Charity Begins at Home, Politics Happens Out There!

‘Unruly Politics is in itself a political intervention into development studies in the sense that it seeks to explore questions and modalities /spaces of action, which mainstream development studies has for the large part failed to consider’ (Khanna 2013)

When I was growing up my grandmother once told me ‘charity begins at home’. As I went on into mainstream education I was met with this same phrase, now from my teachers. I ignored it, seeing it as just elderly talk seeking to channel us in an orderly, old-fashioned manner.

As I grew to be a young man it became apparent what exactly was meant by the phrase ‘Charity begins at home’. I began to realise that if I am to tell any other person to be good to the other, I must carry or understand some principles of what being good to others is. These principles should have come from home from my parents, grandmother/father or my guardian and to a greater extent they should be practising to those principles themselves.

What am I saying to you anyway?

As a prospective development practitioner I understand the urgent need for democracy. In our different disciplines I am sure we have all once spoken and discussed about democracy and we have even gone further in asking or seeking the ways of how democratic spaces can be created, how those in developing world under autocratic regimes can be assisted towards such reforms. We speak of accountability, responsibility, transparency and other principles to be adhered to. INTERESTING STUFF INDEED! But before we go out there, have we really looked close to home? Have we checked whether we do not keep skeletons in our closets! Are we preaching what we practices? Are we walking the talk, in the context of Institutions we derive from and that are committed to make a difference and lasting change is it really happening?

There was a REVOLUTION a month or so ago and contentious issues were discussed. A referendum was held. One of the matters that proved to be of concern among the parties involved was the issue of DEMOCRACY. What type of democracy though? Maybe one of the referendum questions that came out with a resounding 71% of a yes vote could shade a light:

 Do you think that IDS should be run as a horizontal, direct democracy where values of equality, diversity, and healthy debate are strived for?

YES- 71%

NO- 29%

Not necessarily finger pointing at IDS. I will use that question and the results as a base-line study in the matters of democracy across board. This issue of direct democracy relates to all Institutions that have a mandate to produce practitioners like (me) us who would then go out there “preaching” democracy! “So it should be a norm adopted from home”. So far I have learnt that democracy is at the core of development. I have heard “The talk of politics and Institutional Reforms in the Developing world”.

 In order for some reform to happen we need to understand the philosophy of government, societies, institutions and organisations that have the power to make decisions or policies on behalf of the people. By understanding the attitude, only then can we hold the key to unlock the mystery that would help in the process of alleviating poverty? In my view Representative Democracy or hierarchical can not achieve this for at least we have witnessed that it has been an uphill battle in trying to achieve in societies or countries where powere is centralised and people have no power to say  how the services are provided.

Why I Resent Representative Democracy

Reading, Robert Michels  book written in 1911,’Political Parties’ where he argues that most representative systems deteriorate towards an oligarchy or particracy. This is technically known as the “Iron Law of Oligarchy”.  However, (Adolf Gasser 1943 ed 1947)compared Representative democracies which are stable as to the unstable Representative democracies in his book “Gemeindefreiheit als Rettung Europas”. Adolf Gasser  came to the conclusion that for a representative democracy in order to remain stable, unaffected by the “Iron Law of Oligarchy” certain requirements has to be followed. He said that

·         Society has to be built up from bottom to top. As a consequence, society is built up by people, which are free and have the power to defend themselves with weapons.

·         These free people join or form local communities. These local communities are independent, which includes financial independence, and they are free to determine their own rules.

·         Local communities join together into a higher unit e.g. a canton.

There is no hierarchical bureaucracy.

·         There is competition between these local communities e.g. on services delivered or on taxes.

Adolf’s propositions are more or less echoing the principles of Direct democracy that which i think we need for us to be progressive.

Direct Democracy the way forward

 I understand that direct democracy is a solution to bridging gaps across institutions and create a dialogue for all stakeholders and the masses to participate in decision making.

Direct/Horizontal Democracy! Why does it matter? And to whom it matters? Direct democracy is mainly build with three main components and these are Participation – widespread participation in the decision making process by the people affected;

Deliberation– a rational discussion where all major points of view are weighted according to evidence;

 Equality – all members of the population on whose behalf decisions are taken have an equal chance of having their views taken into account.

 Why I think direct democracy matters   empirical evidence from dozens of studies suggests deliberation leads to better decision making” thanks to Cornelius Castoriadis, the fore thinker of direct democracy. If government, institutions and organisations provide open, democratic spaces where ideas can be discussed challenged, debated, deliberated and policies co-created, where transparency, responsibility and accountability are observed. Then development has a potential of reaching climax phase. I dream of a society that is free from acute poverty and where individuals have a say on how their problems can be solved, without a representative having to speak for them. Participation of citizens matters.

Democracy matters to you and me and it matters to us. It matters to the guy/lady who is struggling to get out of poverty, because someone out there made a policy that does not address his or her problems. Only when we can be given a chance to say! or if we can be asked! ‘Our opinion’.

There is a phrase that keeps haunting me, ever since I attended one of the participatory sessions delivered by one of the participatory Guru, Robert Chambers, where he asked a question. “How does it feel not to be consulted?” Before anyway could come up with an answer, Robert exclaimed,

          “ASK, THEM”!! “ASK, THEM”!!

You might wonder who them refers to. It’s the PEOPLE, it’s you and I. Direct democracy involves talking to people, listening to their opinions and having to deliberate to make decisions that are inclusive.

 If you don’t and people feel that they are oppressed, a moment of TRUTH will be created, an EVENT will be awaiting and eventually a REVOLUTION will erupt.  

 Institutions that we tape knowledge from should help us understand democracy much better, perhaps by practising it, as I have said earlier “charity begins at home and politics happens out there”

Politics and Development are embedded concepts and hardly separate.

 By Pros (MA Poverty and Development)


Internet and the transcripts of contention

When it comes to debating the role that the internet can play in terms of changing the nature activism and unruliness, I usually don’t find much relevance in online petition websites such as Avaaz or in social networks such as Facebook or Twitter per se. After all, much of what we see there is somehow an enhancement of things people already did before the internet existed – signing for causes, organizing events, exchanging information, etc.

Of course such enhancement allowed by the internet is much welcome – but it’s not really transformative in terms of the nature of contention.

However, when writing my term paper for our Unruly module and reflecting upon the concepts of public and hidden transcripts proposed by James Scott (read especially pages 552-555, if you are not familiarized with the concepts), it soon became obvious that there’s one thing that the internet provides that is truly unique and a real game-changer: the possibility of combining anonymity and mass communication.

As it has become clear through actions from groups such as the Anonymous and Wikileaks, the internet and other technological resources we now have available allow people to directly challenge power holders in the public realm while maintaining their anonymity – facing low risk of being caught or punished. At the same time, hidden transcripts can be shared and collectively developed by people who are far away but keep constant contact online without being observed by power holders. These are major breakthroughs for contention.

Of course several reservations must be made. First, some people who contribute to initiatives from Anonymous, Wikileaks and other groups do get caught, and their safety is never fully assured (although it is much higher than that of those who openly reveal their identities). Most of what happens online can be traced, and actors who hold great power will probably take action if they feel truly threatened. Second, information and communication technologies (ICTs) have proven to be relevant tools for strengthening struggles against governments, big corporations, and other actors who draw great attention from the media and the general public – however, much oppression happens in contexts that receive little attention from society, where there is little evidence that current technology can be notably useful. Also, it is important to remember that the majority of the poorest and most marginalized people simply do not have access to ICTs that could help them change their condition of subordination.

Despite the existence of these limitations, it is clear that there’s something new out there. Given the fast pace of change in technology, it is hard to identify long-lasting trends or foresee what is to come. Still, changes in types of contention and in the characteristics of public and hidden transcripts will surely keep rising – and hopefully unruliness will come along!

Posted by Pedro Telles

That’s weird, yet another blog posting the day before the deadline…

So I add my blog post to the flurry of postings today, the day before our deadline (totally coincidentally of course – I am sure we all just felt the stirrings of passion in our collective chests at the same time in the last 24 hours…).  Again I am tasked with writing a blog and not entirely sure where to begin as it approaches midnight.

Do I quickly scratch out the illustration that has been slowly forming in my imagination for weeks?  A black, pencil drawing of a city street, a London street, with trees planted along?  The buildings and pavements rigid and permanent, but underneath the street we see an immensity of life.  Tree roots spread under us as we walk and ride past on buses.  They silently creep beneath the tarmac and the traffic.  I will show somehow, when I do draw this, how small we are and how big they.  I will show how the small shoots of the roots are already pushing up the pavement, making themselves known.  How one day our structures will crumble and the trees, the people, the earth will take back what has been taken.  Until then the unruliness is those cracks in the pavement, the small acts of resistance which creep through and trouble the asphalt…

Do I write about the attack today in London?  Which left comments on my facebook page calling for all Muslims in the UK to be shot and others calling for calm?  An attack which is being dubbed terrorism, because of confused comments on camera, without which would be a sad and scary case of mental illness?  The mention of politics by the alleged killer is important here – they move him from mentally ill to calculating extremist, to terrorist.  His acts become all the more horrifying to us.  As students of unruly politics we have consistently acknowledged and avoided the question of violence in our lessons.  Today’s attack was indeed political, and indeed unruly – in an extremely gruesome and sad way.  Yet perhaps we shy away from deeming this unruly politics, and why?  If an Afghan woman (referred to in the alleged killers speech) suddenly took up her meat cleavers and killed a British soldier, as a symbol of the west and the violence it has brought on her country, would what our reaction be?  Same politics, same unruliness, but different rules. 

 Instead, what I want to share is a poem about our own beloved Occupy Sussex, our own tantalising taste of unruliness on our doorstep.  Just naughty enough that we can tick our unruly boxes, but just safe enough that consequences do not loom too large on our horizons.   Because all these are exercises; demonstrations sanctioned by police who play along, blog writing, revolutions in institutions, this is us stretching our muscles.  This is the warm up, this is our roots spreading silently under the streets of London, testing the concrete above.  Waiting for the main event – which has not yet come…

My breath hot against the scarf pressed to my mouth

The air is cold but I am covered, eyes exposed

It all happened so quickly

Nights of warm beer and planning

Fervent whispers and serious discussions about rope ladders

Finally we are here

I am here.

I look down at hundreds of faces

I can see everything

I can see them all and I surge,

‘Leave our campus, leave our campus!’

They answer me, louder and stronger

They look up at me and I look down,

They can’t see but I’m smiling.

Police pile in and out, calmly retreating to put on their riot gear

We are in ours already. 

I know we are surrounded

But I am not alone

There are many of us and

In any case, what’s the worst that could happen?

To sail away in the arms of police

Into a van, a cell, a court, these are not unsafe places.

The unsafe place feels like here

Up here.

I suddenly want to be down there

In there, with them, one of them,

No reason to hide my face, no reason to run

But to be with them.


– The Badger

Claim Making by Political Society

I recently read a very interesting (unpublished) article by Shylashri Shankar on the Charminar Pedestrianization Project in Hyderabad, India, and tried to relate it to some of our discussions in class around ‘unruly’ modes of citizen engagement. In this post, I will examine her work, along with Partha Chatterjee’s (2004) description of political mediation that takes place in slums of Kolkata, to try and further explore how claim making is done by ‘political society’ in urban India.


Shylashri Shankar’s (unpublished) recent work on the Charminar Pedestrianization Project in Hyderabad gives some insights into how citizens and state officials operate in what Yiftachel (2009) calls ‘the grey spaces’ to stake their claim on the city.

In 1975, the Hyderabad Urban Development Authority proposed to pedestrianize the area around Charminar (landmark monument and mosque) but never got down to it. The Charminar Pedestrianization Project was revived in 2012, with the aim to recreate the space in the centre of the old city so that the dweller, pedestrian and vendor could enjoy a quality urban environment. There were two issues related to the process and to the choices made about the layout of the project. The process issue pertained to how the project would affect the livelihood of the shopkeepers and vendors. The laying of the granite pavement and interlocking cement tiles required the stoppage of traffic around the city centre. The choice issue pertained to the physical placement of the vendors in the new set up. ‘The vendors wanted to line up along the side of the street, whereas the municipality wanted them in the centre of the pedestrian area’ (Shankar unpublished).


Several means were adopted by both ‘civil’ and ‘political’ society to achieve their objectives. Shopkeepers belonging to local associations used legal means (petition to High Court; Right to Information Act) and got the Court to pass an order in their favour. However, the Court reacted otherwise to a petition by hawkers, as they felt the footpath needed to be cleared and decongested, and since their business was on push carts, they could relocate elsewhere and had no right to violate the government’s decision. Vendors then approached the local political party that had a stronghold in the constituency and vowed to protect them from being evicted. Simultaneously, shopkeepers mobilized and demonstrated outside the Mayor’s office and demanded to know why they were not informed or consulted about the project. Only when the slogan shouting began did the Mayor pay attention and passed an order that the road will not be blocked. Thus, ‘both sets of actors used formal channels (courts and political representatives), direct channels (approaching the mayor and officials directly and through their associations), and unruly politics (slogan shouting) to press their demands’ (Shankar unpublished).

While political authority limits the state’s monopoly power, yet citizens are not fully empowered either. The citizens’ efforts may have stopped construction work, but did not address the larger concerns of different groups about their access to these central spaces.

The case discussed illustrates ‘claim-making by different groups who invoke formal and informal mechanisms to bargain with the state’ (Shankar unpublished). The language and intervention used is simultaneously rights-based and clientelist.


Chatterjee (2004) on the other hand, looks at how unruly politics amongst the urban poor living in slums, and the ways in which political negotiations and mediation takes place between them and the state.

He gives examples from Kolkata- of how leaders often emerge from within the slum colonies to negotiate with government and other authorities on behalf of the residents. They have links with political parties and mobilize residents as and when necessary. These leaders could be the owners of the huts, or influential residents, such as teachers. Since they are salaried and do not depend on agricultural income, they do not have any vested interests in land, says Chatterjee. They come from peasant backgrounds and, hence, sympathetic to the poor. They are educated, so can speak the language of administration, while also being well versed with the law. Yet, they are also familiar with the language of the peasants, and therefore, speak on behalf of the poor. They, thus, act as mediators between populations and the authorities. Their links with political parties aren’t seen as political action, rather a mutual arrangement of convenience.

Chatterjee also gives examples of incidents when residents of squatters’ colonies organized themselves in order to be recognized as a distinct population so as to get benefits of a government scheme. They later used the association to deal with other government agencies. An entire set of paralegal arrangements exist for the delivery of basic services like water and electricity to populations whose very habitation and livelihood lies in the sphere of illegality. In many cases, ‘electric companies faced with persistent theft of electricity and the legal difficulty of recognizing illegal squatters as legitimate individual consumers, have negotiated collective rental arrangements with entire squatter settlements’ (Chatterjee 2004) represented through such associations. However, such associations do not fall under the category of civil society, as ‘it springs from a collective violation of property laws and civic regulations. The state cannot recognize it as having the same legitimacy as other civic associations pursuing more legitimate objectives. The squatters, on their part, admit that their occupation of public land is both illegal and contrary to good civic life. But they make a claim to a habitation and livelihood as a matter of right and use their association as the principle collective instrument to pursue that claim’ (Chatterjee 2004). Populations that do not have such a collective identity, however, have not been able to form a part of political society.


Democracy should not be seen as a ‘government of, by and for the people’, rather as the ‘politics of the governed’, insists Chatterjee (2004).

Formal modes of participation tend to get hijacked by the middle class, leaving the poor and marginalized to find alternate modes of engagements. Inequalities in status, resources, agency and voice are so entrenched that the urban poor seldom have any choice but to take to ‘unruly’ means.

‘Episodes of structural change occur only when massive, non-institutionalized disruption like riots, unruly demonstrations, etc. threatens established institutions, says James Scott in Two Cheers for Anarchism. Scott points to the irony that the fact that democratic progress and renewal appear instead to depend on major episodes of extra-institutional disorder is massively in contradiction to the promise of democracy as the institutionalization of peaceful change’ (Shylashri unpublished).

What will it take for the existing governance structure in India’s mega cities to become more effective and inclusive? A revolution?


Chatterjee, P. (2004) The Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Popular Politics in Most of the World. New York: Columbia University Press.

Shankar, S. (unpublished) ‘Citizen Power or State Weakness? The Charminar Pedestrianization Project’. Draft. Centre for Policy Research.


– Posted by Ila

Unruly politics class – Breaking the norms but meeting the expectations!!!




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Have you ever encountered class postponement due to the unavailability of our lectures?

Yes, we have….more or less…..

Well…sometimes this postponement may not affect our daily schedule, but sometimes it will…..

IDS is the leading institute for promoting better governance, one can assume….. well, what’s about our ‘class governance’? Why some classes are postponing again and again…. We cannot find any other better solutions, rather than the postponement????

Let’s look at Unruly politics class…

Akshay had stranded in Raio in March, after his first session of lecturing at unruly class…. His passport, his official document and his laptop…all were stolen…so…he was in Rio and trying to get a new passport and official documents….’Luckily’, he could not get back to unruly class until our last teaching session…..

If you think it would jeopardize the unruly class, please hold on and have a look how the class run…..

Akshay sent his lecture……using Skype we were discussing online…..Patta was with us, coordinating the class…students were actively partaking in class discussion..and working on group activity…..

In fact, it is a blessing in disguise…

Yes, it is….it is really practicing some aspects of unruliness….in class… practice….. it’s really challenging the ‘traditional‘ view of class lecturing in IDS…. Using ICT as a mode of communication, the class has produced the ultimate results….

By adopting this way of teaching….lectures can be away, say attending academic workshop somewhere else, and students can also keep their schedules, working more independently…..without interrupting each other….

Come on, IDS…. Why postponing the class? Here’s the alternative…


Posted by YT

How The Unruliness Can Expend The Realm Of Good Governance!!!

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Taking a glance at the Letpadaung copper-mine protest in Myanmar

The style of the protest is very new to Myanmar and totally unruly. The local people linked with other political actors to make their voice vocal and finally the government agreed to review the project. In other words, they succeeded in making their situation fairer. The Letpadaung copper-mine project is being carried out by a Chinese mining company. The project is to extract the copper from the Mont. Letpadaung in northern Myanmar. The project agreement has been signed between the Myanmar government and the Chinese mining company, and started under the former military regime. Under their reins, the terms and conditions of the agreement were not publicly announced and the general public did not know about the project. The state media just presented the signing ceremony of the project. Due to the mining project, the local farmers were relocated from the villages near the Mont. Letpadaung and they lost their livelihoods. Most of the farmers were received the compensation for their farmlands, but the compensation amount was much lower than the market price of their land. It has been reportedly told that land grabbing has been significantly happening since the 2000s. But under the military regime, most of the local people kept silent for their suffering and grievances. They are languishing in miserable situation. However, the military regime handed power over to the newly civilian government in 2011, claiming they are opening up for democracy. The political liberalization has become an opportunity for the local residents for reclaiming their loss of properties.

However, the government did not recognize their claims on their land and property loss at first. So, the local people linked up with the political activists and rights groups for popular attention. They also invited the local media for public campaigning. They staged a performance of ‘the Return of the Dead’ – it was about that the ancestors were coming back from their next life and claiming back the Mount. Letpadaung; local people wearing the costume of ghosts and performing at their local cemetery. These performances were covered in the local media and it was very shocking for the Myanmar people and it gained the people attention very rapidly. They also opened up strike-camps and entered into the project areas, trying to stop the mining works. They also did the plough strikes – forcibly ploughing in the project confiscated fields and fighting the police. Some of the mining works were suspended due to these activities. They were, of course, doing all these activities without the legal permission of the government. They were cracked down by the police and some local peoples were injured during the crack-downs. However, they did not give up their struggles and finally, the government agreed to set up a commission to review the whole copper-mining project and the crack-downs.

The Chinese company agreed to follow the commission recommendations. The company director promised their company would listen to the local community needs. They would also take the necessary measures to minimize the environmental impacts and they will contribute the community development activities. The local people will not be forcibly relocated and their land will not be confiscated anymore. For the already confiscated land, the owners received higher return equivalent to the market price. Moreover, the local authorities will have to allow the demonstration of the local people according to the law. Some people who are not satisfied with the commission recommendations can also keep on demonstrations. In conclusion, this is the incredible outcomes of the unruly struggle of the local residents for their livelihoods. Political actions of neglected people in the rural areas with the support of political activists and rights groups and the media against the state finally bring fairer solution to them.


Posted by YT

Facing the police during the plough strike (Photo Credit to FRA)

The Third Gender Political Participation in Pakistan

For many reasons the May 2013 General Elections in Pakistan will be remembered over a long period of time. Among others participation by transgender or Hijras in general election is one of them.  For the first time in 65 years of Pakistan’s history a democratically elected government completed its full term and handed over the power to the other newly democratically elected government. Despite wide spread violence, killing of dozens of people all over the country on the day of election as well as complaints of rigging of election  in various parts of Punjab and Sindh Province a record number of voters participated in the election. Also this is the first election in the history of Pakistan in which The Third Gender got the rights to not only vote but also run for posts. This happened after the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2011 ordered the government to issue Pakistan’s estimated 500,000 “eunuchs/Hijras/Shemale/Transgender the identity cards and register them as voters for the first time they are eligible to run for election and also seek office.

So basically who are these transgender people? – Since childhood I have often seen these people begging on the streets and shopping places at Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Lahore. I remember during my childhood in order to teach me to respect these people my mom told that they are special people who are very close to God so always respect them and never deny money if they ask for because in return they only have prayers to give. But to my dismay I have seen how society has treated transgender people badly over the years. They are mimicked, looked down upon and called as ‘Hijra’ which is considered disrespectful.

In Pakistan they are called as Hijra, Khawaja sira, hermaphrodites (khusras) and cross-dressers (zenanas). With their distinctive physical features and sexual orientation they are perceived as Third sex who is neither man nor woman. In our society the transgender are not taken very seriously. They have been labelled as prostitutes, dancers and beggars and are destined to live in poverty. They earn their livelihood by dancing on the streets as well as at the weddings or on the ceremonies of Male child birth. They have never been given their due respect and that’s the reason often faced humiliation and insults from the hands of public. Many of them become victim of sexual harassment by police yet no action has been taken to safeguard them. They are perceived as entertainers of the lowest level and to some extent they are also believed to be involved in sexual activities and drug related issues.

Hijra community has their own family structure. Due to the socio cultural barriers Hijras are abandon from their families so they are adopted by a fellow Hijra who is as called as a “Guru” and lives with a “Chela” network which provides them shelter and security in the society. Though there are much more in India where they also become target of harassment and marginalized on the basis of their gender identity. 

In the recent years, change in attitude has been seen towards the ‘third gender’ rights in Pakistan. Credit goes to the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s ruling that accepted Hijras as an equal citizen of Pakistan. They have now got legal rights like share in property as well as they are being issued National Identity Cards marked as third gender.  With this they have been allowed to vote and participate in elections. The provision of political rights to this minority group is just a recent ground breaking achievement in a conservative country like Pakistan where women and minorities rights are often violated and they face extreme discrimination in education, health and employment. 

In the recent general elections among 23,000 candidates, five transgender people like Sanam Faqeer, Bindiya Rana and Almas Boby (The President of Shemale Association of Pakistan) participated as independent candidates. The political campaign with the agenda of ending violence and corruption was limited to their own constituency and majorly in their own towns failed to gather support from general public. None of them win any seat from their constituencies’ however yet their presence in the elections itself is considered as an achievement according to media. Still after losing they appear to be confident for the next elections but knowing the politics environment of Pakistan perhaps this would remain a never fulfilled dream. However if Supreme Court can provide them rights then there is possibility in future that we may expect the reserved seats for the third gender in the parliament too. Perhaps only this way they can become part of legislative bodies and represent their community well in the assembly. 

Having said this even though they failed to reach parliament yet their voices are heard. The massive coverage they have received through print and electronic media nationally and internationally prove that they have made their presence felt. Many local channels have made documentaries on their lives that are available on social media networks. We need to have more films like “Bol” (A Pakistani critical acclaim movie on transgender) to highlight the problems faced by this community. Their political participation has been widely covered by international media by presenting their interviews regularly which got positive feedback from people all over the world. Although a lot more needs to be done for these laid back community in terms of providing job opportunities and basic facilities like health and education etc. However I can definitely see that attitude is gradually turning positive towards Hijras which is visible from peoples’ responses and media reaction. All we need is to educate people to accept transgender and respect their individual identity and rights.  


Is the Egyptian Style Revolution Imminent in Zimbabwe?

Is the Egyptian Style Revolution Imminent in Zimbabwe?


As the world has been “Cyborged” and almost at every opportunity one has to check with their facebook page, twitter, bebo etc., on what is happening across the globe. Checking friend’s mischief and of course on what they have been up to.

One day as I was checking my facebook page I stumbled upon a forum that most of my friends have ‘liked’ (you know the ‘like’ on facebook right?). So I took interest and spared a few minutes to check it out – well it turned out that I needed more than just a few minutes.

 I noticed that in the past weeks, a shadowy character, with a pseudo name (Baba Jukwa) has emerged, clearly attacking and spewing vitriol against ZANU PF. This Baba Jukwa claims that he is actually ZANU PF but has been angered with how the party has been handling the issues of Zimbabwe. Therefore, he decided to create a stunt and expose what he calls the “Evil Old People” from his Party.

ZANU PF is Robert Mugabe’s Party, it was originally formed in 1976 as a political and military alliance between ZAPU and ZANU during the war against white minority rule in Zimbabwe (then called Rhodesia). Their common goal was achieved in 1980 with the formal independence of Zimbabwe. During the 1980 election campaign, the Patriotic Front alliance partners split into their respective factions and competed separately as ZANU-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and Patriotic Front-ZAPU (ZAPU-PF). Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF won the election, and from then on he has been ruling Zimbabwe.

Officially, ZANU-PF is socialist in ideology, and is modeled on communist parties in other countries. The party maintains a politburo. However, the party had abandoned much of the egalitarian aspects associated with conventional Communist Party practice, instead choosing to pursue a mixed economy.

ZANU PF has been accused of running down the country and killing what otherwise would have been a vibrant economy.  Robert Mugabe as the Leader has won almost every election for the past three decades but all of them were marred with controversy and accusations of rigging. For the past three decades Mugabe created supremo power, he has turned into a dictator and has encouraged politics of patronage that saw him, and a few party loyalists hang onto power and reduce Zimbabwe to almost a pariah state. This has upset a great many people, including some from his own party and hence the emergence of (Baba Jukwa).

‘Baba Jakwa’ has become a controversial, nameless figure in his party but is liked by the public. His Pseudo name has become known in every household across Zimbabwe. He created his page on the 22 of March 2013 and after just two months he has managed to attract over 80,000 followers, a record number that has never been witnessed in the Zimbabwean politics of activism which is particularly incredible given that in many areas of the country internet access can be scarce.

What stunned me is the enthusiasm in his followers, the openness and the courage they seem to be displaying during their discussions on the platform.  Back In the day people would have been afraid to be associated with him or his writings due to fear of being reprimanded, harassed of even imprisoned. To me this shows that Zimbabwe has reached ‘a ‘verge’ – what exactly it is, I don’t know. Could this happening be what Adrian Johnson describes in his ‘political transformation’ paper, as the pre-evental ‘that is, a certain fidelity to the event that desiring (and desirous) subjects would engage prior to the event as such—and even acting without any reasonable expectation of such an event. With the elections around the corner, we will wait and see…

Nevertheless, it appears as though ZANU PF could not be tormented “quietly”. This nameless person has claimed that he has received threats and the secret services have tried their best to compromise the platform, but all to no avail.  This attempt by the secret services to compromise his platform is one of the signs that indicate these exposures might be real and have touched the comfort zones of those in power who are now panicking.

‘Baba Jukwa’’s stunt to expose what he calls “his party’s dirty secrets” on the social media is somehow Heroic because Zimbabwe has never offered open spaces for political dialogue nor have anyone from the party rebel in such a way. “Politics is sacred in ‘Zim’, you do not tamper with it”.

‘Baba Jukwa’ claims he was driven to act because he is sick and tired of the EVIL OLD people from his party, who have destroyed the country and do not want to give up for the younger generation and new ideas. Baba Jukwa’s bravery has proved to pay off as many Zimbabweans are following him and sharing their concerns on the platform. For the first time the people of Zimbabwe could meet on such a platform discuss their concerns without tribal rankles or fear is just phenomenon.  He has even encouraged people to participate anonymously by posting letters of their stories to him…“Good-day Zimbabweans, from this weekend onwards we will be introducing a column within Baba Jukwa page called ‘Your Story on Weekends’ – where people inbox me with their own stories of political injustice which we then publish without revealing ID. I want to give you an opportunity to tell the world your stories”.
What do you think? (Baba Jukwa)

He is clearly involving everyone and appears to have established himself strategically. He also claims to be working in cohorts with what he refers to as “repented top security officials” who he believes are also tired of the regime. This made me think of the Libyan situation where most middle ranking security officers defected and joined the revolution.

‘Baba Jukwa’, also showed a little sympathy towards Robert Mugabe, as he claims that the old man wants to rest but he is being held ransom by some of his security chiefs who are famously known as securocrats within Zimbabwe … these are the monsters he created and they will not  let him go. 

             Zimbabweans, when our President has become the prisoner of securocrats and a few individuals in the party, you have to understand that the country has no direction. When the President needs to give directions and commands, now he receives directions and commands. When the President is no longer keeping order in the party and it is now he who is getting commands, then the country has turned bananas. In my next instalment, l am going to unravel the behaviour that has permeated our party where the President is now powerless. I am going to lay bare those who are behind the hijacking of power in the party and their longtime plan” (Baba Jukwa)

He went on

           “Good people of our beautiful Zimbabwe, the military heads are not preparing any change of the Presidential horse in the party. They have already informed President Mugabe that he is not going anywhere. They told him that he will die in power like what happened to the late Vice Presidents, Joshua Nkomo, Simon Muzenda, Joseph Msika and John Nkomo. They told him that there is no way he can give anyone the chance to rule the country…” (Baba Jukwa)

Thinking of BADIOU’s theory of ‘Event’ the processes that takes place before the arrival of the actual event. Clearly to me there is something going on in the troubled Southern African country, even the national newspaper has to rebuke ‘Baba Jukwa’ calling him “Legion of malicious engagement” and people should not listen to him. If he really is being malicious or if what he says does not hold any ground – surely why then would ZANU PF worry and get to the extent of rebuking his writings in the national newspaper? Are they trying to suppress the truth? This calls for a lot to desire……e chance to head the country

    One can now ask, is Zimbabwe at the “Loom of a Revolution”?

By Pros.

Towards a ‘Moral Economy of Copyright Infringement’: Academic Paywalls, Freedom of Information & The Case of #pdftribute

This is a blog post in which I have synthesised some of my analysis for the final term paper for the IDS Unruly Politics module.


“Information is power. But like all power,

there are some who wish to keep it for themselves.”

– Aaron Schwartz


While scanning documents in the IDS library and most university libraries across the world, one can easily be bombarded by signs on the wall above warning you of not committing copyright infringement or face severe penalties. Guidelines of ‘fair use’ with details on how to protect yourself accompany these signs, often including that up to 10% of a book or merely one article from a journal is sufficient to not commit copyright infringement. Even during the first week of IDS, during the library induction students are warned against this, even that they should not e-mail articles to other students who may also be able to access them through the same paywalled channels that we are privileged to as university students. Despite this, a number of us find no moral qualms with committing what some could consider ‘copyright infringement.’ Perhaps this has to do with the hefty price tag of university education. Maybe we are considering that, upon graduation, access to all of this knowledge will be severely limited – despite the fact that many of us will want to continue to conduct research or even simply to engage in intellectual stimulation – and so perhaps we are ‘planning ahead’. Regardless of particular motivations or decision-making, this predicament connects to larger, global movements and initiatives surrounding academic articles, public knowledge and publisher paywalls. The case of the Twitter hashtag #pdftribute is one such case which deserves further investigation, and it is my opinion that the theoretical concept of the ‘moral economy’ can provide another puzzle piece to the effort of comprehending and expanding such freedom of information initiatives.




On 11 January 2013, Internet activist and Reddit co-founder Aaron Schwartz committed suicide in his Brooklyn apartment. Just days before, prosecutorial negotiations had broken down in a legal case where he was serving as a defendant for illegally downloading and sharing freely online hundreds of thousands of paywalled and copyrighted academic articles from an MIT database. He was facing the possibility of decades in prison and millions of dollars in fines for what many, including himself, viewed as liberating privately-held knowledge from for-profit companies freely to the public. In moral terms, his actions were widely seen by like-minded supporters and activists as embracing morals of open access to information and knowledge.


The following day, a development economist at the World Bank published her collected academic PDFs online for free, many of which were copyrighted and held behind paywalls from academic publishers. She encouraged others to do the same in memoriam of Schwartz, using the hashtag #pdftribute. An Oxford Ph. D. student picked up on this and continued to spread the word on Twitter and other social media platforms. By the morning of 13 January, academics across the world were posting their own paywalled and non-paywalled articles online for free, sharing the links on Twitter. This was further encouraged by activists groups such as Occupy Wall Street and hacktivist collectives such as Anonymous, as well as civil society organisations and various global citizens, publicising these efforts on social media. Soon thereafter, there was quite a number of media articles covering the subject, including opinion-editorials voicing their support for the efforts for academics to ‘liberate’ their paywalled articles.


Throughout many of these Tweets, there were continuously-evoked notions of morality and justice: that people were entitled to access information and knowledge as a right, and that capitalist forces – such as the academic publishers who profit tremendously off of copyrighted material from academics – should be rebelled against. Although the efforts did have their critics, vast numbers of Twitter users were evoking similar notions of freedom of information which Schwartz stood for and were igniting further conversation about proprietary rights of publishers with reference to academic knowledge that enhances ‘the social good’. In essence, there were vast amounts of moral claims being made, referencing how copyright law in these circumstances was unfair, how it led to the loss of a brilliant activist and how the public was entitled to knowledge.


‘Moral Economy’ in Conventional and Expanded Uses


In E.P. Thompson’s 1971 essay “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century,” social scientists (and hopefully other readers) were introduced to the term moral economy. He was discussing the bread riots that occurred during the 17th and 18th Centuries in Europe where spikes in the price of grain led to unaffordable food prices for vast amounts of people. By consequence, large numbers of citizens in various towns collectively mobilised and rioted to gain access to food for survival. Instead of assuming this as spontaneous and merely due to hunger, Thompson claimed there was an underlying ‘moral economy’ of the group by which issues of fairness in access to food was considered more important than staying within law-abiding, peaceful norms of social behaviour. This assessment, like James Scott’s use of the term to discuss peasant societies in Southeast Asia, constitutes a more conventional use of the term: merely to be described as an object of study in pre-capitalist societies.


Upon expanding the definition by the likes of the University of Lancaster’s Andrew Sayer to include the moral economy as an object of study and a mode of inquiry, we are led to view the term as the interplays between cultural and social values and economic policy and law (and vice versa). In this wider definition, one can conclude that all economies are moral economies. Even further, cultural theoretical uses of the term – such as J.P. Olivier de Sardan’s article “A Moral Economy of Corruption in Africa?” – provide us with an expanded definition by which certain personal and communal moral logics sit at odds with particular laws. The lines between what corruption is or is not, like the lines between what is illegal and legal, can be quite blurred within individual choices. As people are situated within vast networks that entail their own senses of duties, decisions deemed ‘moral’ by the individual – despite its possible illegality – weighs heavier in choosing what to do or not to do. Given these enhanced uses of ‘moral economy’, this can also be appropriated to discuss freedom of information activities such as #pdftribute.


Moral Economy of Copyright Infringement


If one permits me to employ a slightly linear view of history for the moment, it is possible to imagine that as we have moved from more agrarian to more knowledge economies – and as what is considered ‘vital’ to humanity as moved from biological sustenance (given the general abundance of food supplies in industrialised nations and elsewhere) to information sustenance – then we might be able to utilise an adapted version of the conventional ‘moral economy’ concept to speak of freedom of information movements. This ‘vitality’ includes the ability for humans to make informed political, social and personal decisions and to build – in their own perceptions – ‘clearer’ visions of the world as it is, rather than as those in power might like us to believe it to be. Again, employing a linear view of history, if we are to view ourselves as ‘cyborgs’ – that technology and humanity are no longer inseparable and believe that this will continue to increase as being the case – then digitally accessing, reading and sharing information without intervention or fear can be viewed as one of our many human rights.


The space being occupied is no longer the streets or the bakers’ shops but the digital platforms of online social media, and targets of such outrage are no longer the capitalists controlling grains but the capitalists withholding knowledge from public viewing. This can lead us to see #pdftribute and other similar initiatives as a global, online, decentralised moral economy that is openly criticising and fighting back against capitalist forces and institutions which vast numbers of people view as against public interests and notions of ‘the common good’. As these discussions continue to elevate across the world, and publics continue to demand access to information from state and private institutions, the ‘moral economy’ of copyright infringement will likely continue to expand through the minds of global citizens and, by consequence, continue to shape economic policy and law in favour what might be considered the ‘social good.’


– Posted by Chris

‘Bare Life’, Guantanamo & ‘Uh-Mer-Ican’ Blindness

Over the past couple of months, there’s been increasing discourse in both international news outlets and US media companies (the latter a miracle to say the least) surrounding the ongoing and growing hunger strike among various detainees at the US’s Guantanamo Bay detention facility. There’s been enough conversation and pressure, as well as multiple open letters by various professional institutions, that US President Barack Obama held a press conference recently in which he reiterated his claim from 2009 that he would close the prison Guantanamo Bay. As someone who voted for the ‘hope and change’ Obama in 2008 and refused to vote for him (or anyone for that matter) during the 2012 US election, I, like many others, am not inclined to take him at his word. Even when the man does speak plainly (which is rare), he’s never really been that good at fulfilling what he says. And even if he does speak plainly, he ends up never getting to many of what I and many others on the left would call “pressing issues”, yet somehow he’s seen as a “communist-socialist-foreigner-etc.” on the far right and a bastion of freedom and hope to many on the ‘left’ in the US, for which apparently ‘left’ means allegiance to the Democratic Party and not so much allegiance to a particular albeit wide-ranging set of principles on governance and ‘the social good’. In this sense, I would agree with many others who have said that Obama represents mostly ‘centre’ or even ‘centre-right’ on a number of issues that he will and won’t discuss, or the role he continues to lead in such a ‘position of power’ as the Dictator – I mean “Leader” – of the “Free World.” From drone usage in sovereign nations to illegal domestic surveillance to the punishment of whistleblowers under the ancient Espionage Act to, yes, Guantanamo Bay, he’s got very little to be proud of and even less to gloat about.

But alas, this piece isn’t particularly about Obama. Forgive me as I had to get some thoughts out of the way initially. It’s more about the complex web of relations, influences, industries and hypocrisies in which he sits: that is the behemoth called the US government. With such a powerful and blind-to-its-own-fault network of the ruling class claiming their right to dominate empire – via credentials they barely earned – to impose their will upon the rest of US citizens (and, by consequence, to some extent the rest of the world), what are those affected by this abuse of power to do when stripped of dignity, of citizenship, of their apparent human rights?

This question is what makes the case of the hunger strikes at Guantanamo Bay – and the actual existence of media discussions around it – so interesting. Many of the reports get into the hunger strikes generally, and more recently there’s been a lot more hype around the forced feeding through a tube to which multiple international health and development agencies have condemned as inhumane and a violation of human rights. This definitely isn’t the first time discussions like this have come up – Irom Sharmila in India is a prime example of the contentions with force-feeding someone who is hunger-striking.

What one risks though (and this is also a personal admission) is when talking about hunger striking, one can forget about the actual physical and emotional pain that comes with it. Hunger striking isn’t for the feint of heart and it would seem that it generally doesn’t come into play until other rights and utilities have been stripped of someone that they feel powerless to do anything else but self-sacrifice to make a claim against the injustices that are both victims of and seek to correct. (As an aside, this is probably why the odd duck that is Anna Hazare and his moment – I mean ‘movement’ – never gained any ground. It seems to me a bit revolting if hunger striking is opportune and for classed celebrity status, not to mention to create a media sensation that raked in big bucks for so, so many companies.)

This, to me, is where Giorgio Agamben and his notion of ‘the bare life’ comes into play. Agamben claims that the concentration camp is the epitome of the sovereignty of the nation-state. In essence, the nation-state’s ability to create exceptions to rule of law – as concentrations camps globally have been, as the use of drones in the killing of innocent civilians and proposed “terrorists” (without trial) and as Guantanamo Bay is without question. Obama has claimed several times to respect international law, but in the three previous cases mentioned as well as numerous others, he exercises his executive power without much actual recognition of his own hypocrisy.

Such is the American way (and by that I mean the US only). We are definitely an odd bunch of people, isolated from most of the ‘rest of the West’ across an ocean though largely one of the biggest cultural producers in the world (e.g., Hollywood, fast food, etc.). We are also just about the most ill-informed citizens on the planet as we digest our news in small, corporate-produced, partisan-conformed bites of – well  – shit. I wish I could claim that the old, dumb Uh-Mer-Ican answer to the question of “Why do they hate us?” really wasn’t so much still said “it’s because they hate our freedom.” I remember growing up being told to feel unbelievably lucky – by family, by teachers, by mentors – that I grew up in such a place as the US. Well-intentioned as it may have been, I was taught an odd and quite irrational form of nationalism that sprawled over my entire public and private spheres. It was only as I started venturing out the of US, and away from its nationalist media and its horrific blind eyes to its own hypocrisy, did I ever begin to see how messed up we actually were. Not just the government, but the people as well. That being said, there are lots of interests that like to keep us dumb and blind to ourselves. As there is a growing lack of accountability of the US government with international law (and has been for some time), the only way to put pressure on politicians to do things that are aren’t to their own advantage or within the ‘interests’ of their lobbyists is to have a voting public that fully engages with the issues at hand and doesn’t digest partisan sound bite after sound bite. But those same interests fueling the military-industrial complex and lining the pockets of our elected officials are of course the same ones that have an interest in US citizens continuing their nature of being ill-informed.

It is only with this recognition of the hypocrisies of one’s own government and making claims to keep these ‘leaders’ accountable outside of nationalist jargon will we ever begin to actually seek the world which we imagine it to be. The last line of the defense against the US government’s imperialism is, in fact, the US people themselves. The ideologies that continue to reproduce themselves through various interests will always come back to haunt us. I just hate that I might have to look over my shoulder in particular countries because of a bunch of rich, power-hungry assholes in Washington abusing rule of law and human dignity.

In this sense, when the citizen can be reduced to the ‘bare life’, as Guantanamo detainees most definitely have, there will be no choice but to rebel. Agamben’s ‘bare life’ concept is a key theoretical puzzle piece that, in my opinion, slashes through some of the disparate complexities and hypocrisies of the nation-state (and particularly in this case the US empire) that continues to serve as the power-play of the state. The fact that anyone is capable of being treated without particularly guaranteed rights or underneath an umbrella of rule-of-law, as the state maintains in whatever interests it believes that it can suspend these rights – particularly for national security – then power gets to be acknowledged and unacknowledged, internal and external, conscious and subconscious, in order to keep people from questioning its authority or challenging its power. As the Guantanamo hunger strike has recently entered its 100th day, it will be interesting to see how this form of citizen action plays out in challenging hypocrisy and abuse of power.

– Posted by Chris