Amanda Poole of the Anthropology Department presented a paper titled “‘We Are Not the Government’: Political Imaginaries and the Politics of Daily Life in Eritrea” on May 8, 2014, at Oxford University’s St. Antony’s College.
Organized by the Africa Studies Centre at Oxford and the Peace Research Institute, Oslo, the conference was titled “Revisiting the politics of state survival: Violence, legitimacy and governance in the Greater Horn of Africa region.”
The conference addressed the changing relationship between political elites and people living in the Horn of Africa, the changing nature of warfare and organized violence, and the implications of these trends for East Africa.
Drawing from ethnographic research, Poole’s paper addressed the gendered nature of citizenship and political imaginaries in Eritrea as women in the lowlands engage with or withdraw from various manifestations of the state in their struggles to care for and support their families and neighbors, often as de facto household heads given the flight or conscription of their sons or husbands.
The political imaginaries expressed by return refugee women in the lowlands lead to two main arguments about state survival in Eritrea: state policies ostensibly designed to be progressive along gender lines have restrained the abilities of women to create stable livelihoods by challenging cultural and community ties and practices—attenuating niches for collective political mobilization. However, local informal mechanisms of community building, economic support, and conflict resolution provide some room for optimism in relation to the future of political life in Eritrea.
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