Tragedy and Survival of African Peasants Affected by International Politics
Takako Nabeshima , Associate Professor
Research Faculty of Media and Communication Graduate School of International Media, Communication and Tourism Studies
High school : Shirayuri Gakuen High School, Tokyo
Academic background : Doctor of Political Science, University of Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne
Why did I choose African studies?
I did not aspire to be a researcher during my youth. When I was a high-school student, I wanted to work in international organizations such as the United Nations. For this purpose, I needed at least a master’s degree. And I did not hesitate to realize my life’s work. I majored in international political science in order to gain a broad perspective of international relations. When I started my master’s course, the Cold War had ended and Africa was experiencing democratization and ethnic conflicts.
Can you explain why democratization brought about ethnic conflicts? I think that the conflicts in Africa are not faraway happenings but phenomena that occur in the causality among the trends of international politics, the contradiction of national policies, and the suffering of the local population.
I gained some fieldwork experience in Africa because academic discussion alone was not enough to enable me to solve these problems. As a UNHCR trainee at the refugee camp in Kenya, I met people whose lives had been destroyed through conflicts and persecution. When I worked as a cultural attaché at the Japanese Embassy in Madagascar, I learned that I could do nothing without cooperating and networking with the local population. Through these experiences, I noticed them surviving in such a political situation. At that time, Madagascar was just in the confusion of democratization after the collapse of the socialist regime. I saw with my own eyes that rural communities changed through modernization; for example, colonization, independence, and dictatorial agricultural policy. Thus, their human relationships deteriorated and they were suffering from economic crises.
Research methods and idea of a new study
After working in Madagascar, I wanted to study more about Africa and decided to study in France, the former colonizer, where knowledge about Africa had been accumulated. Research methods used there are multidisciplinary and field surveys are important for the area studies. Two thirds of the Africa studies students in Univ. Paris 1 were African and the others were French. I was the only Asian. Students of law, political science, anthropology, economics, history, and geography discussed Africa using theories and approaches of their own specialties.
Generally, international politics is a discipline to study international relations, state regime, power struggles, etc. However, I decided from my experience in Madagascar to choose African peasants as a research object because they are actors in the international political economy. They have changed their identities and have become exclusive through modernization. I think that they have been marginalized from the state administration and have lost their loyalty to the traditional values. Finally some of them have become ethnocentric. In other words, as political actors, peasants are more strategic, dynamic, and difficult-to-control than the world’s powers and state elite assumed. I try to verify the reason why African peasants are driven to violence and wipe out the prejudice against Africans who appear to be uncivilized.
Some approaches are necessary to understand the many kinds of activities of African peasants. These are juristic, anthropologic, economic and historical so that it may be possible to clarify common laws, traditional customs, self-sufficiency, informal sector and oral history of the peasants. I make reference to the theories and statistical data to ensure the objectivity of the results of my field surveys. Many theories of political science have been established according to the economic and social situations of developed countries. By objection to these theories I show the African characteristics, using case study. In this way I would like to build an international political sociology in which the lives, societies and culture of African peasants, the actors of international politics, are research objects.
The meaning of African studies at Hokkaido University
My purpose of study in France was to get a post in an international organization. Gradually I became eager to teach what I learned about Africa to Japanese students. I came to work at Hokkaido University but I did not think that anyone would take an interest in African studies in such a snowy region of Japan.
It was so unexpected that I participated in a JST-JICA project (SATREPS) in which researchers of engineering at Hokkaido Univ. produced compost toilets suitable for the environment of Burkina Faso in western Africa. My mission in this project was to research the social systems and cultural lives of the rural community, and the government’s water and sanitation policies. During this survey I recognized the autonomy of the rural community that is different from the modern administration. African peasants are considered as “dropouts” from the modern system but I look for their post-modern factors that might change the stereotype of nation-state and development policies. So it will be able to create the culture and happiness not seen in Japan or in other developed countries.
In my class, I hope students will think about what factors have brought about local problems. I think that the meaning of African studies at Hokkaido University is to train human resources, who can resolve the problems using their specialized knowledge.