P091 – Citizenship at the State Margins
8 July, 16:00 – 17:30

Côte Muriel / University of Zurich
Gomez-Temesio Veronica / ENS, Triangle


Contestations and revolts throughout Africa occur around perceived inefficient state rule. These may be seen as a failure of the rule of law, but they are also fundamental moments of state-building. This panel aims to explore this idea through the concepts of citizenship and that of the margins. Juridico-legal ideal-typical normative frameworks that ought to lend citizens rights are rarely enough. Oftentimes identity-based normative registers (such as age, ethnicity, gender, religion, etc), are mobilised and help to claim the rights to have rights to government-sanctioned resources, goods and services. Examining how these claims are made at the margins aims to explore the idea that the state is held together through a dialectical relation between centre and margin. Margins can be spatial, like borders and resource frontiers, but they can also be practices, like corruption and practical norms, which mark the fuzzy boundary between the rule of law and that of exception. The contention that this panel aims to test is that in many cases, the ‘ideal typical’ expression of the state and its margins are mutually constituted, and claims for ‘rights to have rights’ are a fundamental contractual relation through which this dialectics takes place. We invite contributions that are grounded in fieldwork-based research and that at the same time propose innovative social theoretical outlooks on citizenship and on the state margins.

Citoyenneté aux marges de l’État
Révoltes et mobilisations politiques mettent actuellement à l’épreuve de nombreux gouvernements africains. Ces contestations sont souvent interprétées comme le symptôme d’un Etat inefficient – voire faible – dont le gouvernement ne serait pas capable de faire respecter la loi sur son territoire et donc, de garantir à ses citoyens un accès aux droits constitutionnels. Au cours de ce panel nous souhaitons interroger cette problématique à travers les notions de citoyenneté et de marge. Nous comprendrons la notion de citoyenneté au-delà de sa définition constitutionnelle pour embrasser les différents registres normatifs en marge de la loi au travers desquels les individus luttent pour des droits et pour l’accès aux ressources et services distribués par l’Etat. Au travers de ces réclamations, les citoyens reconnaissent également la légitimité de l’Etat sur son territoire. Ainsi, citoyenneté et autorité publique se constituent mutuellement. Ces réclamations éclairent comment l’Etat se reproduit sur son territoire au travers des négociations entre le centre et ses marges, ces notions pouvant être comprises tant au sens littéral – les frontières – qu’imagé – les pratiques en marge des règles du jeu officiel. Ces marges sont constitutives de la pratique de l’Etat au quotidien et montrent comment ce dernier se reproduit sur son territoire à cheval entre registres formels et informels.

Paper 1

Adamczyk Christiane / Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle/Saale (Germany)

Citizenship at the margins of the state: Considering the case of Rwanda

Many depictions of present-day Rwanda emphasize how the current government has dealt with (re-)building the state after the disruption, crises and trauma brought about by civil war and the genocide of 1994. A powerful official discourse on Rwandan citizenship and interventions aiming at the comprehensive implementation of the messages and policies of the government have been central to this process. Based on field research in the region, my contribution will discuss how the workings of the Rwandan state and the discourse on citizenship are experienced by people located at the margins of society. Once referred to as Twa – a label now banned from discourse – they are officially categorized as the ‘historically marginalized’, an expression invented to capture their status of being at the fringes of society. Reports of local and international organizations stress the discrimination against the ‘historically marginalized’, their precarious status and limited access to resources and rights. Perceived as insufficiently integrated into the new, post-genocide Rwanda, they have become subject to various interventions of the state that focused on health care and housing but also served as context for civic education. This presentation seeks to show that examining the interventions targeting people at the margins of the state helps to highlight central aspects of the discourses, ideologies and practices shaping the state-building project in present-day Rwanda.

Paper 2

Mbatia Teresa / University of Nairobi

Calas, Bernard / LAM, Université Bordeaux Montaigne

Owuor Sam / University of Nairobi

Contradictions of Public Participation in the co-management of Karura Urban Forest Reserve: The Eco-gentrification of Urban Green Spaces in Nairobi

This paper discusses the various social-political perspectives that have influenced the production and construction of Karura Urban Forest Reserve in Nairobi, Kenya. Though a new policy has allowed new structures and actors in the co-management, and contributed to rehabilitating the urban forest into a ‘nice’ place, it is only a few privileged groups in society who are benefiting from the Urban Forest Reserve. The surrounding poor urban communities that depend on urban forest for daily necessities are pushed out, in what has been described by Sarah Dooling as ‘eco-gentrification’. Thus, in the process of making Karura Urban forest reserve into a ‘safe, secure, serene’ place, the new civil society actors only reflect the interests, priorities and values of the upper and middle class consumers, and exclude the requirements of the poor urban communities living in the area. This has resulted in the perpetuation of socio-spatial and socio-economic inequality, the exact opposite outcome of what the new policy change intended. Thus, instead of a public space, the new actors and structures have produced what Lefebvre described as ‘appropriated’ and ‘dominated’ spaces

Paper 3

Solhjell Randi / London School of Economics

Roads of Contestation: Governing the urban public spheres in Bukavu, DRC

Public roads in many ways represent a part of state-building, state performance and connectivity to the world. However, roads also represent spaces of contestation. In this paper, I will look at the different actors involved in governing the roads and thus also taxation, manifestation and livelihood seen through the multiple sites of public authority figures in the urban center of Bukavu, eastern DR Congo. Rather than a ‘lack of state’ or ‘a weak state’, the roads in Bukavu represent a strong-hold of the state. At the same time, citizens at different levels navigate their ways in managing both oppressions and opportunities. Based on extensive field research, this paper develops a theoretical approach to study roads in order to understand empirical statehood and governance in contested urban spaces.

Paper 4

Vasconcelos Joana / African Studies, CEI-IUL (ISCTE-IUL, Lisbon) Social and Cultural Anthropology, IARA (KUL, Leuven)

Young citizens, old problems: engaging with the State despite (and because of) its shortcomings

Guinea-Bissau has been marked by a turbulent thread of political and military events, especially since the civil war of 1998-99, responsible for the deterioration of the people’s living conditions and prospects. Nevertheless, Bissau-Guineans are not prone to engage in collective protests, revolts or riots. Is this a sign of State’s irrelevance (Bordonaro, 2009)? The capital, Bissau, is the epicentre of the political and military instability, the main area where the State is considered to be present and also the main pole of attraction for young people looking for jobs, education and emigration opportunities. I argue in this paper that, from the point of view of a social margin – youngsters living in a peripheral neighbourhood of the capital – there are expectations and clear ideas about what should be the role of the State. Out of this awareness, young people resort to different means to contest the current State performance and claim a reinforced State presence as service provider and resource manager (e.g. through public diagnosis and ‘trials’ of its performance, building an infrastructure of soft contestation in the public realm through artistic interventions and radio programmes; or also through the setting up of associations as State interlocutors and claimers of services and infrastructures). Based on fieldwork conducted in a peripheral neighborhood in Bissau for around two years, I also reflect on the ambivalent results of some of these initiatives.

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