Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Challenges of a different kind - the role of food prices in the lives of the poorest in Pakistan

Countries like Pakistan always appear at the global stage to be battling big challenges such as political crises, conflicts and disasters. But the picture remains incomplete without seeing challenges of a different kind that ordinary people, particularly the poorest, face on a daily basis.

Research conducted in Pakistan, alongside nine other developing countries, for the Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility project provides just such a perspective. Qualitative research was carried out by the Collective for Social Science Research in 2012 and 2013 in a cluster of villages in Dadu district and in an urban working-class neighbourhood in Karachi to explore how rising food prices were affecting the poor. Three important themes emerged from our research in Pakistan which helps understand ways in which food inflation impacts the poor and the vulnerable.

The economy of the poorest is about food, not money

Survival strategies of the poorest are centred on acquiring staple food to avoid hunger. In the Dadu villages, where wheat is the only major crop these strategies revolved around the crop cycle. During harvest, activities of all the households are around acquisition of wheat either directly through agricultural labour or indirectly by providing other services in exchange for grain. The wheat is stored and consumed over several months and is also used as a currency to purchase other goods and services. For the urban poor, who engage in a range of activities including petty vending, wage labour and begging, the main priority is to acquire sufficient amounts of wheat flour or bread to fill their bellies. Many of the poorest work, borrow, or beg to ensure that they have just enough to eat, regardless of prices and wages, and they generally only scrape by. For the rural poor, wheat prices matters little because their annual cycle is focused on acquiring a target quantity of grain. Money, therefore, is almost incidental in these survival strategies which combine remunerative economic activity with borrowing and begging to stave off hunger.
A woman cooking in rural Dadu. The meal consists of saag (a local leafy vegetable) and beeh (lotus roots) cooked with green chillies, onions and tomatoes along with roti (flat bread)
Credits: Collective for Social Science Research 

Informal systems and blurred boundaries

Support from informal institutions reduce a poor household’s dependence on market denominated transactions and instead increase their reliance on other households and individuals.

Of course these social arrangements, which might protect individuals from prolonged periods of hunger, come at a social cost in the form of humiliation and loss of respect. Food is circulated in a community though reciprocal exchanges between neighbours and family, regular charity by somewhat better-off households and individuals (who may themselves be poor in the wider scheme of things) and through begging by those entirely dependent on alms for survival. These various forms of non-monetised food transfers often occur in overlapping layers. Reciprocal gift exchange might be extended to one-sided support for some time, and people who might accept charitable donations on religious occasions might sometimes beg outright.

For people on the margins, the household or the basic social arrangement for cohabitation and joint consumption also has fluid boundaries. While ‘normal’ households are often identified as the unit that shares regular meals among its members, we found diverse arrangements in place which ensure the sustenance of individuals.

For example, children are easily able to go their neighbours or relatives to eat when there is not enough food in their own home. An adult woman doing domestic work might count on eating lunch at her employers’ house, and then coming home to prepare a meal for other family members. Households break down under conditions of stress, and often the first sign of male household members leaving is them not eating meals with the rest of the family.

Idiosyncratic changes overshadow price shocks

The longitudinal design of the study enabled us to survey the same households in two different years providing rich data on the changes experienced by the household over the year. We were able to identify conspicuous changes that a household undergoes such as variations in its earning potential and livelihood, alternation in its size and composition, and conflicts within, which are sources of positive as well as negative shocks. For instance, the social and economic condition of one respondent improved after her husband got a job in the police while another respondent’s husband had to give up his rickshaw, the main source of their earnings due to his inability to meet rental payments.

One of our case-study households, flood-affected migrants in Karachi, were evicted from their uncle’s house after a family dispute while another respondent, also a flood-affected migrant, who was initially living in a warehouse was joined by his family and had moved into a house. The severity of these events at the individual and household level appears to have more of an impact on people’s lives making the effect of inflation secondary.
Mr O, a flood-displaced migrant, who survived on charity food in his initial days in Karachi, was joined by his family in 2013. Here his mother is seen preparing a roti (flat bread). the staple food in our research sites
Credits: Naila Mahmood/Collective for Social Science Research

Next steps

In-depth qualitative research provides insights into how the effects of macro-level changes such as inflation and government policies are experienced by poor individuals and households. In the third round of fieldwork, starting soon, we will re-visit our informants to see how their well-being has changed over the last year. We aim to go beyond the quantity of food consumed by asking informants about their perceptions of the quality of the food they consume and how consumption habits and food preferences change over time.

Mysbah Balagamwala, Research Associate, and Haris Gazdar, Senior Researcher, Collective for Social Science Research, Pakistan.

Friday, 19 September 2014

A year after Westgate: what has Kenya learned?

Social media symbol of sympathy
for Kenya after attacks - ILRI (Flickr)
A year has passed since Al-Shabaab militants laid siege of the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi.

The attack, believed to have been carried out by four gunmen, left 67 dead and laid waste to the luxury complex. President Uhuru Kenyatta promised to form an independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate the attack and the actions by the police, armed forces and other responders.

It briefly seemed that the Westgate tragedy would precipitate a sober, hard-headed review of security threats and appropriate responses to these.

Yet, twelve months on, and with many more attacks having transpired, insecurity has become the fodder of Kenya’s insipid politics rather than a catalyst for a serious debate.

Meanwhile, as violence roils the country’s periphery and the prospect of further Al-Shabaab attacks looms, Nairobi has no coherent strategy to strengthen security.

How did it go so wrong?

The underlying logic of Kenya's security responses has been to externalise the threat

While the reasons for Kenya’s deteriorating security are complex, the central underlying logic of its security responses has been to externalise the threat. Al Shabaab is seen as an external threat to peace and stability in Kenya, which must be protected against conflict spill-overs from Somalia.

This logic underpinned Operation Linda Nchi, a military incursion by Kenya launched in 2011, ostensibly to create a buffer zone between it and areas of Somalia’s south stricken by warfare. Yet, insecurity has worsened measurably since then, with Kenya’s Anti-Terrorism Police Unit reporting 133 attacks in Kenya since the operation was launched. At least 264 people have been killed and 923 injured, with most attacks taking place in Kenya’s north-eastern and coastal regions. Hand grenades have been the weapon of choice for the terrorists alongside improvised explosive devices (IEDs), landmines, bombs and guns as well as machetes.

The logic of externalising the threat is also apparent in Operation Usalama Watch, a ham-handed security operation that began in April and largely centred in Nairobi’s Somali neighbourhoods of Eastleigh and South C. More than 3,000 people were arrested and incarcerated in the city’s Kasarani stadium on various immigration and refugee infringements.

As of the middle of July, six refugees registered with the UNHCR were re-fouled to Somalia, including one mentally challenged individual and two children. The message was clear: Somalis do not belong in Kenya and they spread violence and insecurity in the country.

Images circulating on social media of Somalis incarcerated in what appeared to be large cages affirmed the worst claims that Kenya’s police and security agencies are discriminatory toward and inhumane in their treatment of Somalis, many of whom hold Kenyan citizenship.

Credit: See Li - Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Independent Policing Oversight Authority in July said that the police failed to uphold the requirements of Article 244 of the Constitution to strive for professionalism and discipline and to promote and practice transparency and accountability during the operation.

Widened gulf between security and intelligence agencies

Kenya’s security responses have widened a gulf between its security and intelligence agencies and Somalis while doing little to improve security for most Kenyans. Meanwhile, Al Shabaab has shown itself adept at stoking deep-lying grievances amongst Kenya’s Somalis, Muslims and other Coastal communities, in effect localising its jihad in Kenya.

Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the June massacre in Mpeketoni in Lamu County that left 60 dead. Kenyatta, who attributed the attacks instead to ‘local political networks,’ unwittingly, perhaps, moved security framings from a focus on external threats to internal divisions. Yet, he did so in a way that was ultimately divisive and damaging to building the broad political support needed to rethink security responses.

In the immediate aftermath of Mpeketoni, Interior Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku blamed the opposition Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD), led by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, for inciting the public and stoking ethnic tension around the country leading to the violence. The arrest in July of Lamu Governor Issa Timamy, who police alleged was  complicit in the Mpeketoni attacks, furthered the impression of partisanship and retributive politics at the heart of the government’s handling of worsening violence. A high court judge threw out the case earlier this month.

Recriminations and finger-pointing but little political debate

The recriminations and threats that flew following the attacks in Lamu County show that far more is at play than Al Shabaab infiltrators. Yet, Nairobi has learned little in the year since the Westgate attacks. While there was seeming public support in Kenya for Operation Usalama Watch, this should not be interpreted as backing of operations that target particular communities. Rather, a genuine sense of fear and unknowing has taken hold. Understandably, in this climate, Kenya’s wananchi are looking for responses that are robust but also effective.

The government would be wise to end its finger-pointing and instead seek to encourage a political debate on how to strengthen security. Kenyatta’s promised Commission of Inquiry never materialised but could have provided insights into policing and intelligence failures, strengthening inter-agency coordination between the National Intelligence Service, regular police and Administration Police, and instilling greater discipline and professionalism in the military.

Further, there is need for strong commitment and engagement from the top on conducting comprehensive police reforms that goes to the heart of the service.

The recent police recruitment exercise showed the country still has far to go to rid the force of corruption and favouritism. Police rank and file are in desperate need of training on community policing, another tool the government has brandished to improve security. However, its approach too often suggests a one-way relationship where communities are used for intelligence-gathering rather exploring opportunities to address the security concerns of communities themselves and, thus, building trust and confidence in policing institutions.

A strategic response to insecurity must consider many other major internal challenges ranging from land reform, to the structure of the overall economy and accumulation of wealth that excludes most, to the citizenship and rights of minorities and young people. A more nuanced understanding of the problem of worsening security, particularly one that asks the right questions, might lead to more appropriate responses.

Dr. Jeremy Lind is a Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies (UK). He leads the Addressing and Mitigating Violence programme. Patrick Mutahi is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Human Rights and Policy Studies (Kenya).

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Voting with their feet – Zimbabwe’s youth refuse to buy into the illusion of democracy

There is a conundrum in current Zimbabwe that evokes Mahmood Mamdani’s seminal analysis of the strategy of colonial rule, the division of the colonial states into the rulers and the ruled, or “citizens” and “subjects”.

Zimbabwe's liberation movements fought to ensure that all those living in the then-Rhodesia would cease to be “subjects” and become “citizens”.

The colonial state, amongst many other forms of discrimination against the Black members of Rhodesian society, deprived them of the vote, probably the most fundamental way in which people move from “subject” to “citizen”. The movements' strongest refrain was “one man, one vote”: all would be citizens. and, derivatively, all would have access to land, resources, and public goods and services. 

So, how does it now look from the perspective of 2014, thirty-four years into independence?

Zimbabwe as a "predatory state" with a narrow citizen base

Zimbabwe is now described with considerable validity as a “predatory state” rather than the democracy for which a civil war had to be fought. That is, a state in which there are clear “insiders”, rewarded and given preferential access to public goods and services, and much more beyond, and “outsiders” are kept in their place by a variety of repressive institutions and policies.

One political party - the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) - has captured virtually the entire state to its own benefit, and the benefits flow only to “citizens”, narrowly defined as those that overtly support it. This small example illustrates the scale of the issue.

It is well-nigh impossible for anyone not belonging to ZANU PF to obtain a job as a civil servant, except in some narrow professional areas such as education or health. Even then, it is abundantly clear that a teacher, for example, had better evince support for ZANU PF, or be overtly apolitical. Teachers that violate this prescription can expect short shrift come the elections

In 2013, nearly 75% of Zimbabwe's budget paid for the salaries of about 290,000 civil servants, and about half of those are from the security services. These are the “citizens”, while the remaining 12 million Zimbabweans are still cast as “subjects”: despite paying taxes, they are compelled to obey draconian laws, and still not allowed to vote freely for the political party of their choice. Even if they do vote, they are very unlikely to see their vote count: where elections are not won by ZANU PF through political violence, as was the case in 2002 and 2008, they are won through intimidation and vote-rigging,  as happened in 2005 and 2013.

When so much of the fiscus supports the “citizens”, narrowly defined as ZANU PF supporters, the remainder of the country is increasingly reliant on the remittances from the diaspora, which are less a “resource curse” than a possible source of resistance to the partiality of ZANU PF.

The legacy of the liberation struggle still sustains ZANU PF but for how long?

Heroe's Acre, Harare. Credit: Gary Bembridge (Flickr) CC BY 2.0
What lies behind this fa├žade of democracy is the “invisible power” of the liberation struggle, and the failure of ZANU PF (and most other Southern African liberation movements) to transform from military-party complexes into modern political parties.

This is amply described by contemporary political commentators, such as Christopher Clapham, who demonstrate the intractable nature of liberation movements.

However, underpinning this is the more general force deriving from “invisible power”, the “psychological and ideological boundaries of participation”, as John Gaventa puts it in “Finding the Spaces for Change: A Power Analysis...”. It is the psychological fixedness that underpins the ideology of the entitlement of liberation movements to eternal political power.

What does this have to do with the youth?

The ideology behind the invisible power is that only those that fought for the liberation of Zimbabwe are “real” citizens, as might be those that become proxy liberators, the young that support ZANU PF. The rest are those without “totems”, that is, the urban youth with no connections to a rural home, who can even be denied the rights to burial in a rural home if deemed politically unacceptable; “sellouts”, the rural youth who don’t support ZANU PF; and all are mere subjects.

Scarcely surprising that nearly one million Zimbabweans under the age of 30 years were not registered voters in 2013: they voted with their feet, and not merely because it was too hard for them to get registered, which was also the case.

With nearly 70% of Zimbabwe’s population under the age of 30 according to the 2012 Census, the memories and cachet of “liberation theology” are going to be hard to sustain in the future, worsened probably by the inability of the state to provide public goods and services to both citizens and “subjects”, or to offset the undermining of its clientalism by remittances from the diaspora.

Thus, subjugation is not likely to last forever: the only worry is how will it end – with the ballot or the bullet? And will the promise of the new Zimbabwe constitution foster the use of the ballot if the institutions (the courts, etc.) which must implement the constitution remain under narrow, partisan control? After all, a constitution is only as good as its implementing institutions, just as a country is as democratic as its citizens are allowed to be.

About the author
Antony Reeler is a Senior Researcher at the Research and Advocacy Unit. His main interests are transitional justice, governance, and active citizenship for women. He has been working with Marjoke Oosterom at IDS.  

Related blogs