malian Islamists have been openly split on the question of affiliation with AQIM. MUJAO, for example, has defined itself specifically as a regional group with a local West African agenda rather than a globalised aim. Ansar Dine, one of the biggest groups in Mali, was sufficiently divided as to form a splinter group, the Islamic Movement for the Azawad and has been ambivalent towards both engagement with the government and also rejecting “all forms of extremism”.

Seeing the current increase in terrorist attacks in Mali as just another tentacle of globalised Islamic terrorism therefore misses the point. The mixture of groups within Mali are primarily the product of local historical conditions, not an externally imposed ideology.

Tensions between approaches to local issues and international, globalised aims and methods have themselves led to factionalism within both the Tuareg–nationalist groups and the Islamists.

Marginalisation of the Tuareg over decades, coupled with the alienating approach of successive southern-led governments in Bamako have led to the creation of ripe recruiting grounds for those who seek to perpetrate violence. By portraying the issue as an all-encompassing global Islamist threat, the international community fails to engage with the underlying structural issues of governance that produce these groups and escalate the threats in places like Mali.


This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation

Scientists at work: tracing the path to peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina

23 October 2015
Louis Monroy SantanderLouis Monroy Santander is currently studying a PhD degree at the University of Birmingham, focusing on issues of reconciliation, post-conflict peace-building and social reconstruction in the Western Balkans (Bosnia and Kosovo). He has worked in conflict and development research for organizations in the United Kingdom and Colombia and as well in the field of education both at school and university level.

One of the walls in my office in the town of Sanski Most, northwest Bosnia-Herzegovina, is covered with posters. Each depicts a different answer to the question “What is peace?” They range from the intellectual and practical, to the personal and provisional.

One proposes “harmony and unity in public and private relations”, while a second describes peace as “living free from injustice, inequality and pain”. Another suggests that “peace can be found within”, while another still describes a rather more mundane solution that doubtless many can relate to, identifying peace as “when my brother is far away from me”. These posters are a daily reminder that defining peace is hard enough, without then having to make it happen.

Here in Sanski Most, I’m seeking to understand how reconciliation emerges from conflict. My workplace is an organisation called Centar za Izgradnju Mira (CIM) – the Center for Peace Building. The organisation’s slogan is Našput je mir: “Our way is peace”.

My role is to investigate the issues that have made post-conflict reconstruction in Bosnia so difficult, looking at the political system, the state of the economy, the role played by international organisations and the processes of justice and reconciliation.

Writing on the wall

Writing on the wall. Photo credit: author.

Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war erupted out of the political struggle that followed the dissolution of Yugoslavia. It was one of the first violent conflicts of the post-Cold War era.

The war was fought along ethnic lines, dividing the country into its three main groups: Bosniaks (Bosnian-Muslims), Bosnian-Serbs and Bosnian-Croats. There was ethnic cleansing and genocide, mainly against the Bosniak population, and concentration camps were established around the country.

The violence was ended by the 1995 Dayton Accords. It was decreed that the Bosnian State would be rebuilt as two entities – the Serb Republic (Republika Srpska) and the Bosniak/Croat Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Sticking points

As I investigate Bosnia’s contemporary problems two decades after the war, however, many disturbing problems remain. There is talk, for example, of young people being vulnerable to radicalisation.

Mistrust and ethnic hatred are often passed from generation to generation. That seems to be true here in Bosnia, a country that has yet to come to terms with its violent past. Young people have only known a Bosnia defined by ethnic divisions and often develop hardened views about other groups, adopting attitudes that may risk a renewal of ethnic-based violence.

A memorial in Sanski Most

A memorial in Sanski Most. Photo credit: author.

Particularly disturbing is talk of Bosnian foreign fighters joining Islamic State in Syria. Islamic State has targeted Bosniaks, focusing particularly on those from deprived and marginalised backgrounds. For these youths, who often face unemployment and poverty in Bosnia, offers of housing and better economic prospects overseas are a great incentive to leave.

Many of the people that I have met also say that they are disillusioned with politics and the ethnic rhetoric spouted during electoral campaigns. Some believe that politicians seek to frustrate ethnic divisions and the partition, promoting fear and mistrust to bolster their own positions.

State activity grinds to a halt in the process as ethnic politics hinder national decision-making. One side vetoes the other and the result is stalemate. This situation also fosters corruption and instability as parties and public officials often rely on nepotism and clientelism, establishing self-serving ethnic networks at various levels of government.

Starting with the young

The education system and media don’t always help. Instead of being tools for reconciliation, both have become channels for spreading political rhetoric and fostering ethnic divisions.

Bosnia’s media is seen as biased, often giving an unhelpful ethnic angle to all kinds of issues. Schools generally remain segregated along ethnic lines, too. Some are mono-ethnic, others split up students in subjects deemed “sensitive”, such as language, religion, history and geography. Programmes such as the “two schools under one roof” system, whereby students attend school in different shifts in order to avoid contact with different ethnic groups, continue.

High levels of unemployment – and particularly youth unemployment – pose another threat to the Bosnian economy and generate a pessimistic view among citizens about their country’s future.

Fresh hope

But it’s not all gloom. All sides feel a need to find a way for their country to open a new, more prosperous chapter, even if they don’t agree on how to get there.

I’ve also been learning about peace-building initiatives that focus on youth and gender issues, transitional justice and creative ways of dealing with the past. There are also forums for inter-ethnic dialogue between Bosniaks, Bosnian-Serbs and Bosnian-Croats.

An example of this is CIM’s Peace Camp: a week-long retreat that brings together young people from various ethnic backgrounds to meet and debate Bosnia’s more sensitive topics.

Although this research has highlighted the many problems faced by modern Bosnia, it is an inspiring place. People have a zest for life which is often reflected in Sanski Most’s embracing environment, the friendly disposition of its inhabitants and during the many refreshing and sunny evenings I have spent by the river Sana. Many people are incredibly friendly and open to receiving researchers like me. I even get a free, one-minute lesson in Bosnian every time I visit my local bakery. It’s the little things that give us hope.


This article was originally published on The Conversation.
The Conversation

Understanding Poverty and the Environment: Analytical frameworks and approaches

14 October 2015
Fiona Nunan Fiona Nunan is a Senior Lecturer in Environment and Development and Director of the International Development Department. Her interests and experience focus on natural resource governance and management in developing country settings, particularly within inland fisheries and coastal locations in East and Southern Africa, and on exploring the links between poverty and the environment.

Fiona Nunan explains her motivation for writing a new unique textbook for people studying and researching environment and development, human-environment interactions and sustainable development. The book is published by Routledge.

What was the motivation behind the book?

Researching, teaching and working in projects for many years in the area of environment and development made me frustrated that poor people are often blamed for environmental degradation in a very direct, narrow way. Farmers are accused of clearing trees, pastoralists of grazing too many livestock and fishers of overfishing. Viewing poverty as being in a direct, mutually destructive downward spiral, or ‘vicious circle’, relationship with the environment has led to policies that force farmers to grow unsuitable trees, pastoralists to settle in one place and livelihoods to be harmed.

What is needed is in-depth analysis and understanding of the context and nature of relationships between poverty and the environment. I knew that a wide range of frameworks and approaches exist that have been, or could be, used to investigate poverty-environment relationships, but they hadn’t been brought together in one, accessible place.

Understanding Poverty and the Environment

This accomplished work by one of the leading scholars of human-nature relationships will be of interest to anyone interested in how poverty and the environment affect each other. Drawing from a range of intellectual efforts, Nunan provides an erudite yet accessible book for students and advanced researchers alike. One of the most comprehensive and balanced studies available on the subject.
— Professor Arun Agrawal, School of Natural Resources & Environment, University of Michigan, USA
The relations between poverty and environmental change are important but complex. Understanding Poverty and the Environment is an antidote to simplistic assumptions, and a welcome guide to intelligent thinking.
— Professor Bill Adams, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, UK

What is novel about the book?

There are at least three novel contributions that this book makes. Firstly, no other book brings together the combination of frameworks and approaches that this book does. The chapters introduce:

  • Political ecology
  • Institutional analysis
  • Gender, development and the environment
  • Livelihoods and wellbeing analysis
  • Social network analysis
  • Analysing governance

In introducing these areas of literature, the book is situated within the field of development studies, but the literature and examples used are taken from many parts of the world and disciplines. A note of caution in the final chapter acknowledges that frameworks and approaches within all of these areas may be used with other theory, concepts and frameworks and that there are new adaptations and developments all the time. An introduction to the thinking behind the frameworks and approaches enables readers to better appreciate and critique such adaptations and further developments.

The second contribution the book makes is in providing provide a way into diverse and diffuse literature. It can be hard for someone new to a subject to know where to start with journal articles and to grasp the key points and underlying assumptions. The book provides a way into many literatures by bringing out key concepts and characteristics, examples of application and of questions that could be addressed by the frameworks and approaches. Recommended reading draws on published material from the last thirty years as well as key contemporary publications, giving readers a steer towards essential texts and authors within each subject area. Important classics in relevant literature are highlighted such as Ostrom’s Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, Leach and Mearns’ The Lie of the Land: Challenging Received Wisdom on the African Environment and Adams’ Green Development: Environment and sustainability in a developing world are highlighted as important texts.

Finally, in addition to reviewing frameworks and approaches, I also identify and reflect on key themes running through the book including power, access, gender, narratives/myths, institutions and scale. This provides the reader with a broader appreciation of these important concepts running through many of the frameworks and approaches.

The book finishes with a brief reflection on key methods for the collection and analysis of data to investigate poverty-environment relationships, suggesting that an ethnographic perspective, mixed-methods and participatory approaches are particularly important for study in this area.

Who is it for?

The book is for anyone studying environment and development, human-environment interactions and sustainable development. Although the book has poverty in the title, the material included will be of interest to anyone studying human-nature interactions. The book includes frameworks and approaches that have been used mainly in countries of the ‘North’, such as Ostrom’s Institutional Analysis and Development framework, and the subsequent Social Ecological Systems framework, and Social Network Analysis. Many of the other frameworks and approaches were initially developed through research in the Global South, such as frameworks to analyse decentralisation of natural resource governance, analysis of formal and informal institutions through critical institutionalism and natural resource-based livelihoods. They have since been widely applied in many countries and have scope to be used in many settings to bring deeper, more nuanced, understanding of people-environment relationships.

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