P181 – Mediated Itineraries under “Duress”: Information Access and Mobilization-choices in Conflict Zones in Africa
8 July, 17:30-19:00

de Bruijn Mirjam / Leiden University, Instute for History
Both Jonna / Leiden University, Institute for History


The decisions people make in times of conflict in Africa are increasingly subject to academic exploration (cf.Vigh 2006, Debos 2008, Schlee 2008, Berckmoes 2014). Over the past decade, new media technologies have drastically changed both access to and the course of information flows in African conflict areas. Inspired by the data already gathered by the “Connecting in Times of Duress” research programme at the University of Leiden, we argue that focusing on information flows and studying the interactions of informants with ICT’s and its accompanying new media might offer us new opportunities to study decision making processes in situations of conflict. In other words we question how rumours, text messages or online discussions for example, lead to new social imaginaries and altered experiences of violence which subsequently may inform decisions towards mobilisation during conflict. For instance: Which information flows fuel forms of resistance and how does this work? Which information flows influence when and where people seek refuge and start seeing themselves as refugees? We assume that unexpected choices and decisions can trigger the thinking on the mediation of information.

Itinéraires de médiation en situation de crise: accès à l’information et décisions de mobilisation dans les zones de conflits en Afrique
Les décisions que prennent les gens en période de conflit en Afrique font de plus en plus l’objet de recherche (cf. Vigh 2006, Debos 2008, Schlee 2008, Berckmoes 2014). Au cours de la dernière décennie, les nouvelles technologies de communication ont changé de manière radicale l’accès à l’information et son cours dans les zones de conflit en Afrique. Au vu des données collectées par le programme de recherche « Connecting in Times of Duress » (Université de Leyde), la réflexion sur les flux d’information et l’étude des interactions avec les TIC et les nouveaux moyens de communication permettent de reconsidérer les processus de décision en situation de conflit. Comment les rumeurs, les SMS ou les discussions en ligne conduisent-ils par exemple à de nouveaux imaginaires sociaux et expériences de la violence, qui ensuite peuvent influencer la prise de décisions envers la mobilisation pendant le conflit ? Quels sont les canaux d’information qui font que les gens se joignent aux rebelles ou commencent à se voir comme réfugiés ? Nous présumons que des choix et décisions inattendus créent de nouveaux angles de vision sur la démarche et l’impact de l’information.

Paper 1

Behrends Andrea / Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg

Suppression by mobile phone in times of duress

During and after the recent violent conflicts in the Chad-Sudan borderlands the population was very differently affected by violence and displacement. In relation to that, people used different forms of accessing or not accessing international aid to provide for the most security possible for themselves and their families. As my research has shown, some locals certainly also profited from the situation – as aid assistants, traders, merchants or translators to international staff of aid organizations. In this presentation I will focus on one story where a mobile phone was used to suppress a member of this seemingly more fortunate group. An incident leading him to loose all his assets serves to show not only the workings of providing for security where no aid organization could reach, but also the internal differentiation between individuals, referring to the region’s history, the current political situation in Chad and the need to closely distinguish between actors and their range of possible action during times of duress.

Paper 2

Van Stapele Naomi / VU University Amsterdam

Ghetto Talks: on rumors, intersecting processes of othering and mediations of violence

In the wake of the post-election violence in 2007/8 in Kenya, a group of ex- and current gang leaders in a Nairobi ghetto embarked on a unique project. This project was called Mazungumzo Mtaani or ghetto conversations in Kiswahili. They went to local hang-outs of different ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ groups, such as women groups, village elders, gangs and political groups, to discuss the rumors that were spread about ‘the Other’ via gossip, text-messaging, social media and vernacular and community radio-stations. Alongside these talks at local hangouts, this project brought many of these antagonistic groups together over the past 8 years to try and quell different emerging conflicts. In this paper I explore these ghetto talks and the participants’ discussions of the media’s through which the ‘ghetto talks’. I look at how different information flows, including ‘word to mouth’ and Facebook platforms, and participants’ varying access to different media shaped different, and often intersecting, processes of ‘Othering’ (i.e. based on ethnicity, gender, age, class and locality) in the run-up to, during and after conflicts. For instance, how, according to participants, was this related to people’s decision-making processes and their mobilization into conflict? I also explore how these talks created spaces for new social imaginaries to emerge, leading to new processes of ‘Othering’, and how these talks themselves became mediations of violence.

Paper 3

Adamou Amadou / Leiden University

Sangare Boukary / Leiden University

L’ identité nouvelle dans les communautés pastorales à travers les nouveaux medias et l’exposition aux conflits : les exemples des sociétés nomades du Gourma-Nord Mali et les réfugiés Mbororo à l’Est du Cameroun

L’usage des nouveaux médias par différents acteurs dans les zones de conflit, nous renseigne un double constat : on remarque dès lors que ces médias ne sont pas toujours utilisés pour unir ou prévenir les conflits, mais peut tout aussi bien être utilisés comme outils de désunion ou dislocation. Les médias pourraient ainsi devenir des “outils” lors des conflits ou même ultérieurement. Cette présentation sera axée sur deux cas. D’abord la façon dont les nouveaux médias sont utilisés par les leaders Mbororo au Cameroun (sous-groupe de l’ethnie Peulh en Afrique de Centrale) pour promouvoir leurs associations et leurs services parmi les récents nomades- réfugiés. Ces derniers ont fui le conflit et la guerre en République centrafricaine, ont perdu leur bétail suite aux multiples crises et par conséquent ont perdu toute possibilité de continuer leur mode de vie nomade. Installés dans des camps de réfugiés, différentes organisations interethniques se présentent comme leurs protecteurs. Ils le font en finançant un grand nombre d’émissions de télévision et créent une image d’eux-mêmes comme d’indispensables leaders socioculturels dans les réseaux sociaux sur internet. Ensuite le cas des nomades peuls de Gourma au Mali est introduit. Ici nous examinons également la naissance d’une nouvelle identité Peul liée à la couverture récemment de leur zone par le réseau de téléphonie mobile et leur contact avec les djihadistes du MUJAO pendant la période d’occupation du nord du Mali en 2012.

Paper 4

Ligtvoet Inge / Leiden University

‘‘Na only you waka come?’’ – Laughter as resistance in Nigerians’ online and offline discourses on ‘‘crisis’’

When over 200 girls were kidnapped from Chibok in northeastern Nigeria in April 2014, it was the First Lady that soon became the center of satirical attention in online and offline conversations about the kidnapping. Most Nigerians found her public performance on television laughable, and it turned out to become an iconic speech of which parts ended up in daily Nigerian vocabulary. From first results of a survey that was done in Enugu, her ‘funny’ performance is what many people remember mostly from that particular crisis. In this paper I argue that this was not a secluded incident in Nigeria, but that humor has an important social function in people’s response to duress. It could be observed during upheavals of instant crisis, like the short-lived ebola crisis in the country in 2014, but also more generally in discourse on frustrations about the lack of infrastructure, like electricity, water and roads. I argue that in Nigeria, hardship and crisis have become so much part of the everyday experience of people that (un)consciously they shape their lives and make choices that are, to a large extent, based on their interaction with hardship. Twelve months of fieldwork in Nigeria between 2013 and 2015, and online activities of Nigerians have shown that an important aspect of this interaction is humor. In this paper I will argue that collective laughter, in online and offline informal spaces, serves as a form of resistance and plays an important role in the choices people make.

Paper 5

Obono Oka / University of Ibadan, Nigeria

The autonomous itineraries of information and the challenge of interpretation

In this paper we will argue that researchers interested in investigating new ICT mediated information flows need to rethink their own positions in both ontological and epistemological terms to adapt to a new research methodology. Important questions that feed this argument are the following: At what point can information be dissociated from its transmitter such that it has, as it were, a life of its own? Can a typology of information flows be mapped? Can their inner genetic codes, which make them cluster in networks of ideas – whether revolutionary or conservative- be identified? How can forms of information that are disembodied in this way – i.e. those which transcend physical boundaries and do not have the explicit identity of those personalities that share them – be reconstituted independently of the motives that first gave rise to them? Within this context, how do we explain the symmetries and asymmetries of language and identity, which makes it possible for the language of conflict to be conflictual, the language of love loving and the language of peace peaceful? What happens to any language and information when there is a combination of two or more mutually opposing conditions? How are the itineraries of contrary emotions mediated by dominant interests under duress? How is priority assigned? How does this lead to new social realities? And what do we need to know about ICTs as changing the structure of knowledge acquisition, retention and production in our age?

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