The following four snapshots offer a glimpse in the ethnography, which laid the foundation for the book: Politicising Polio Disability, Civil Society and Civic Agency in Sierra Leone
Like all ethnography, this one is also anchored in space and time. Therefore, it allows a glimpse into global processes from the perspective of the South, one decade after the end of the Cold-War. Ever since many things have changed, others have not. Consequently, these images may serve a quest for the remnants of the past in the present. They talk about power and suffering, crisis and resistance from the singular prism of disability.
Being disabled in the Global South
The Global South is a widely accepted, albeit highly contested term, which came to replace previous terminologies, operating with notions such as the « Third World » or « developing countries ». All these concepts refer to imaginary geographies projected on real regions and countries, expressing distance from what is sometimes called the West, or the Global North. World system theory finds more useful to differente between the « core » and the « periphery », pointing out that the real difference separating these locations is not geography but power – economic power that translates into political, military and cultural dominance. The question that this video raises is that of universality. To what extent is the experience of disability independent of the socio-political context of the lives that flesh and blood disabled subjects live? It might be both theoretically and politically useful not to take for granted the universal applicability of the vocabulary, the theoretical apparatus and the presumptions inherent in mainstream Western liberal ideas of disability justice. The clip offers arguments to support the agenda of « decolonizing disability » by proposing an inversion of knowledge flows. It suggests that the disability movement in the North has a lot to learn from disabled people living in the Global South. Read More
The sequences read together reveal the internal tension between the everyday struggles of disabled people living in self-managed collective houses and the moments of ritual celebrations of Disability, which – besides putting on scene « the disabled community » – often serve for the self-congratulatory staging of the international community or that of the state. In fact, disabled squatters live between strange parallel universes, between the street where they beg and sell, the squats where they organize themselves into an organic community and the disability movement where they appear as right holder activists. Each of these spaces constitute a distinct stage, where different scenarios are played out, with different norms, expectations and roles.
Pademba Road and House of Jesus are such disabled squats or « polio houses » , 2 of the more than dozen existing polio houses in and around Freetown. Here, leaders and members speak about the origin of their collective homes. Most of the inhabitants of the squats are rural migrants. They came to Freetown and occupied abandoned places during the war. These occupations were made possible by the collective force that disabled people realized they had together, the ingenuity of a few disabled individuals who became leaders in the process, and by occasional alliances with non-disabled people. In the case of Pademba Road, some soldiers helped the disabled community to settle, in that of House of Jesus an Italian priest lobbied the government for a place (this does not transpire from the sequence). In both « houses » we see many non-disabled people who apparently live the same life and share the place with the disabled. In fact, although in these houses disabled people are the leaders, non-disabled people are in a numerical majority. Disabled squats can be regarded as places of an « inverse integration model » where a minority of disabled people integrate a majority of non-disabled.
Even this cursory introduction to the life of the polio-squats reveal a series of contradictions. Polio-houses are overcrowded, tough places to live, lacking comfort, basic hygiene, let alone accessibility. Still, they are a source of pride and positive collective identity. They are simultaneously places of segregation and integration.
These observations are interesting because they can call into question the universal applicability of some of the precepts of the social model of disability, the theoretical backbone of the international movement for disability rights. The quasi-universal adoption of the social model has allowed people with disability to leverage their fight and to organize themselves. The political importance of the shift from the previously predominant medical model can hardly be overestimated. It offered disabled people newly found dignity and guaranteed their social rights all over the world. The right-based approach postulates that people living with disability do not need charity to live a full life as they naturally have equal rights with the non-disabled.
In Freetown, too, disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) fighting for disability rights achieved considerable successes. They managed to make disability one of the key themes of political and public discourse. Belonging to such an organisation offers to persons with disability considerable protection. It is more questionable if being assured of disability rights actually answers their immediate needs. The social model of disability supposes a neat boundary and an adverse relationship between disabled people (whose rights are denied) and « society » – which, in this equation reads easily as the universe of the non-disabled. In the polio-squats, however any such clear-cut boundary is blurred. The right-based approach remains blind to the fact that disabled people there suffer from the same unsatisfied needs as their non-disabled peers: unsecure and unsafe housing, scarcity of income, unavailability of formal employment, lack of access to basic services as health care and education. What helps them survive in these circumstances is a strong alliance with the non-disabled world, based on mutual support and interdependence. The importance of such an alliance must be systematically understated on the stages of the disability movement.
The different implications of the social and the medical model of disability appear more explicitly if we compare the scene of the IDD where a government official assures the public about the capacity of the newly ratified Disability Bill to serve disabled people’s rights and the scene of the Peace Project where an American volunteer philanthropist literally drowns the disabled community in crutches. The second scene contrasts the absurd quantitative abundance of the offer with the urgency of the real, but qualitatively different need. In the comparison, however, both the social and the medical model prove to be inadequate, because they equally fail to take into consideration the living conditions of the disabled people whom they claim to serve.
Maybe, there is need for a third model of disability that would correspond more to the interests, needs and situation of many poor disabled people living in countries without a functional social security system (and a functional state in general). In such countries collective solidarity might be a more important asset than individual rights, access to adequate medical and rehabilitation services should be as important as the right to non-discrimination, in general, those rights are useful which are less attached to immaterial values than to actual material needs, from housing to living a decent life.
There is a growing number of scholars affirming that it is not helpful to impose universalist models, theories, discourses and rights defined in Europe and in other core regions of Western modernity on people in the Global South, especially if the pretended universality is but a concealed means to maintain hierarchical relations of superiority and inferiority between regions. Many scholars in disability studies have called for the decolonisation of disability, and in the case of Africa, for the recognition of the need to lay down the foundations of a specifically African disability justice which would correspond better not only to the daily experience of disabled people in Africa but also would be more in line with African philosophy and its conceptions of the Self. Recognizing such a theory-from-the-South could fertilize thinking and practice in « the North » and so would inverse the direction of knowledge transfer that has been for too long unidirectional, flowing from the North to the South.
Questions for discussion
How would you describe life in the polio houses? What do you see? What do you feel? (It is important to identify and keep apart observations and interpretations)
Who live in the houses?
How are these houses maintained and managed, by whom?
What makes life in the houses difficult?
In what way can be living in a polio-house empowering?
What do you learn about the origin of these places? What other questions you might have on this topic?
How would you describe the co-existence between disabled and non-disabled people in the squats?
Explain the difference between the social and medical model.
Where do you see these models put on scene in the sequences? How do they compare in their efficacy to protect and serve people in the squats?
Decolonising disability. Is a radical claim for an epistemological revolution formulated by critical disability scholars (see. Meekosha and Soldatic, 2011; Grech 2015) who are unsatisfied with the way disability is conceptualised philosophically and handled politically in Southern countries, mirroring models and forms of activism that originate from the North. These authors insist on the need of a contextualised understanding of disability. They also push for the recognition of the long-term disabling effects of colonialism and post-colonialism.
The Disability Bill. Sierra Leone domesticated the international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) by a Bill on persons with disability. The Bill was ratified and so became the Persons with Disabilities Act in 2011.
Disability justice. Is a political-philosophical concept, raising the question: what kind of justice would create a better world for disabled people? Most of the answers given to this question so far have been universalistic. Human Rights propose a moral and legal fundament starting from the precept that all humans are equal. Disabled people in this perspective have the formal right to be equal, and any form of discrimination is not only a moral scandal but should also be prevented by legal means. This universalist idea of justice is written into the UNCPRD (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities). African authors, such as Oche Onazi (2020) emphasize the need to create a legal philosophy of disability, which takes into consideration the experience of disabled people living in places far from the West, for example, in Africa. Onazi emphasizes obligations instead of rights. In Onazi’s view the individualistic and abstract promise of Human Rights does not give a satisfactory answer to the real-life preoccupations of people living with disability in Africa, and instead, he proposes an African disability justice based on community obligations.
The medical model of disability. Activists of the early disability rights movement opposed their new radical social model to the medical model of disability, which they considered as the traditional or conventional way to look at disability. Unlike the social model, the medical model sees the impairment as the problem, and it proposes to fix the disabled body instead of reforming society. People living with disability under the medical model had no control over their lives, because medical experts made decisions for them in every aspect of their existence. Disability scholars such as Tom Shakespeare (2008), without rejecting the social model, debate the utility of such an unforgiving polarization, calling attention to the suffering caused by the disabled body and admitting that medical interventions might have other effects than control: at times, they mitigate suffering.
Parallel worlds. If the idea sounds like science fiction, it is because it defies ordinary reason. Imagine that the world we live in is not the only one. Other parallel universes might exist resembling to our own, where everything we know has its double but behaving differently and with different outcomes. This is a fascinating idea. Interestingly, it does not only exist in the fantastic literature. Quantum theory speculates about the possibility of multiple universes, related to each other, because each would be just a slightly different version of the other. Schrodinger, Hugh Everett, Steven Hawking, are some of the physicists thinking about parallel universes in a scientific way. Adopting the vocabulary of parallel worlds to social sciences is a metaphoric device. Anthropologists have long used the notion of life worlds (see for example: Jackson, 2013) to understand the embodied, lived experience of their subjects as they engage with the social environment that surrounds them. Suggesting that subjects live in different life worlds at the same time is a way to say that the social universes in which a single person has to make themselves at home are so radically different that they have to learn distinctly separate sets of skills to inhibit them.
The Right-based approach. Of disability considers that people with disability deserve special attention, not because people should feel pity for them but because the Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes their equality. They thus have inalienable right to live without negative discrimination, and if it is necessary in order to re-establish equity, the state should even guarantee measures of positive discrimination. The right based approach is enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) that was adopted in 2016. The UNCRDP does not only provide protection, it confers dignity upon disabled people. Human rights are supposed to be based on basic human needs, still there seems to be a tension between the two concepts. On the one hand, those purporting the right based approach (RBA) tend to look down upon needs, as for them, focusing on needs equals with condescending « charity ». On the other hand, some critics – such as Moyn (2012) – claim that the disregard of material needs empties human rights, making it an abstract empty shell. From a post-colonial point of view, Mutua (2001) argues that the self-flattering posture of international organisations presenting themselves as human rights defenders in the Global South is not very different from that of the colonizers who claimed to defend civilisation against Barbary.
The social model. Of disability has been born out of the rejection of disabled people being exposed to cruel and painful treatments, secluded in mass institutions, treated as different and inferior. Disability activists who, in the 1960ies and 1970ies, initiated the disability rights movement in the UK, the United States and in North Europe claimed that these practices would not change as long as the attitude towards disabled people remains rooted in what they called the medical model of disability. This new conceptualisation of disability originated from the British disability rights organisation UPIAS (Union against Physically Impaired Against Segregation). It’s most ardent advocate and most eloquent theorist was Mike Oliver (1990). According to the social model, disability is not caused by impairment but by the incapacity of society to address the needs of its disabled members.
Stages. Are metaphors taken from the role theory of communication developed by Ervin Goffman (1956). According to Goffman to each social status belongs a set of behavioural patterns, which actors strive to put on the stage for others in order to be recognised as they would like to be perceived. Like all theatre plays, social dramas are also played out on different stages. Social roles have to be put on scene publically on the front stage, while the back stage is a safe place where roles can be practiced alone or in intimate company.
Theory from the South. Is a reference to a book by Jean and John Comaroff (2012). In it, the two anthropologists argue that Euro-America, traversed by multiple-crises converges towards a state of disintegration that traditionally was associated with Africa. They criticise the fundamental assumptions of international development, rooted in the faith of progress and taking it for granted that progress has to be defined in and by the West. Inversing the usual flows insitutionalised in development, they propose that approaching global crises using theories developed in the Global South might be a fertile way to confront.
World System theory. Or world-system analysis is a scientific approach to study the history of capitalism best developed by Immanuel Wallerstein (1974). In this paradigm, historical processes and outcomes should be studied in the « longue duréee »., i.e. in a broad historical perspective. Only in this way can we understand the formation of the present (capitalist) world system in which countries and regions are connected in a self-maintaining pattern: resources running from the peripheries toward the core. Historical analysis shows that core countries could establish their dominance over the periphery because of their superior economic, political and military power. This superiority itself is not natural, but historically produced: it is the result of centuries of exploitation. World system theory creates a causal relation between the richness of core countries and the poverty of the periphery. It states that core countries are rich because poor countries are poor.
Comaroff, J., & Comaroff, J. L. (2012). Theory from the South: Or, How Euro-America is Evolving Toward Africa. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.
Goffman, E. (1956). The presentation of self in everyday life. Edinburgh,: University of Edinburgh, Social Sciences Research Centre.
Grech, S. (2015). Decolonising Eurocentric disability studies: why colonialism matters in the disability and global South debate. Social Identities, 21(1), 6-21.
Jackson, Michael, (2013) Lifeworlds: Essays in Existential Anthropology. Chicago: Chicago University Press,
Meekosha, H., & Soldatic, K. (2011). Human Rights and the Global South: the case of disability. Third World Quarterly, 32(8), 1383-1398.
Moyn, S. (2014). Human Rights and the Uses of History: Verso.
Mutua, M. W. (2001). Savages, Victims and Saviors: The Metaphor of Human Rights. Harward International Law Journal, 42(1), 201-245.
Oliver, M. (1990). The politics of disablement : a sociological approach. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Onazi, O. (2020). An African Path to Disability Justice. Community, Relationships and Obligations Springer.
Renne, E. P. (2010). The politics of polio in northern Nigeria. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Shakespeare, T. (2008). Disability Rights and Wrongs. Journal of Medical Ethics, 34(3.), 222.
Wallerstein, 1974. The Modern World-System I: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century. New York: Academic Press
Berghs, M. (2013). War and embodied memory : becoming disabled in Sierra Leone. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Pub.Co.
Connell, R. (2011). Southern Bodies and Disability: re-thinking concepts,. Third World Quarterly, 32(8), Third World Quarterly.
Devlieger, P. (2016). Rethinking disability : World perspectives in culture and society. 2nd, rev. ed.
Grech, S. (2015). Disability and Poverty in the Global South: Springer.
Grech, S., & Soldatic, K. (Eds.). (2016). Disability in the Global South: The Critical Handbook: Springer
Groce, N. E., Banks;, L. M., & Stein, M. A. (2014). Surviving polio in a post-polio world. Social Science & Medicine, 107, 171-178.
Groce, N., Kett, M., Lang, R., & Trani, J.-F. (2011). Disability and Poverty: the need for a more nuanced understanding of implications for development policy and practice. Third World Quarterly, 32(8), 14931513.
Horton, A., & Shakespeare, T. (2019). In and Out of the Mainstream: Disability, Education and Employment in African Contexts. I(eds) In W. B., M. J., & S. L. (Eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of Disability and Citizenship in the Global South: Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.
Ingstad, B. (1999). The myth of disability in developing nations. The Lancet, 354, Issue 9180, Pages 757 – 758, (9180), 757 – 758.
Ingstad, B., & Whyte, S. R. (2007). Disability in local and global worlds. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Meekosha, H. (2011). Decolonising disability: thinking and acting globally. Disability & Society, 26(6), 667-682.
Mji, G., & Siphokazi Gcaza , L. S., Malcolm MacLachlan & Barbara Hutton. (2011). An African way of networking around disability. Disability & Society, 26(3), 365-368.
Onazi, O. (2016). An African Legal Philosophy of Disability Justice: Between Discovery and Recognition . Discovery & Recognition . x(33-38).
Whyte, S. R., & Muyinda, H. (2007). Wheels and new legs: Mobilization in Uganda. In B. Ingstad & S. R. Whyte (Eds.), Disability in local and global worlds (pp. ix, 324 p.). Berkeley: University of California Press.
Contemporary forms of violence
This piece of the series points at the historical and casual continuity between different forms of social suffering, supporting the argument that violence suffered by the Sierra Leonean poor, far from being random, is caused by global structural forces. If there is a noticeable continuity between the pre-war and the post-war suffering, it is probably because the violent structures that maintain distress have not changed fundamentally, despite the numerous and spectacular regime changes since 1961 (the year of Independence). The concept of structural violence helps understand two complementary relations. On the one hand, behind the brutal individual acts of violence characterizing the war, it reveals the un-authored, faceless violence of an equally brutal economic system. On the other hand, it reintroduces human agency into economy, showing the role of flash-and-blood political actors in authoring or reiterating narratives that set the direction for the seemingly depersonalized, nefarious movements of the market. Read More
The c starts with the commemoration of Independence, indirectly invoking what preceded it: Colonialism. The Sierra Leonean colonial history resembles many other colonial histories, but in some ways, it is also unique. Sierra Leone, like other West-African countries, first encountered European powers in the form of dehumanizing, commercialized slave trade. Unlike other African countries though, as a colony, Sierra Leone was founded by black people. Its first settlers were black British urban poor and freed slaves, resettled on the Western shores of the future country by the private Sierra Leone Company as off 1878. The British crown annexed the new settlement only 30 years later, leaving the interior of the country in the status of a protectorate: nor totally free, neither fully occupied, but by all means subjugated and rendered economically exploitable. The most notable anti-colonial uprising, the so-called Hut Tax War broke out as much because of political as for economic reasons. Sierra Leoneans experienced both the slave trade and the colony as a predatory extractive system.
Against this backdrop, Independence in 1961 announced a new area of hope – soon betrayed by history. Considered still in the 60ies as the breadbasket of the region, a favourite tourist destination for West-Europeans, boasting with the first Western-style university in West-Africa, by 1982 Sierra Leone was included in the list of the least developed countries. The reasons for this tumbling were multiple. First, the country’s new African leaders, instead of putting an end to the logic of extraction, further exacerbated it. The mutual assimilation of the elitesmutual assimilation of the elites, a new alliance between international capital and the national political elite unsurprisingly benefited … the international capital and the national elite. In the meantime, poverty intensified and expanded. International economic trends also disadvantaged the new state. The trade imbalance, inherited from colonial times, was worsened in the decade between 1960 and 1970 by a global crisis of the commodity market. Like many developing countries, Sierra Leone answered this challenge by indebting itself. Surplus dollars accumulated during the oil crisis of the 70ies were recycled and made available to Southern countries in the form of cheap loans. Under the Washington consensus, these cheap loans proved to be rather costly as they came with hard conditionalities. The IMF’s Structural adjustment policy required from all debtor countries the same sacrifices: opening up to free trade, mass privatization and cutting back of public spending. In Sierra Leone, the consequences of these policies led to a total collapse of the state by the 80ies. State failure, poverty and desperation fuelled the civil-war as much as blood diamonds.
The war itself did not put an end to the social anomy, it rather generalized the sense of chaos. Manish’s personal encounter with the war reflects the collective experience of the all-encompassing senseless violence, which seemed to have no clear source or direction, meaning or explanation. The fighting fractions were many and all of them meant deadly danger to civilians. Expert analyses compete with each other to create retrospectively some plausible rationalization of what happened. In the war Sierra Leoneans experienced the most extreme form of structural violence, i.e. the violence unleashed by a collapsing social structure once it has proven unsustainable even for the maintenance of its everyday forms of violence.
It is probably not surprising that after such a social cataclysm reconstruction was neither immediate, nor total. The economist’s explanation of the international community’s failure to establish the foundation of a more just post-conflict system is however more damning. In his analysis, the reason why the post-war democracy is so ill equipped to reduce poverty is that too little changed over time. Sierra Leone is still constrained to follow development paths defined elsewhere, most prominently in Western liberal democracies. These paths are still paved with conditionalities, although this time these are not attached to cheap loans but to development aid. Even the conditions are reminiscent of pre-war structural adjustment programs: they still demand market liberalization, support of private (foreign) investment and « prudent » public expenditures, meaning less funds for public services. The beneficiaries of the liberal peace are still the usual suspects: Western powers dominating the international markets and the local elites. These similarities are worrying because if it was unbridled neo-liberalism that pushed the country into war it is hard to see how it will be able to revamp itself as the guardian of the peace.
Although neo-liberal policies seem to be a constant, other aspects of the post-war political and social life were decidedly new. The interest of large international donors to contribute to Sierra Leone’s democratic development opened a field that was quickly populated by foreign NGOs, which – due to the important financial resources they handled – became important developmental partners to the state. Their presence created the need for local counterparts in order to channel funds to final beneficiaries on the ground and to provide moral credibility to projects. Consequently, local civil society got channelled into this bourgeoning network connecting international organizations to local communities by the intermediary of the ever-growing number of local partner organizations. The « NGOization » of the governance system produced a new elite, which – to follow the economist’s account – became the primary beneficiary of the post-war reconsolidation. NGOIzation came with new democratic rights, which certainly conferred never felt dignity to people living in dire precarity, but the promise of immaterial rights did not always seem to be the most plausible answer to their very material needs. The tension between the vagueness of « the rights based approach » and the urgency of frustrated development needs transpires in the last scene shot during a disability forum organized by UNIPSIL. The contrast between the relative luxury in which the international community lives and the ambient poverty of the « locals » is reminiscent of the colonial racial hierarchisation, which has survived the colony in the shape and form of coloniality.
Questions for discussion
According to the interviewee in the first scene, what were the main causes that led to the war?
What external relations did the country depend on during colonialism and how did these dependencies change after independence?
Where did the ideological basis of structural adjustment programs come from?
How did structural adjustment programs affect developing countries?
Listening to Manish, what do you think most people’s experience was in the war?
What is your understanding of the war? What do you think you know about it? How do you imagine it? What would you be curious to know?
Who do you think were the most affected by the war?
What happened to Manish after the war? Why do you think he moved to Freetown?
What powers and forces did Sierra Leone depend on after the war?
What role NGOs play in Sierra Leone’s post war development?
How poverty and violence are interlinked?
What manifestations of violence do you identify in these sequences?
Can you identify each time the sources of the violence?
How would you call the form of violence that does not have identifiable individual perpetrators and still kills, according to rather predictable lines?
If this is how we recognize structural violence, could you give other examples of its different manifestations from your own life experience or based on your studies?
Anomy. is a concept used by the founder of French sociology, Emile Durkheim. Durkheim was a functionalist: he was most interested in what keeps societies together. He considered « solidarity » (mechanic or organic) as the normal state of society. Living and working between the 19th and the 20th centuries he also observed signs of broken social bonds and growing individualism linked to the rise of modern industrial capitalism. He thought of anomie as a temporary state of society in moments of abrupt social change when old norms have been lost but the new ones have not yet been firmly established.
Blood diamonds or conflict diamonds. Are gems mined illicitly in conflict regions. They are both a cause of fighting and the means by which wars are financially sustained. In Sierra Leone diamond played an important role in the civil war (Smillie 2000), as the diamond fields of Kono, occupied by the rebel forces, obviously subsidised the traffic of arms. Some claim that Liberian warlord, later president Charles Taylor, initiated the war because he wanted to put his hand on this lucrative business. An analysis of the broader context of the Sierra Leonean war suggest that if diamond fuelled the conflict it was not its immediate cause. It was because of the case of Sierra Leone that the UN initiated the Kimberley process, a certification system that in principle excludes illicitly mined diamonds from the market. Blood Diamonds is also a 2006 American movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio telling the story of the Sierra Leonean war and explaining the role of diamond from a white saviour’s perspective. The film has the merit to explain to a Western audience how conflict diamonds exist because they have a market in the Western world. This market has been controlled by the London based international company De Beers since the late 19th century.
The civil war (1991-2002). It is conventional to start narrating the war from 1991, when, the RUF (Revolutionary United Front), backed by Liberian forces, started small-scale fights in the Eastern provinces. However, the war certainly had a prehistory: decades of looting by the political class, the retreat of the state under the structural adjustment program, growing mass poverty and generalized desperation laid the foundations for the war. The rebel army led by Foday Sankoh claimed to have taken arms to overthrow a corrupt government. This claim lost credibility during the next 10 years, as none of the consecutive regime changes could reason the RUF to cease fights. Because the RUF did not have the strength to confront the state in its centre, Freetown, its strategy was to create chaos and terror in the provinces, far from the capital. Civilians in the villages feared for their lives not only because of the rebel attacks but also because those who came to combat the RUF, the national army, South African mercenaries, ECOMOG (the joint West-African armed force), and local militias meant equally deadly danger for them. The UN only sent their troops in 1995, but its intervention did not stop the war from expanding. Although with the help of the UN, national elections were held in 1996 and a civilian government was put in place under the presidency of Tejan Kabbah, the new government was quickly overthrown and Kabbah had to flee in exile. In 1999, a peace accord was signed in Lomé, but it took the international forces another two years to actually reinforce peace. While many observers theorised the war putting the blame on greed for diamond and thus localised it as a specifically West-African phenomenon, some commentators emphasize the role of local and global structural forces (Reno 1995; 1997) and take more seriously the RUF’s original attempts to frame it as an anti-imperialist struggle (Richards 1996).
Coloniality. As opposed to colonialism which is a political system of domination, coloniality is a cultural nebulous, a mind-set or an ideology maintained by the very systems of power which made colonialism possible. Because colonialism and coloniality are interconnected but separate, the latter can survive the former. The term is attributed to Quijano (2000). As he explains, coloniality maintains the supposed hierarchy between races, upholds European superiority and institutionalizes the consequent hegemony of European knowledge systems. Because coloniality is a hegemonic force, even victims of such a racialized hiearchisation integrate its value system.
Hut Tax War. In 1898 the British introduced a tax in the Protectorate levied on houses, but also involving a new regulation of commerce of oil kernels, a basic staple and a produce of high symbolic value. This measure triggered a powerful anti-colonial and anti-white revolt. Magazinier (2006) argues that it was not the tax in itself, but the British’ will to go against the rule of the local leaders that generated violence. This incident points at the difference between the European and the African view on commerce and wealth. While for the British, the tax was a technical question to raise money, In Magazinier’s view, land and trees were perceived by the natives as linked to ancestry and as belonging to linages. Violence turned against everything that was understood as white and everything was understood as white that had anything to do with « Englishness » including language, culture, rule and education. In this account, the violence of the revolt was just the other face of the « everyday violence » of the colony.
International community. Is a metaphoric expression, which is often used in developmental discourses to signify something more concrete and real than what the image of a unified, benevolent and harmonious global community conveys. Cubitt (2013:6) argues that – in places like in Sierra Leone, used as a terrain for wide-scale Western interventionism, the disparate ensemble of various international actors (including governments, transnational institutions and –mostly – Western-based international NGOs) can in fact act as a unified body with a shared norm and value system. This superficial consensus mystifies the fact that the internationalism in question, far from being genuinely global, legitimizes the imposition of a particular Western liberal political philosophy and economic theory by positing these as universal without alternatives.
Least developed country. Is a socio-economic category established by the UN in 1971 in order to identify the poorest countries that have the greatest need of development aid. The list of these countries is revised every 3 years based on three types of criteria: income (GNI per capita), human assets and « economic and environmental vulnerability ». Sierra Leone was included in the list first in 1982 and since then it has remained steadily « least developed ».
Liberal peace. In the post-cold war period, a series of armed conflicts exploded in almost all the continents. Western-based international organizations, led by the UN, answered by proposing a set of planned post-conflict interventions, aiming at establishing and consolidating democracy and the free market in one single package in warn-torn countries (Richmond 2006). The package included « democratisation, accountability, promotion of civil society, economic liberalization and good governance » (Harris 2013:129). It corresponded to a new area of international development whose conventional wisdom was that democracy would automatically lead to the improvement of people’s livelihood and wellbeing. If such transformation manifestly did not happen on a wide scale, it was because – critics suggested- the kind of democracy that the plan proposed did not offer any solution for real participation. It was defined by a very limited set of formal criteria: the existence of multiparty elections and that of a « vibrant civil society », almost uniquely understood as the presence of NGOs (Cubitt 2013). Based on these critiques, its detractors claim that the liberal peace is just a new concept for an old reality: Western imperialism, in the area in which Western dominance became equated with American hegemony and with the aggressive exportation of neoliberal economic policies and political philosophy.
The mutual assimilation of the elites. Is an expression used by Jean-Francois Bayart in his analysis of the post-colonial African state. Although it is based on a vast generalization, it has the merit to point to the impossibility of understanding politics in Africa without reference to its colonial past. Asymmetric interactions with Europe have not stopped at Independence, but – Bayart says – it would be a mistake to understand the contemporary African state’s position as the passive recipient of imported ideas and imposed institutions. Rather, a creative take-over is happening, a co-creation of a new political culture. The reciprocal assimilation happening between civil society and the political society blurs the boundaries between the two, creating an « alliance between state power, intellectuals, churches and even marabu » (Bayart 1993:187) and leads to a « historic bloc » in which the national elite’s interest and those of the international elite are inseparable.
NGOization. Is a very visible aspect of democracy building in developing countries: it can be verified by counting the jeeps on the roads with an NGO logo, the billboards carrying an important social message, the signs over the gates of the offices and even the number of people in the villages wearing an NGO Tshirt. In 2008, a government official estimated the number of international NGOs registered in Sierra Leone to be 3000, their local « development partners » were countless. This extended international-local NGO network dedicated to the post war democratic transformation was called « civil society ». However, civil society did not wait for NGOs in Sierra Leone to thrive. Voluntary organizations have traditionally abounded in the form of ethnic associations, professional guilds, renters, associations, religious congregations, trade unions, secret societies, to list just a few. Every market has its own association; even collective squats manage their places in an associative form. One aspect of NGOization is that only those collective formations are legitimized as part of official civil society, which can be brought into the developmental work. « In many cases, this approach leads to a de facto exclusion of the so-called traditional forms of arrangements existing in the society » (Pouligny 2005:498). Worse, recognition sometimes equals with more or less conscious formatting. Civil society building becomes a machine to bring local NGOs to life, by incentives that include financial opportunities and status enhancement. NGOIzed civil society then is « often diverted by local political networks (which sometimes create them) into patronage channels » (Ibid). The oft-cited separation between the state and civil society becomes blurred here, as the actually existing civil society is made part of the neo-liberal governance through its participation in development.
Oil crisis. The immediate reason of the two consecutive oil crises of 1973 and 1979 was the contraction in the global oil supply due to an embargo imposed by oil exporting countries (1973) and the Iranian revolution (1979) followed by the Iran-Iraq war, causing in both cases a phenomenal rise in oil prices and, in a knock-on effect, of the prices of all commodities which relied on oil for production and transport. In developing countries, this increased balance of payments problems. High inflation convinced the US to raise drastically interest rates. The effect was to strengthen the exchange rate of the US dollar – this in turn increased the debt burden of developing countries. Many turned to the IMF as a lender of last resort. The oil crises accelerated the delegitimization of Keynesian policies, which had no solution to high inflation combined with slow growth (called stagflation), and consequently fostered the consolidation and the universalization of the neoliberal agenda. The ensuing debt crisis in the Global South gave the IMF unprecedented leverage over the public finances of debt-ridden developing countries (Willard and Wilson 1982.)
Extractive capitalism. The qualifier « extractive » refers to the tendency of capitalism to use violence in order to take resources from nature, workers and communities in a way that ends up endangering their capacity of reproduction. Extractive capitalism as a concept is closely related to David Harvey’s idea of accumulation by dispossession (2004). In Harvey’s view, neoliberalism exacerbates inequalities by concentrating wealth in the hands of a view at the price of dispossessing the majority from the necessary conditions of their lives. Saskia Sassen (2014) argues that neoliberalism has lately become so predatory in its dispossessing appetite that inequality does not express correctly where it leads to. She prefers therefore speaking about « expulsions » (See chapter « Expulsions »)
Right based approach to development. Is a framing of development interventions in developing countries as measures to promote human rights. In this approach, development is considered as a human right and also, the promotion of human rights leads to development. (see more on this in Chapter « Being Disabled in the South ».
Slave Trade. Slavery was a widespread social institution in West Africa well before the encounter with the Europeans. Notwithstanding, the commercialization of slavery introduced first by the Portuguese, followed by the Dutch, French and English, came with new levels of objectification never known before. West African social structures allowed the incorporation of domestic slaves in community life and left open the possibility for their ascendance to higher status. In contrast, export slavery totally dehumanized the captives who became properly things with a sole monetary value. European slave traders successfully switched local chiefs into the slave business, and so people were never safe even in the deepest forest. Shaw (2002) argues that the terror caused by the Atlantic slave trade still reverberates in collective memories. The British banned the Atlantic slave trade in 1807, but illegal slave trading continued for several decades. Part of the settlers who found Freetown were so called recaptives, i.e. slaves captured somewhere in West Africa, sold and intercepted on illegal slave boats, liberated and transported back to Sierra Leone.
Social Suffering. Is caused by social or structural forces. Structural violence sets up a hierarchy of suffering. This hierarchy is both objective and subjective. Not only people with lower socio-economic status tend to suffer comparatively more from structural causes, their suffering also generates less moral scandal as if their lives were worth less in the eyes of society. Arthur and Joan Kleinman argue that suffering is social not only because it is induced by social forces putting people belonging to particular groups in the way of particular forms of harm, but also because society (and culture) shape the way individuals belonging to these groups experience suffering. « Cultural representations, authorized by a moral community and its institutions, elaborate different modes of suffering » they explain (p.2). « Social suffering results from what political, economic, and institutional power does to people, and reciprocally, from how these forms of power themselves influence responses to social problems. » (Kleinman, Lock and Das 1997:ix) Qualifying human suffering as social is a political act: refusing to naturalize and banalize suffering is seen as a necessary step toward fighting against oppressive power.
Structural adjustment programs (SAPS). Are programs of development aid, widespread in the 1980ies, in the form of loans, provided by the IMF and the World Bank. These two Bretton Woods institutions became the arm through which the « Washington Consensus » was imposed on developing countries in need of money. The conditionalities attached to these loans were meant to help the debtor countries to keep their budgetary balance. They included liberalization of the market opening it to international trade, the shrinking of public expenditures and wide scale privatization. They had little regard to political stability and social welfare, which explains why SAPs were so ineffective in « poverty reduction ». The conditions imposed by the IMF on Sierra Leone’s authoritarian and corrupt leaders in the 1980is paradoxically gave a leverage to these to do more of what they were already doing: privatizing public wealth for the benefit of their national and international clientele. According to some analysts (Reno 1996), the discontent these policies caused contributed to the war that burst out in 1991.
Structural Violence. Johan Galtung (1969), the Norwegian sociologist and the founder of peace studies theorized structural violence in the 1960s as a form of hidden violence perpetrated, maintained and mystified by social structures and institutions, stopping individuals and groups reaching their full potential. Because these forces remain hidden, it is easy to blame the victims for their misfortune. Medical anthropologists, such as Kleinman, Lock and Farmer turned to the concept of structural violence in the late 20th and early 21st century, in order to explain health inequities. Farmer (2006:1686) understands structural violence as « a way of describing social arrangements that put individuals and populations in harm’s way ». In Pathologies of Power (2003:15) he explains that certain forms of suffering are indeed « structured by historically given (and often economically driven) processes and forces that conspire—whether through routine, ritual, or, as is more commonly the case, the hard surfaces of life—to constrain agency ». The nature of such forces is such that they distribute suffering unevenly. The poor, racialized groups, women, minorities and disabled people suffer unproportionally as a group. Structural violence is expressed in differentiated morbidity and mortality of social groups. Although statistics makes it visible, it seems to be nobody’s fault, because no human perpetrator can be identified. Structural violence appears to be « unauthored », but as Farmer points it out, it is still “man-made”. However, it affects its victims only indirectly by the intermediary of invisible, oppressive social structures.
Trade imbalance or trade deficit. Occurs when the value of a country’s imports exceeds that of its exports. This can easily happen to countries without a developed processing industry, as they are forced to exchange agricultural produces and raw materials against highly processed goods on the international market. Since colonial powers used their colonies as safe and cheap sources of commodities, trade imbalance is a structural constraint that African states inherited from their colonial past.
UNIPSIL. The UN’s presence dates back to the Lomé Peace accord of 1999. As part of the accord, the UN Security Council was established (UNAMSIL). In 2005 It gave way to UNIOSIL (the United Nations Integrated Office in Sierra Leone), which in turn, passed the baton to UNIPSIL (the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone) in 2008. These missions were the primary tools through which the UN deployed their peacebuilding and state-building strategy, exercising de facto tutelage over the country’s government until 2014. After the departure of UNIPSIL, the UN family continues to offer help and exercise control through its numerous agencies, funds and programmes, like UNDP, UNFPA, UNAIDS, UNICEF, WFP, WHO, FAO, as well as IOM, and the World Bank.
The Washington Consensus. Refers to a set of free-market economic policies supported by Us-based financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the U.S. Treasury. These policies were ostensibly intended to help developing countries that faced economic crisis to stabilize their economies. The Washington Consensus recommended structural reforms that increased the role of market forces in exchange for financial help. There are ongoing debates as to whether the Washington Consensus is dead, is about to be resurrected or in fact never disappeared.
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The order of sequences
- Expert interview: a Sierra Leonean economist gives a historic account of the factors leading to the war
- Manish gives a personal account of his experiences during the war
- Expert interview about the post war peace-building
- Disability Forum organized by UNIPSIL: contrasting visions of existing forms of suffering