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Session Overview
3-HP050 - 1/2: Building Solidarity for Empowerment and Accountability in Difficult Settings - 1/2
Tuesday, 06/July/2021:
2:00pm - 3:15pm

Session Chair: Prof. John Gaventa, IDS, United Kingdom

Session Abstract

Much of the literature on collective action has emerged from settings which are somewhat democratic and open. On the other hand, an estimated two billion people currently live in countries where these conditions do not exist and their ability to act is affected by war, high social distrust, political instability and weak or repressive governments on a daily basis. What are the collective action strategies used in such settings? How do they contribute to solidarity and overcoming marginalisation, and greater empowerment and democratic accountability? What can we learn from these settings for our more general understandings of collective action, solidarity and social justice?

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Restoring a Hospital as Constructive Resistance: Collective Action in an Oppressive Setting in Northern Somalia in the 1980s

Ebba Tellander1,2

1Peace Research Institute Oslo, Norway; 2International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), the Hauge, the Netherlands

This paper examines how collective action can emerge in an oppressive and conflict setting. When an oppressive regime is trying to close the political space, individuals and groups may focus their civic energy on activities and arenas that are regarded as safer. Thus, collective action can take alternative forms that are different from the expectations of conventional conceptualisations. My research is based on a thorough empirical investigation of a transformative event in northern Somalia’s recent history, which was initiated by a group of professionals – mostly teachers and doctors. These professionals mobilized people into self-help schemes to improve a hospital. The study finds that the professionals engaged in a diverse set of actions that balanced on a continuum between political and humanitarian activities. Through these acts, they illuminated the gaps in the government’s responsibilities to the wider community. At the same time, they showed – by example – the potential of oppressed people to take collective responsibility for their own future. The professionals wanted to mobilize more people, and to spread the self-help schemes to other sectors and cities. In this paper, I argue that these self-help activities can be understood as examples of constructive resistance – the transformation of everyday life that leads to the restoration of autonomy and dignity. Meanwhile, the professionals also engaged in examples of contentious resistance – public confrontations with the regime – such as when two of them started to write a newsletter. The case illustrates the creative capabilities of individuals and groups to enable collective action and different forms of resistance in high-risk settings. The study draws on more than 100 interviews with people who were present at the time, including life histories and TV interviews with the professionals themselves, as well as archival material. By focusing on a case from the recent history of the horn of Africa, this study contributes to broaden the geographical scope of scholarship on collective action and social movements, that has typically been focused on formal democracies in Europe and North America. The study contributes to – and critically engages with – emerging attempts to bridge the structurally biased social movement research with the literature on civil resistance, that has typically focused on movement strategies. It does so by emphasizing the lived experiences of individuals and how they relate – with agency – to their social surrounding.

Promoting Accountable Governance Through A Vertically Integrated Approach: The Experience Of Christian Aid’s Voice To The People (V2P) Programme In Anambra State, Nigeria

Charles James Gay1, Dr Uzochukwu Amakom2, Temitope Fashola1

1Christian Aid, United Kingdom; 2Institute of Development Studies, University of Nigeria

Promoting vertically integrated accountability processes through Voice to the People (V2P), in Nigeria didn’t only help citizens to influence budgets but also in careful planning and monitoring of budget implementation; triggering community level social accountability initiatives and horizontal linkages required to monitor larger state-wide projects -

Donors have long supported civil society programmes to enhance accountable governance in aid recipient countries but limited impacts have prompted questions concerning the efficacy of their approaches. This paper is a study of the Voice to the People programme, funded by the Department of International Development (DFID) and implemented in Nigeria by Christian Aid in partnership with local Civil Society Organisations, that has performed somewhat better. Given that this paper aimed to identify lessons rather than evaluation, it took a purposive, iterative and collaborative approach to data collection, analysis and report writing considering V2P through the lens of Vertical Integration. Although V2P did not set out to address specific accountability failures through its focus on service delivery targets in particular sectors, however, it did take a power informed approach to coordinating citizens’ voices at different levels for more responsive and accountable governance. This led to increasing prospects for vertically integrated governance and government’s acceptance cum institutionalisation of V2P’s Community Charter of Demand (CCD). Such acceptance influenced budget information access, participation and eventually increase in budget allocations for community healthcare, education and infrastructure projects and social development. It equally resulted to shifting power imbalances between state and citizens, creating more space and a process for citizen voices especially women to influence state budgeting processes in the future. Reasons for success include a carefully orchestrated, non-confrontational evidence-based campaign that helped access to high level budget forums and leveraging the CCD tools developed by communities and V2P partners whilst building horizontal alliances.

From Conflict Containment to Conflict Transformation: The Successes and Failures of Collective Action Strategies in North-East Congo

Niamh Gaynor

Dublin City University, Ireland

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the site of one of the most egregious conflicts in modern times. Fuelled by a violent political economy of mineral and natural resource extraction, the lengthy cycle of violence and intimidation has resulted in the highest death toll in any war since World War II. The shortcomings of internationally sponsored peacebuilding efforts in the region have led to a local turn in the peacebuilding literature where a key role for community groups in local conflict resolution and development is being promoted.

Drawing on fieldwork conducted with community groups and local political authorities in Ituri District in north-eastern DRC, in this paper I outline the different collective action strategies employed by local groups in seeking to bring their communities together, rebuild trust, and increase local accountability. Analysing the successes and failures of these different strategies, I go on to argue that local collective action strategies on their own can only do so much. While those analysed in this paper proved successful in containing the worst excesses of the conflict for a number of years, fresh outbreaks of violence over the last two years indicate that they cannot, on their own, transform the underlying conditions which continue to feed and fuel the intimidation and unrest. One of the principal lessons from Ituri therefore, is that local collective action strategies need to be accompanied and supported by national and global actions which, acting in support to and solidarity with local communities, challenge and address the globalised political economy of conflict.

Rupture and Routine: Demanding Power in Pakistan

Umar Javed

LUMS University; Visiting Research Fellow, Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives (IDEAS)

Studies of collective action have historically focused on democratic, open polities, where state-society relations are conventionally characterized by well-entrenched patterns of accountability and contestation. However, the literature largely ignores forms of contention and collective action in spaces marked by authoritarian governments, widespread conflict, and weak representative institutions. In such contexts, the technologies, strategies, and repertoires of contention may be different, but, given the frequency and scale of mobilization, their contribution towards processes of citizen empowerment, forms of state accountability, and addressing key issues of subsistence and provision deserves greater attention.

Following from this premise, this paper studies contentious mobilization around access to electricity in Pakistan to understand how marginalized and excluded citizens contend with governance failure and state insularity. Popular politics around electricity in Pakistan provides an interesting peg to study some of the deeper questions about empowerment, accountability, and contention raised earlier for two primary reasons: as a country context, Pakistan has historically been marked by authoritarian rule, with weak politically representative and associational institutions. The country has also witnessed a wide array of ethnic, communal, and factional conflicts, many of which have remained violent for prolonged periods of time. Secondly, Pakistan’s electricity sector - plagued by a prolonged shortfall and pricing crisis - remains highly centralized, dominated by insular ties between bureaucrats, local and global capital, and the various ‘reform’ interests of the World Bank and the IMF.

By drawing on the forms, discourses, and strategies of popular mobilization around electricity access and pricing in two cities, along with a country-wide dataset on electricity-related protests that covers the 2005-2015 period - this paper argues that rather than static indifference, state-society relations in Pakistan on electricity-related issues are marked by considerable (and frequently violent) public collective contention, driven by localized solidarity-building within communities that takes place during moments of crises. Alongside these overt ruptures, citizens engage with field-level state functionaries and political representatives through ties embedded within spatial neighbourhood-level dynamics to combat subsistence challenges posed by shortages and price hikes. These strategies should be viewed as dynamic attempts to hold the state accountable over what’s perceived to be a fundamental right in the absence of institutionalized channels of representation and accountability.

Using the electricity crisis as its lens, this paper also interrogates whether such contention provides pathways to systemic empowerment-related transformations in state-society relations. In Pakistan’s case, this does not appear to be the case. The logic and dynamic of accountability – grounded in episodic moments of crises – remains localized and decentralized; and with the continued absence of organizations and actors who could build solidarities across issues, communities, and geographic spaces, pathways towards broader change remain limited.

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