*UPDATED* Horn of Africa Seminar: Trinity Term 2017 *UPDATED*

The Horn of Africa Seminar brings together students and scholars interested in examining the region from a multidisciplinary and comparative perspective. This term, the seminar will look at a variety of issues, including Israel’s involvement in Sudan’s early civil war, Islamist violence in Kenya and patterns of state formation and decay across the Horn of Africa. By hosting lectures by experienced researchers alongside post-graduates, and by mixing academic and policy research, we hope to come to a shared, factually informed and politically relevant understanding of trends in the region.

Except where otherwise noted, the seminar takes place on Tuesdays at 5.00 pm in the Seminar Room, at the African Studies Centre (13 Bevington Road, OX2 6LH).

April 25 – Yotam Gidron (Oxford)
“A people, united in struggle… is reborn”: Anya-Nya propaganda and Israel’s involvement in Sudan’s first civil war, 1969-1971
May 2-3* – Is High Modernism Returning? A Symposium on Political Ideology and Practice
All-day event, registration required – please contact Barnaby Dye (barnaby.dye[at]politics.ox.ac.uk)  
*Co-hosted with the Oxford Central Africa Forum (OCAF)

Film Screening – “Ghana’s Electric Dreams: Waiting for Light”
Screening of parts of a documentary film directed by R. Lane Clark; co-produced by Stephan F. Miescher and France Winddance Twine. Followed by a discussion with Stephan F. Miescher as part of the symposium
St. Antony’s College, Buttery, Hilda Besse Building, 6pm on May 2

May 30 – Panel discussion: State Formation & Decay in the Horn of Africa
Sarah Vaughan (Edinburgh); Michael Walls (UCL); Christopher Clapham (Cambridge)
Discussion & launch for Christopher Clapham’s new book: The Horn of Africa: State Formation and Decay
June 6 – Ngala Chome (Durham) *NEW DATE*
Religious ideas and cultures of violence: the case of Kenya’s violent Islamists

No prior registration is required to attend the seminar, but masters and doctoral students are encouraged to sign up to the online list of graduates working on the Horn of Africa: http://goo.gl/qtv30E

If you would like to present your own research at a future seminar, please write to the convener:

Jason Mosley (jason.mosley[at]africa.ox.ac.uk)

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Horn of Africa Seminar – Hilary 2017 Termcard

University of Oxford | African Studies Centre | HT 2017

The Horn of Africa Seminar brings together students and scholars interested in examining the region from a multidisciplinary and comparative perspective. This term, the seminar will look at a variety of issues, including the history of South Sudan, opposition in Ethiopia, dynamics of state formation and decay across the Horn of Africa, and practices of representativeness amongst Muslims in Kenya.  By hosting lectures by experienced researchers alongside post-graduates, and by mixing academic and policy research, we hope to come to a shared, factually informed and politically relevant understanding of trends in the region.

Except where otherwise noted, the seminar takes place on Tuesdays at 5.00 pm in the Seminar Room, at the African Studies Centre (13 Bevington Road, OX2 6LH).

January 24 – Martin Plaut (Institute of Commonwealth Studies)
Ethiopia and Eritrea: an enduring animosity?
–Discussion and book launch for Understanding Eritrea: Inside Africa’s most repressive state
February 2* – Douglas Johnson (Independent)
Writing a new history for South Sudan: whose history and for whom?
–Discussion and book launch for South Sudan: A New History for a New Nation
*Pavilion Room, St Antony’s College, with the African Studies Seminar
February 7 – Hassan Mwakimako (Pwani University College)
What Is Supreme about the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM): Challenging the practices of representativeness amongst Muslims in Kenya
February 20* – Laura Mann (LSE)
Ideology and Strategy: Understanding the Relationship Between Politics and Economy in Sudan
*Seminar Room 2, Queen Elizabeth House, with the African History & Politics Seminar
February 28 – Christopher Clapham (Cambridge)
Discussion and book launch for The Horn of Africa: State Formation and Decay
March 7 – Terje Ostebo (University of Florida)
Religion and ethnicity as venues of opposition in Ethiopia

No prior registration is required to attend the seminar, but masters and doctoral students are encouraged to sign up to the online list of graduates working on the Horn of Africa: http://goo.gl/qtv30E

If you would like to present your own research at a future seminar, please write to the convener:

Jason Mosley (jason.mosley@africa.ox.ac.uk)

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The hydro-agricultural transformation of Ethiopia’s lower Omo Valley: Challenges ahead

Horn of Africa Seminar
University of Oxford | African Studies Centre | MT 2015

Panel discussion

The hydro-agricultural transformation of Ethiopia’s lower Omo Valley
Challenges ahead

December 1
5:00 pm
African Studies Centre*
Oxford University


Transforming the periphery: large-scale commercial farming in the lower Omo Valley
Benedikt Kamski (ABI Freiburg/Oxford)

Well-being and ill-being in the context of Ethiopia’s ‘villagization’ programme
Jed Stevenson (University College London)

Finding an unexpected prize: oil exploration firms and local communities as global neighbours
Christina Gabbert (Max Planck Institute, Halle)

The Ethiopian government’s perception of the lower Omo Valley has changed drastically over the last decade. Long regarded by highlanders as an unproductive and hostile wasteland, the region is nowadays seen as the country’s hydro-agricultural engine of growth. The Omo River and the plains along the river, home to indigenous peoples including the Mursi and Bodi, have become central to the government’s strategy for development and nation-building. This panel provides an overview of the transformations underway in the lower Omo since construction began on the Gibe III hydropower dam, and focuses particularly on the impacts of commercial farming, resettlement, and mineral prospecting.

*The African Studies Centre is located at 13 Bevington Road, Oxford, OX2 6LH:

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CFP: Eritrea & Rwanda


Eritrea & Rwanda

Post-liberation trajectories in comparative perspective

1-2 December 2014
Oxford University

For Eritrea and Rwanda, 2014 has special significance for the ruling elites, which have dominated politics in both countries for the last two decades. In Eritrea, it marks twenty years since the formation of the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, the political party that succeeded the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front after it had finally won Eritrea its independence from Ethiopia. For Rwanda, it marks twenty years since the Genocide and the rise to power of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, led in particular by former Uganda based refugees. In both countries, the continued presence of liberation leaders — Eritrea’s Isaias Afeworki and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame — turned presidents is fuelling speculation about succession, as Rwanda’s elections approach in 2017 and since the prospect of a constitution drafting process was announced by Eritrea’s president in his independence day speech this year.

Whilst critical academic engagement assessing these post-liberation states has proliferated, especially literature examining the development of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the Eritrean and Rwandan Studies communities have both at times faced criticism for being excessively polarising and damagingly insular. This conference thus seeks to address both critiques. In bringing together academics working on these two different countries, whose resemblance in political ideologies and history poses interesting questions for the state formations we see now, it seeks to provide a productive space for sharing theoretical approaches and empirical observations through a series of exploratory panels. These are aimed at addressing topics not based on normative models of state formation and behaviour, but observed themes concerning those features which, though distinctive for each regime, appear to have interesting degrees of comparability across the two.

Proposed themes include explorations of:

  • Mechanisms enabling consolidation and retention of state control
  • State behaviour in the context of regional security
  • Strategies for engaging and utilising the youth in reproducing the state, and youth responses to government policies
  • Evolutionary trajectories in the post-liberation movement governments, including the questions of leadership succession and party stability
  • Historicising nationalisms and the politics of the history of the liberation struggle
  • Transnational mobilisation and diasporic politics

Applicants are not required to submit articles already offering a comparative perspective (although comparative papers are of course welcomed). Panels will be composed of a discussant and a minimum of three presentations, with at least one paper representing each case study.

The symposium will be hosted by the African Studies Centre at Oxford University, and supported by the Department for International Development, the Horn of Africa Seminar and the Oxford Central Africa Forum.

The organisers will have limited funding which will be used to facilitate the participation of scholars from the Global South.

Submission Information and Guidelines

Please email all abstracts by September 15th 2014. Selected papers and panels will be announced shortly thereafter.

If selected, full papers are requested to be submitted by November 14th 2014.
Please email all abstracts (and papers) to eritrea.rwanda.oxford@gmail.com.

Any queries can additionally be directed to the conference organisers:

Jason Mosley (Jason.mosley@africa.ox.ac.uk) and Georgia Cole (Georgia.cole@qeh.ox.ac.uk).

The call for papers can be downloaded here.

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Call for action: comparative analysis of youth responses to massive social engineering projects in Eritrea and Rwanda

On October 22, the Horn of Africa seminar at Oxford had an excellent presentation from Dr David Bozzini, a post-doctoral researcher at CUNY, entitled ‘The Catch 22 of Resistance: Political Discontent and Popular Theory of State Power in Eritrea’.

David’s presentation highlighted the quandary facing those conscripted into the national service in Eritrea.  Since the 1998-2000 war with Ethiopia, conscription into the national service has become a near-permanent experience for many Eritreans.  This has fuelled significant outflows of young Eritreans, seeking to avoid indefinite servitude and to find better economic prospects outside the country (Kjetil Tronvoll and Goitom Gebreluel recently wrote on some of the potential impacts of this exodus in an essay for al-Jazeera.)

However, David focused on the subtle forms of resistance exercised by those who remain in Eritrea, stuck in the national service.  In particular, he focused on the use of jokes, illustrating the agency of national service members, and attempting to complicate an oversimplified image of an entire population cowed by its government, existing only as victims.  Certainly, conditions are difficult in Eritrea — for national service members, and for others.  However, I appreciated this attempt to examine the choices made by individuals, and the useful reminder of their agency in the face of adversity.

Nevertheless, the ‘Catch 22’ referred to in the title of the presentation should not be forgotten.  In short, the paradox for those attempting resistance is that the forms available — in this case jokes — manifest in ways that reify the state’s dominance over the individuals, at the same time mocking and acknowledging their own limited options and the state’s control.  If I’ve understood David’s presentation correctly, this performance thus inadvertently reinforces the social structures of control employed by the state.

All of this sounded quite familiar to me, having organised a conference on politics in Rwanda under the RPF during the past 20 years about 2 weeks ago with Phil Clark at SOAS.  As in Eritrea — although perhaps even more intensely — the past two decades have seen the Rwandan state driving a vast social engineering exercise, aimed at the transformation of the nation’s youth.  In the case of Rwanda, the government has been attempting to engineer a post-genocide, post-ethnic society, where individuals understand their moral obligations as citizens, contributing to the well-being of the nation.  The whole enterprise can be understood as rooted in an ideological effort to move beyond the ethnic frameworks that underpinned the 1994 genocide.

Eritrea’s social engineering exercise is similarly vast, although without a specific and tightly bound experience comparable to Rwanda’s genocide.  Nevertheless, it is likewise rooted in a drive to engender a post-ethnic, national identity.  For the fighters of the 30-year insurgency that led to Eritrea’s independence, the struggle itself (and the vision controlled by Isaias Afeworki, first as a fighter then as president) had forged a national identity.  But for the rest of the population, the question of ethnic diversity and national identity had not been definitively resolved.  The national service started as part of an effort to instill a post-ethnic vision within Eritrea’s new citizenry, drawing on (not always equally) shared memory of repression under Ethiopian governments from the 1950s.

At the Rwanda conference we heard several presentations about the reactions of youth to the state’s social engineering efforts, as well as some of the challenges created by the system for youth — in terms of their relations with their parents (and parents’ generation), their schooling options, their career expectations and prospects, and other social experiences associated with maturing, such as marriage.

I found it interesting to reflect on the potential comparisons of youth agency, and the reaction to the state’s dominant vision, in Eritrea and Rwanda.  There also seem to be important inter-generational dynamics in both countries, which could be usefully examined.  In two tightly controlled societies such as these, there is surely fertile ground for comparative research — I hope that some are able to take up the challenge.

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Rwanda under the RPF: post-conference reflection

It has been interesting in the last week or so to see some of the reaction to the conference that Phil Clark and I convened at SOAS on October 4-5, Rwanda under the RPF: Assessing Twenty Years of Post-Conflict Governance.  We were quite pleased with the range of excellent papers that were presented (and very grateful for the support of the Centre of African Studies at SOAS and the Royal African Society in organising the event, as well as the Dept of Politics and International Studies at SOAS, where Phil is based).  Follow the preceding link for the final agenda to see who presented and on what themes.  Phil and I are now eagerly awaiting the full drafts from the authors, so that we can begin refining them with an eye towards the publication of a special issue of the Journal of Eastern African Studies in early 2014.

In the meantime, it’s interesting to note that much of the post-conference discussion online has been trapped in the same polarised debate that the conference itself represented an effort to overcome/bypass.  As I noted in my opening remarks:

There is a tendency towards a polarised analytical landscape – in the academic and policy research communities.  At one side, analysis is driven from a “human rights” framework, which in some senses has gotten almost to the point of pre-judging governance and politics.  On the other side, many researchers are driven by “developmental” frameworks, which seek to evaluate the impact of the Rwandan government’s social and economic policies – either to support the policies or debunk them.  There appears to be very little space for discussion between these two trends. There also appears to be little recognition of a range of other approaches that explore the grey areas of Rwandan politics.  Nevertheless, while much of the analytical field is polarised, there is important work that tries to go beyond this to ask new questions and explore different issues.

The papers presented at the conference were drawn from this latter range of work, including from an emerging cohort of scholars bringing fresh perspectives and an approach more tolerant of ‘grey areas’.  In my view, this in itself was an important development — having such a diverse range of papers presented to an audience which itself included a range of academics, activists, practitioners and even a large delegation from the Rwandan government.

However, papers themselves have not generated as much attention as the atmospherics of the event.  I am not surprised by this, since academic papers are not necessarily easily absorbed on first presentation, which is fine — that’s what the special issue will be for.  However, the Q&A sessions tended (particularly on the first day of the event) towards posturing, from the established polarised camps mentioned above, and from pro- and anti-government voices.  Magnus Taylor has attempted to capture this in a post on African Arguments, which itself has emerged as a locus for continued polarised debate in the comments.

I noted today that Andrew Mwenda, a prominent figure in the East African social and print media scene and an adviser to President Kagame, had penned a column in reaction to the event.  (His column has prompted to write this blog post, as it happens.)  He presents an analysis of the factors he believes moved the RPF away from a political/ethnic patronage model towards a ‘results oriented’ meritocracy as a way to secure its legitimacy without relying on ethnic arithmetic that he believes is typical of East African politics (with reference to Kenya).  It’s an argument worth a read.

However, Mwenda (and to a lesser extent Taylor, as well) have missed the point of the conference — both in terms of its substance (the 20 academic papers that were presented) and in terms of import — by focusing on the Q&A, rather than the content.  Mwenda in particular appears to bypass the reality of the conference entirely, instead reporting that:

Critics and fans of President Paul Kagame battled each other over his legacy. Both sides agreed that the country has registered rapid state reconfiguration and economic reconstruction. For critics, however, the reasons that have made this possible were incidentally the reasons for their attacks.

This conference was emphatically NOT about Kagame or his legacy, nor was it a battleground (at least, not the event I attended).  I am looking forward to seeing the papers into publication in JEAS, and only wish academic research and publication did not take so long to do properly, as it will be quite exciting if we can move the discussion and understanding of Rwanda well beyond its current polarised state.


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Nairobi attack: impacts & implications

Since the horrific attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi, there has been a flood of coverage, with thorough analyses unfortunately few and far between.  I wanted to share a few things that I’ve found worthwhile to read in one place.

A common theme running through most thoughtful analysis of the impacts of the Westgate attack is the real risk of a backlash against ethnic Somalis in Kenya (including Kenyan Somalis), and perhaps even a broader wave of resentment towards Muslims in general in Kenya.  This is genuine concern, although the initial public discourse is focused on national unity, centred in social media around slogans such as We Are One (#WeAreOne). Unfortunately, the experience of the past two years fuels a sense of caution among Somalis, and there is a legitimate fear of being scapegoated for the attacks.

This has raised the question of why al-Shabaab would choose to make an attack that it surely understood carried the risk of triggering such a backlash — which would threaten both ‘ordinary’ Somalis and the Somali business elite, who maintain business links across the region, between parts of Somalia, Kenya, other parts of Eastern Africa, the Gulf States and further afield, including Europe, North America and Asia.  One argument would be that the attack thus signals the desperation of a militant group in decline, taking its most extreme option in an effort to demonstrate its continued relevance to the future of Somalia, after months of military setbacks and a recent bout of intense (and deadly) leadership infighting.

At this point, still very early in the process of understanding the import of the attack, my own initial impression is that the attack rather sends a different signal.  Despite the recent infighting, the group’s emir, Ahmed Godane, has retained control.  Moreover, the Nairobi attack comes in the wake of a string of high-profile attacks in Somalia — including the assault of the UN compound in Mogadishu in June; attacks on President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud in Merca and ‘interim Jubba administration’ leader Ahmed Madobe in Kismayo in early September — alongside the usual range of targeted killings and attacks on AU peacekeepers and Somali National Army troops.

In this context, the Nairobi attack seems to be as much a signal for Kenya to withdraw from Somalia, as it is a signal to Somalis that al-Shabaab can wait.  It can wait for the AU forces, and their international donors, to exhaust the political will to maintain the financial support for the military intervention in Somalia.  Moreover, it is a signal to Somalis that in the context of an ongoing civil war, al-Shabaab’s political and societal vision is their only viable choice in the long term, that eventually any other choice cannot guarantee their security.  In this way, al-Shabaab appears to be betting that, if a backlash against Somalis is forthcoming in Kenya, the result will be for those Somalis to conclude that, in the end, al-Shabaab’s rule would be better than continued conflict and persecution.

This may well be a seriously flawed strategy, but in the context of a long civil war, I think it goes some way to explaining the logic of this Islamist movement’s continued attacks, and the significant escalation of the stakes that the Nairobi attack represents.

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UK remittances: Barclays and Somalia

In late June, it came to light that the UK bank Barclays was due to close the accounts of a range of Somali money transfer businesses (among other such transfer companies) during July.  This news produced a swift response from academic, civil society and advocacy groups, flagging up the disastrous consequences this was likely to have on Somali livelihoods in particular, given the country’s otherwise poor linkages to the international financial system.

Here is a quick overview of the situation, and some of the great coverage and analysis it has received:

  • Laura Hammond, at SOAS in London, orchestrated the first response, an open letter to Barclays and to UK Africa minister Mark Simmonds.  This launched a campaign seeking to delay closure of the accounts for at least six months (a shorter delay was subsequently announced by Barclays).
  • Farhan Hassan, a Somali based in the UK, has created an online petition linked to the campaign.  http://ow.ly/mkGpr Please sign!
  • Laura wrote a follow up piece for African Arguments, underscoring the threat to livelihoods posed by the closure of remittances companies, and highlighting the inconsistency of UK policy towards Somalia in this case.  Closure of the remittance companies’ accounts in the UK would undermine the political transition that the UK government has been actively supporting.
  • Mary Harper, a UK journalist, has an excellent blog post where she has been tracking various developments with the campaign, including efforts to send a wire transfer to Somalia by means other than remittance companies (in this case Western Union).  Mary’s post includes copies of responses to the announced closure from the Somali federal government, NGOs and Somali civil society groups.
  • Laura was the lead author for a report, Family Ties: Remittances and Livelihoods Support in Puntland and Somaliland, which was launched by the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit/Somalia on July 1.
  • Zoe Flood, a journalist working in East Africa, wrote a pair of stories on the situation, which provide good background and analysis.  One story appeared in This is Africa, the other was written for IRIN.
  • Jamal Osman, a Somali journalist based in London, produced an excellent segment for Channel 4 news on the impact of the closures.

It will be important to keep the spotlight on this situation, in order to maintain pressure on Barclays and the UK government to come up with an alternative outcome which does not undermine livelihoods and political stability in Somalia, in the name of ensuring financial transparency in the UK.  One simple way to do that is to sign the ePetition: http://ow.ly/mkGpr

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CALL FOR PAPERS: Rwanda under the RPF


Rwanda under the RPF:

Assessing Twenty Years of Post-Conflict Governance


Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre

School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London

4 October 2013

In the nearly two decades since the 1994 genocide, Rwanda has experienced substantial political, social and economic change, due mainly to the ambitious policies of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Analyses of RPF rule, especially since Paul Kagame became President in 2000, vary greatly, with some scholars characterising it as a visionary form of post-conflict governance and development and others as a destructive brand of national social engineering and the steady entrenchment of authoritarianism. While some commentators describe this period as one of major political reform and innovation, others emphasise continuities between the RPF and previous Rwandan regimes, especially in terms of the centralisation of power.

This conference and the subsequent special issue of the Journal of Eastern African Studies (JEAS) will bring together a broad spectrum of commentators to debate the nature of Rwandan politics under the RPF and its impact on the post-genocide reconstruction process, regional relations and the wellbeing of everyday Rwandans. Rather than simply commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the genocide, the conference and special issue will analyse the nature and effects of the RPF’s particular brand of governance, including in shaping Rwanda’s future political, social and economic trajectories.

The conference will be hosted by the JEAS, and the Centre for African Studies and the Department of Politics and International Studies at SOAS. The conference organisers and editors of the special issue are Jason Mosley, research associate at the African Studies Centre, Oxford (and managing editor, JEAS), and Phil Clark, lecturer in comparative and international politics, SOAS.

Interested speakers are invited to submit an abstract of no more than 300 words and a CV to Jason Mosley (jason.mosley AT africa.ox.ac.uk) by 31 July 2013. Selected presenters will be notified by early August. Following the conference, those presenters will be expected to submit a draft article of maximum 8,000 words by 18 October 2013 for consideration for the special issue, which will be published in the first half of 2014. Joint conference presentations and joint articles would be extremely welcome. (Scholars interested to contribute to the special issue but unable to participate in the conference, please contact Jason Mosley.)

The following topics would be of particular interest but are by no means exhaustive:

  • Situating the RPF within the broader history of Rwandan politics.
  • Understanding the RPF within the regional context of post-liberation movement ruling parties, and the role of the military in Rwanda’s political economy.
  • The impact of exile and civil war in the formation and policies of the RPF.
  • Evaluating the effects of the RPF on electoral democracy in Rwanda.
  • Competing dimensions of centralisation and decentralisation under RPF rule.
  • The impact of Kagame’s leadership.
  • Analysing the internal structures and policymaking processes of the RPF.
  • Assessing the RPF’s economic development agenda.
  • The politics and impacts of land reform in Rwanda.
  • The politics of post-genocide memory and accountability in Rwanda.
  • The intersections of business, security and politics under the RPF.
  • The RPF’s external relations (with the Rwandan diaspora, neighbouring states, the United Nations, the African Union and international donors).

The organisers have some small funding which will be used to facilitate the participation of speakers and authors from the global South. Other speakers are kindly requested to cover their own travel and accommodation.

Download the CFP here.

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New publications

The last couple of months were pretty busy, and I was pleased to see three reports make it into publication:

  • A short case study on the varied impact of politics in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia on the ability to translate Famine Early Warning Systems information into early action.
  • A critique of the (relatively) new EU Strategic Framework for the Horn of Africa, which I co-authored with Ahmed Soliman and Alex Vines at Chatham House.
  • An essay on the wider implications of recent violence in the Tana Delta for pre- and post-election stability in Kenya, which I co-authored with Nuur Mohamud Sheekh for African Arguments.
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