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Article

Trust and Social Relations in African Politics  

Dominic Burbidge

Africa is a place of low social trust. This fact is significant for understanding the politics and economics of the region, whether for questions of national unity or economic coordination and growth. One of the central ways in which trust and social relations have come to be examined within the social sciences is through the notion of social capital, defined as the norms and networks that enable collective action. Use of the concept of social capital has mushroomed in popularity within academia since the 1980s and has been used within African studies to interpret the developmental effects of social relations. It is important to review how researchers have been synthesizing the study of African societies with the social capital approach, and offer suggestions on how this can be better achieved. Specifically, there is contradiction between the view that social capital is useful for economic development and the view that social capital means a community can decide its own economic goals. Students of social capital in Africa must accept that the cultural and normative diversity of the continent necessitates appreciation of the diverse aims of social networks. This means a rejection both of modernist theories of development and postmodern reduction of human relations to forms of power exchange. Future research on trust and social capital in Africa must give weight to community articulations of motivations to trust, what activities count as communal, and what new economic cultures are being formed as a result of present communal varieties.

Article

Ethnic Inequality and Coups d’État  

Cristina Bodea and Christian Houle

A coup d’état is an all-around consequential event, and coups remain frequent in sub-Saharan Africa. Historically, ethnic inequality—the measure of income disparities at the level of ethnic groups—has been paid little attention as a potential cause of coups and other types of regime breakdown. More work exists on the relationship between ethnicity broadly construed and coup d’état, and in particular the role of unequal access to the military for different ethnic groups and the role of ethnic exclusion from political power. Our own work presents a theory that links “between” and “within” ethnic group income inequality to coup d’état initiated by ethnic groups. The argument is that high income and wealth inequality between ethnic groups, coupled with within-group homogeneity, increases the salience of ethnicity and solidifies within-group preferences vis-à-vis the preferences of other ethnic groups, increasing the appeal and feasibility of a coup. Empirical findings from sub-Saharan Africa support the main theoretical claim linking ethnic inequality to coup d’état. Additional evidence from sub-Saharan Africa and a larger global sample are consistent with the causal mechanisms. More remains to be researched in this area, however. Directions for future research include looking at the access of ethnic groups to the military, the intervening role of natural resources in the calculus of ethnic groups, and the role of ethnic inequality in incumbent takeovers.

Article

The Politics of Language Education in Africa  

Russell H. Kaschula and Michael M. Kretzer

Language policies in sub-Saharan African nations emerge out of specific political, historical, socioeconomic, and linguistic conditions. Education plays a crucial role for all spheres of language policy. Policies either upgrade or downgrade indigenous languages through their application at various educational institutions. The most significant example is the selection of the language(s) used as languages of learning and teaching at higher-education institutions. The region’s colonial history also influences the language policies of the independent African states. Language policy in Senegal is an example of a francophone country focusing on a linguistic assimilation policy in which minor reforms in favor of indigenous languages have taken place. Rwanda’s language policy is unique as the former francophone nation now uses English as an exoglossic language in a type of hybrid language policy. Botswana is an example of an anglophone country that follows a language policy that is dominated by a very close connection to the notion of nation-building through its concentration on a single language, Setswana, alongside English. Tanzania is an anglophone African country whose policy focuses on Kiswahili, which is one of the very few indigenous and endoglossic languages. Kiswahili is broadly used in Tanzanian educational institutions until the tertiary level, but its use as medium of instruction focuses on the primary level. South Africa demonstrates the very close relationship between general political decisions and language policy and vice versa. Language policy decisions are never neutral and are influenced by the politics of a specific country. As a result, individual and societal language attitudes influence language policies. In addition to this, the overt and official language policy on a macro level may differ from the implementation of such policies on a micro level. At the micro level, practice can include covert language practices by various stakeholders.

Article

LGBTQI Rights and Sub-Saharan Africa  

Ryan Thoreson

In recent decades, the efflorescence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) movements has created powerful inroads for sexual rights in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. While conditions for LGBTI people vary considerably between and within countries, activists across the region are reshaping political, legal, and social understandings of gender and sexuality through their advocacy, both by seizing opportunities and navigating periods of backlash and repression. Over the years, activists have established domestic movements and have expanded their reach to articulate demands in regional and international forums. Their work has challenged the universality of models developed in other parts of the globe and has generated new tactics to respond to religious, familial, and state-sponsored prejudice. At the same time, questions of representativeness, accountability, and strategy have been raised by constituencies and longtime activists alike, inviting critical assessments of movement politics in the region.