South Sudan

Humanitarianism: Keywords, edited by Antonio De Lauri (September 2020)

This is the first humanitarian dictionary for colleagues and practitioners in the field! And it’s open access for everyone.

I contributed with the entries ‘livelihoods’ and ’emergency’.

You can download the file by accessing this link:

Categories: Africa, Arab Gulf, Arabia Saudita, Asia, Australia, Bahrain, Central America, Egitto, Egypt, EmiratiArabiUniti, Europe, Giordania, Golfo Arabo, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Israele, Italy, Jordan, Kurdistan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Levant, Libano, Medio Oriente, Middle East, Nord Africa, North Africa, Palestina, Palestine, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Siria, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, UAE, United Kingdom, United States, USA, Yemen | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

No one wants to be the “Global North”? On being a researcher across the North and South (May, 2019)

No one wants to be the “Global North”? On being a researcher across the North and South

In this blog post I would like to share my personal experiences of carrying out qualitative research in what contemporary scholars call the “Global South” (Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt) and the “Global North” (Australia and the United Kingdom). To convey my message clearly, I adopt the classical political geography of “South” and “North” with the intention of neither confirming these narrow categories nor of universalizing my personal experiences but in order to work towards an honest sociology of knowledge through such peculiar experiences.

In particular, I discuss what I think are some of the emerging behavioral and ethical tendencies in today’s research economy and its main methodologies. On the one hand, the reluctance in the “Southern” environments in recognizing their own tendency to embrace predominant ways of producing knowledge. On the other, the reluctance of “Northern” research entities to acknowledge their own positionality within the global scenario – that is, accepting the fact of conducting research as outsiders and, above all, the sociological harm of pretending localism. The result of these two tendencies is, from my perspective, a globalized impoverished attention to factual awareness, which depends on the personal involvement of researchers in the context they study and the cultivation of the capability to build and rebuild a continual relationship with the subjects and the places studied beyond the duration of fieldwork research.

The “Southern” tendency to perceive the practice of producing research as antithetical or substantially different to the North consistently builds on the universal romanticization of the research produced in the Global South, cutting across the North and the South. Indeed, while the research and academic institutions that I worked for in the Global South tended to believe that their fieldwork quality standards were inherently higher, the fact of being at the mercy of external – and unstable – sources of funding often endangered their existence and alternative ways of working. In these circumstances, fieldwork mostly took place in relatively small timeframes and, likewise, theories needed to be quickly wrapped up, making it difficult to identify any effective counter-culture of knowledge production. Studies on publishing locally and perishing globally have importantly highlighted the material constraints of localizing research. While “Southern” knowledge is barely known and mentioned by North-produced researchers (although it often marks significantly several fields of studies), it is also important to add that, in my own experiences across the Arab world, large segments of upper and middle classes tend to receive their postgraduate education and establish their scholarship in Northern institutions, thereby being trained according to Northern criteria while trying to preserve their reputation of being local researchers. In similar ways, Southern institutions often delegate fieldwork to research assistants who struggle to receive intellectual acknowledgment. (The same acknowledgment that many “Southern” research institutions have been looking for in the international arena, still dominated by Global North’s epistemologies and funding sources). In this regard, I have seen no co-authorships offered to research assistants, who undergo processes of alienation similar to those recently discussed in the context of the institutions of the Global North. Likewise, I have witnessed similarly exploitative relationships which seek to build knowledge upon the anonymity and the belittling of an underpaid workforce, whatever the latter’s passport is.

Despite acknowledging the partially ethnic character of some of these power dynamics – such as European academics versus local researchers in the Arab Levant, mostly when the former lack the necessary linguistic skills and in-depth knowledge of the research settings – I would like to emphasize some nuances. While the global archetype of neoliberal academia certainly does not stem from Southern institutions, largely due to colonial legacies, in my experience I have identified hierarchical and alienating structures of research-making across different cultural patterns of knowledge production.

Dauntingly, ethical research and decolonial methodologies are becoming tokenistic worldwide, turning into a further disenfranchisement of diversely vulnerable researched subjects, such as refugees. In this scenario, the Global North currently promotes itself as a pioneer advocate of ethical research – a phenomenon which has led to a proliferation of publications on the topic, rather than finally aiming for a radical transformation of research and for the uprooting of the vulnerabilities of the researched.

With no intention to bury unequal historical relationships, the intrinsic “non-ethicness” of such structural deficiencies needs to be observed across Norths and Souths. To ethnographers, if quality fieldwork means collecting relevant data, it also needs to mean collecting what matters at a local level and in an appropriate way. Contextual relevance and cultural appropriateness inevitably require generous timeframes. Doing less but long-term research and paying under-explored forms of respect to the researched may be the way to go.

Moreover, a pressing question may center on the tyranny of grants and funding, which is said to dictate the design of today’s projects. To what extent is this the cause of such an unacknowledged sociology of failure in academic research? The present tendency is to design methods that involve an extremely large number of interviews and what I would call the “participatory approach fever”. The result of a misinterpretation of what “participation” should mean is subcontracting scientific evidence to researched subjects overburdened with theoretical expectations and over-theorizations, a tendency which seldom turns out to provide sound empirical evidence. In this vein, Northern-led research not only tends to romanticize the South, which would not be new in postcolonial scholarship, but increasingly invites the South to actively participate in its own romanticization. Affected by “participatory approach fever”, many scholars in the Global North feel urged to depict their work as local, while also missing the fact that sharing their own conscious positionality vis-à-vis the researched would instead be an invaluable point of departure in the effort to avoid ethical and scientific failure. Indeed, such a self-acknowledgment would finally contribute to nuancing the multiple cultures in which research design, data collection, writing, and knowledge production are embedded – cultures that are hardly definable within the categories of “North” and “South”.

In light of these considerations, I ask myself how ethnographic studies can survive without being sociologically relevant and, at times, even culturally appropriate. Subcontracting the production of knowledge either to local researchers or to the researched themselves is certainly not a one-size-fits-all answer. Yet it looks unfeasible for many researchers across the globe to dispose of proper time and funding to conduct research over a longer timeframe and develop a localized understanding of the contexts they wish to study. I identified a similar issue when I realized that some researchers who have a poor command of the local language shy away from hiring an interpreter due to a lack of material means or because they are in an environment that frowns upon social science researchers who lack contextual skills. While peacefully sharing one’s own limits and assets would potentiate empirical analysis overall, everyone wants to be the “voice of the Global South”. Instead, no one wants to be the Global North, impeding a honest sociology of knowledge. Thus, how do we decolonize sociological and anthropological knowledge and, at the same time, the sociology of knowledge, if the drivers of epistemological coloniality, across Norths and Souths, have managed to make themselves invisible?

Categories: Africa, Arab Gulf, Asia, Australia, Bahrain, Central America, Egypt, Europe, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kurdistan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Middle East, North Africa, Palestine, Play, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Siria, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, UAE, United States, USA, Yemen | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

South Sudan: contested or implored objectivities as a ground for sustainable peace (February 2014)


(Photo taken from

Last February 11 the Peace and Conflict Studies Centre of the University of Sydney organized a meeting to discuss sustainable peace perspectives in South Sudan.

The Deputy Minister of Information and Broadcasting Atem Yaak Atem started his talk by saying that he wouldn’t have explained the chronological events of the conflict: “This would immediately make you aware of who should be blamed”.

In a reality where the ruling power has always been oligarchic and at the helm of what William Reno would define as a shadow state, the majority of people “suffered from chronic social exclusion and political oppression” in the conflict started in 1955 – a few months before the independence from Great Britain – and ended in 1972 (called First Sudanese Civil War), when the region gained autonomy.

After the 1983 (second) civil war, where the soldiers were classifying individuals and groups in order to act according to their race and religion – typical criteria to discriminate against – the decision about South Sudan’s secession or the political union with the rest of Sudan was taken in 2005 with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). In 2011 slightly more than 98% voted in favor of the national independence.

Atem, Sudanese young student, affirmed: “The war is done, but there is still one in our head”. There are sixty-four languages and different cultures in the same country: do the Sudanese really have nothing in common then?

“Sustainable peace won’t come in the short run. But there is a common history of oppression, and the desire of a country of democracy and justice”.

The discussion interestingly shifted to the ground of a contested or claimed objectivity: “opinions create problems”, said a Sudanese sitting in the audience, mentioning how the suspension of judgment – present in Sudanese poetry – should be applied to seek out for real peace.

Atem Dau Atem, another Sudanese student studying the settlement of Sudanese families in Western Sydney, contended instead that objectivity is not just something hard to be achieved, but even undesirable. “Objectivity is fake by itself. It simply allows us not to be straightforward. It offers the ground to show only what is speakable, what part of one’s own opinions can be officialized. Everyone then would just eschew the real issues that keep dividing us… It is when emotionality emerges that a real discussion can arise”.

The people want freedom:

Aye, bellows the liberator;

The people want peace:

Aye, bellows the peace-maker;

The people want reconciliation:

Aye, bellows the mediator;

The people want love:

Aye, bellows the lover;

The people want food:

Nope, bellows silence;

The people want education:

Nope, bellows silence;

The people want houses:

Nope, bellows silence;

The people want hospitals:

Nope, bellows silence.

Ayes + Nopes = War



(Henry Jada)

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Sudan sempre al centro delle dispute tra media occidentali e arabi

Riprendo a caricare quanto ho pubblicato nel corso dell’ultimo anno, dopo una lunga scandalosa inattività…

Questo articolo è stato pubblicato da Arab Media Report il 27 gennaio 2014 e si occupa del dibattito mediatico di cui è stato da sempre oggetto un Paese martoriato come il Sudan, dando vita ad accese polemiche tra redazioni arabe e occidentali…

omar_al-bashir running away from Ocampo

Il fatto che il Sudan sia tornato temporaneamente all’attenzione dei media, per via degli scontri in corso nella neonata repubblica meridionale tra i sostenitori del presidente Salva Kiir e quelli del suo rivale ed ex vice Riek Machar, fornisce uno spunto di riflessione sulla copertura mediatica di un paese da sempre al centro di polemiche tra redazioni arabe e occidentali. La diatriba è radicata nel conflitto tra nord e sud esploso negli anni ’50, diramatosi nella guerra del Darfur (Sudan occidentale) dal 2003 e passato dalla creazione del Sud Sudan nel 2011. La nascita dello stato meridionale ha avuto delle ripercussioni inevitabili sulle proteste anti-governative scoppiate nello stesso anno nel nord del paese e inaspritesi nella seconda metà del 2013, da quando il presidente Omar al-Bashir ha imposto l’aumento del prezzo del carburante a seguito della temporanea sospensione dei rifornimenti petroliferi provenienti dal sud (gennaio 2012- aprile 2013).

Durante la crisi umanitaria del Darfur, i media arabi erano già stati accusati dai loro omologhi occidentali e dall’opposizione sudanese di aver mostrato scarso interesse per i crimini commessi dal regime di Khartoum. Nel 2008, riflettendo l’opinione più diffusa nel mondo arabo, il direttore del quotidiano panarabo Al-Quds al-Arabi, ‘Abdul-Bari ‘Atwan, aveva replicato sostenendo che i media occidentali avevano esagerato le proporzioni degli eventi del Darfur per legittimare la nascita del Sud Sudan. Secondo ‘Atwan, una simile insistenza sul Darfur sarebbe servita a distogliere l’attenzione dalle atrocità commesse dalle truppe occidentali in Iraq e Afghanistan. Le sue dichiarazioni rispecchiano la propensione dei media arabi a occuparsi dei conflitti sudanesi come un complotto israelo-americano finalizzato al controllo delle risorse energetiche del paese. Per quanto siano innegabili sia le relazioni tra i separatisti del sud e Tel Aviv che la concentrazione del 70 percento dei giacimenti petroliferi del paese nella repubblica meridionale, l’approccio dei media arabi tradisce un interesse limitato alla geopolitica internazionale, a fronte di una scarsa presenza di reporter sul campo.

Nel luglio 2013, la “paladina” mediatica delle rivoluzioni arabe, Al-Jazeera, è tornata al banco degli imputati per la marginalizzazione delle proteste anti-governative sudanesi: la replica della redazione è stata che solo alcune centinaia di manifestanti avrebbero preso parte alle proteste, a differenza degli altri paesi arabi. Pur essendosi occupata delle rivendicazioni popolari sudanesi, l’emittente qatarense è ormai nota per la sua vicinanza ai Fratelli Musulmani e a uno dei loro “megafoni”, lo Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, il quale ha definito “buona” la situazione sudanese, rifiutando il paragone con la dittatura militare di Hosni Mubarak in Egitto. Il regime di Omar al-Bashir è pur sempre ideologicamente islamico e il parere di Qaradawi non può che essere condiviso da una parte dell’opinione pubblica musulmana.

L’altro colosso mediatico panarabo, Al-Arabiya, ha dedicato spazio alle proteste, pur definendole un movimento “senza precedenti” dall’ascesa al potere di Bashir (1989) e riconducibile agli “slogan della primavera araba”. In realtà, come osserva Stephen Zunes, esperto di politica mediorientale, il Sudan aveva conosciuto episodi di mobilitazione popolare già negli anni ’90 e nel 2005, ben prima della “primavera araba”.

Sul fronte dei media occidentali, nel caso del Darfur, non sono mancate le consuete derive orientaliste, rese ancora più incontrastate dalla marginalità dei media arabi nella copertura degli eventi. La stessa definizione di genocidio è stata spesso fondata su demarcazioni etno-confessionali arbitrarie: la popolazione del Darfur è musulmana e lo scontro non era pertanto tra musulmani e cristiani come nel caso del conflitto tra nord e Sud Sudan, né tantomeno si trattava di un regime “arabo” intento a massacrare “africani” non arabi, essendo la distinzione ben più sottile e connessa a questioni identitarie e linguistiche.

Tutte queste sfumature si sono perse nella versione mainstream degli eventi, con conseguenze non indifferenti sull’odierna copertura delle proteste in Sudan. Il blogger sudanese Mohammad al-Dahshan ha imputato infatti lo scarso interesse dimostrato anche dai media occidentali all’immagine cristallizzata dei sudanesi settentrionali, identificati come gli stessi musulmani arabi “malvagi” che massacravano i cristiani del sud e gli “africani” del Darfur. La loro ribellione contro lo stesso governo responsabile dei massacri non suscita alcun interesse in assenza dei dovuti approfondimenti del contesto storico, politico e religioso. Lo studioso di religioni Alex Thurston ha per esempio sottolineato come una delle figure chiave dell’opposizione, Sadiq al-Mahdi- pronipote del leader islamico Mohammad Ahmad al-Mahdi, che guidò la ribellione contro i colonialisti inglesi nel 1885- renda ulteriormente complesso il ruolo giocato dall’Islam nella politica sudanese. Un ruolo probabilmente troppo complesso per essere analizzato da un’industria mediatica in grado di osservare le forze islamiche esclusivamente in funzione del loro dirottamento dei moti popolari.

In questi giorni, l’ennesima esplosione di tensioni mai sopite, la faida tra il clan di Kiir e quello di Machar nel Sud Sudan, potrebbe avvalorare l’originale scetticismo dei media arabi nei confronti della divisione del paese e distanziarli ulteriormente dal giornalismo occidentale. Tuttavia, alcuni arguti editoriali, come quello dell’egiziano Mohammad Abu al-Fadl, pubblicato il 29 dicembre 2013 sul quotidiano panarabo Al-Arab, lasciano ben sperare per il futuro, astenendosi dalla condanna della nascita della repubblica meridionale e dall’apologia più o meno implicita del regime di Khartoum: vi si riconosce invece come Omar al-Bashir possa approfittare dell’attenzione mediatica attratta dal sud per arginare nell’ombra il dissenso esploso al nord. Porre le basi per un dialogo tra media arabi e occidentali non potrà che far luce sulla complessità dello scenario sudanese.

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