Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A note on identity, migration, and citizenship in East Africa

Unsurprisingly, Rwandan presidential incumbent Paul Kagame has won another term in office with 93% of the vote. Notwithstanding serious concerns about the fairness of the vote--some political opponents jailed, others exiled, others mysteriously killed--no one seems particularly eager to condemn the elections because of the moral credibility that Kagame earned by his military defeat of Rwanda's génocidaires in 1994 and the relative stability and prosperity that Rwanda has enjoyed since then (albeit aided substantially by the looting of the eastern Congo). Kagame's stated desire to make Rwanda a Singapore-like state, run competently and with a certain degree of openness by a technocratic elite careful to avoid favouring one ethnic group over another, isn't immediately a bad idea. Whether his regime can do so, creating a Rwandan nationality and identity, is another thing.

Rwanda's troubles can be traced substantially to the fact that it's a country embedded in a complex of densely populated, deeply-rooted polities at once intimately united by trade and migration but separated by impermeable barriers of citizenship law and tradition. The African Great Lakes region, unlike many parts of sub-Saharan Africa before European colonization, supported a highly developed civilization, as Isichei observed.

In much of the interlacustrine region, abundant rainfall and fertile soil supported a dense population, who produced a surplus which sustained courts and kings, and early European visitors wrote accounts of a land of plenty which attracted potential colonizers. It is easy to concentrate on the giants of the region--Buganda, Bonyoro, Rwanda, Burundi--to the neglect of their smaller neighbours, but there were over 200 polities in the region, some of them very small (45).

These powerful states ended up succumbing to one colonial powers or another: Buganda and Bonyoro were absorbed into British Uganda, while Rwanda and Burundi became first German protectorates then Belgian protectorates after the First World War, the remaining lands to the west of the Great Lakes falling to the Congo Free State, the lands to the east passing east to British East Africa (Kenya) or the mandate of Tanganyika (now mainland Tanzania).

Back in 2003, I reviewed Mahmood Mamdami's superb 2002 When Victims Become Killers, an analysis of the Rwandan genocide and subsequent Congo conflict that framed the genocide as the product of incompetent statecraft.

The densely populated Rwandan kingdom was valuable to Belgians as a source of labour for the still-underpopulated Belgian Congo; heavy taxation and outright coercion drove a Rwandan diaspora to the neighbouring Congolese provinces of North Kivu and South Kivu, while other Rwandans migrated to the prosperous plantation areas of Uganda in the British sphere. By the time that Rwanda (and Uganda, and Congo) gained independence in the early 1960s, hundreds of thousands of people of Rwandan descent lived outside of Rwanda, soon joined by a quarter-million Tutsi refugees (expelled in the first of the post-independence convulsions). Both in Congo and in Uganda, Rwandans--even people of Rwandan descent born in Congo or Uganda--were not treated as citizens, with rights to own land, to exercise local self-government, or even to citizenship. People of Rwandan descent in the two countries were periodically persecuted and kept from attaining full rights. In Uganda, even after guerrillas of Rwandan descent played a crucial role in helping Yoweri Museveni overthrow the corrupt dictator Milton Obote in the mid-1980s, people of Rwandan descent were still denied citizenship. The only place that Uganda's Rwandans could exercise full rights, it seemed was Rwanda, and organized behind the Rwandan Patriotic Front largely Tutsi guerrillas began raiding across the border.

Migrants from the African Great Lakes, meanwhile, were also terribly insecure in the Congo Free State, especially after independence with conflicts between natives and immigrants fueled by one faction or another in Mobutu's Zaire.

Colonial promotion of migration also generated conflict over resource access. After the First World War, the Belgians brought Rwandan farmers into parts of Eastern DRC (such as Masisi) to provide the necessary labour for the newly created agricultural plantations and mining centres. When denied equal access to land after independence, they finally started purchasing land, but local chiefs continued to expect customary tribute. This explains the first major conflict: the ‘Guerre des Kinyarwanda’, which lasted for two years, was the first rebellion against chiefly abuse and the first step of a spiral of unending local violence.

The independent Zairian state introduced a land law emphasising individual ownership in 1973, removing the legal status from land occupied under customary rule. This enabled those in political or economic power to appropriate any land not yet titled. The traditional authorities became the privileged intermediaries for the sale of land. Rewarded with ministerial posts and newly armed with Zairian citizenship, immigrants from Rwanda were able to concentrate a large number of former colonial estates in their hands. In Ituri Territory, similar developments could be observed. Here, it was members of the Hema who profited from their easy access to education and to employment opportunities within the local colonial administration, the mines and plantations (Huggins et al 2).

As population growth grew and transnational ties intensified--the volumes of refugees fleeing Rwanda or Burundi were substantial, amounting to the hundreds of thousands, as early as the 1960s--toxic ethnic nationalism and exclusionary citizenship policies was preparing disaster.

In the meantime, Rwanda was governed by a Hutu dictatorship. Colonial rule had managed to install in the minds of politically active Rwandan Hutus the belief that Tutsi were interlopers, a class of foreign exploiters no less despised than the Belgians, and so the various Hutu dictatorships which ran the country without significant interruption until the genocide treated the Tutsi remaining in Rwanda as a dangerous minority undeserving of equal rights with Hutu. For the most part, Rwandan Hutu benefitted from anti-Tutsi discrimination, receiving the land vacated by Tutsi refugees in the 1960s, enjoying one of central Africa's most prosperous economies, and generally feeling secure that the Tutsi would never come back and resume their colonial rule over Rwanda.

The civil war that erupted in the early 1990s changed this unstable situation. Ugandans of Rwandan descent (largely Tutsi) were increasingly pushed by the Ugandan government into joining the guerrilla forces of the RPF, in the hopes of reclaiming their ancestral homeland and gaining a home. The Rwandan government, buffeted by a massive economic depression and increasingly unable to fight off RPF raids from Rwanda, turned to radical Hutu nationalism, trying to mobilize Rwanda's peasants with a Rwandan nationalism that excluded all Tutsi as potential traitors. (The Rwandan government also armed peasant communities, the better to fight off the RPF.) As the RPF raids became an actual invasion, the situation spiralled downward. Neither side was willing to honour the letter, never mind the spirit, of the 1992 Arusha peace accords which were supposed to end the war, mainly because neither the Rwandan government nor the RPF was willing to back down. After the failure of the Arusha accords, the RPF continued to attack the government, advancing slowly into the Rwandan heartland.

Thus, the genocide, and the millions of Rwandan refugees fled the country after the genocide fearing RPF vengeance and/or justice, and the war waged by Rwanda and Uganda against the génocidaires then Mobutu then against the Kabila government the two countries their installed then between Rwanda and Uganda via their proxies, with all the millions of dead produced.

Is there a way out? Conceivably, the East African Community to which Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi all belong, could break down the barriers of law that have proven so harmful. Even without a common citizenship or political federation, if these five East African states--including the core of the African Great Lakes culture zone, it's worth noting--did establish a single market for labour, et cetera, on the European model, citizenship laws couldn't be used as such bludgeons against unpopular ethnic minorities or migrant communities. The region is ethnically diverse, and different ethnic groups have frequently come into conflict (Kenya's recent crisis comes to mind), but there are underlying commonalities. For instance, the East African Community's territories map closely onto the zones where the Swahili language is spoken, whether as a first or a second language.

Map of the Swahili Language

Is the above that dissimilar from the maps which show the core of the European Union as lying in the lands united by Charlemagne's empire?

Then again, the early signs are that, East African rhetoric notwithstanding, citizenship and migration in the African Great Lakes remains fraught. Hovil et al observe in their paper "A Dangerous Impasse: Rwandan Refugees in Uganda" that the Rwandan refugees remaining in Uganda fear the current government, with many refugees arriving since 2001 in response to the RPF's closing down of public discourse, while the plight of the Burundians in Tanzania remains as severe as ever, to say nothing of the suppressed ethnic conflict in Rwanda and Burundi, and the bouts of massive ethnic violence that occurred recently in Kenya. We'll see.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Retirement Policy for the 21st Century

This one is interesting as it raises a lot of interesting and important issues although it is exclusively framed in a US context (not strange thinking of the source).

The basic message is pretty simple. People should save more and be better at diversifying their assets as well as they should think about how they actually want to dissave (if at all). I agree, but this is also a somewhat selfdefeating argument in the context of our current capitalist system. Essentially, when fewer people of working age are asked and incited to save more and longer they spend less and as their share of the population declines they become a drag (in relative terms) on aggregate demand and not a boost (as they are supposed to be). This is a trap then by which a paradox of thrift locks in across generations in the aggregate.

The alternative then? I am not sure. We need to focus on the core too though and essentially do something about the inverted population pyramid as such.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On Canada's ridiculous census conflict

Statistics Canada is heir to a long tradition, established under the French regime and continued under the British and independence, of government-conducted censuses. Canada's first census occurred in 1666, by order by New France's Intendant Jean Talon. "The census counted the colony's 3,215 inhabitants and recorded their age, sex, marital status and occupation. In light of the need for information to help plan and develop the Colony of New France, Talon did much of the data collection personally, visiting settlers throughout the colony." The census hasn't been publicly very controversial at all, with the privacy issues often raised generally not being raised. That's why it's so surprising that the Conservative federal government felt it had to abolish the mandatory long-form census.

The potential consequences are severe, inasmuch as the sectors of the population less likely to turn in the long-form census (immigrants, the poor, et cetera) are already likely to be undercounted.

Transit: Municipal governments look at detailed census data before deciding whether to make changes to transit routes or increase service. Less reliable data would mean more headaches for planners and — potentially — transit users.

Education: School boards use detailed census data to predict future enrolment, which affects their plans for staffing, the need for new schools and special programs such as minority-language training.

Social services: Without detailed census data, it may be more difficult to determine local needs for daycare, subsidized housing and services for disabled people.

Help for the unemployed: The details in the census data make it easier for governments to determine which parts of the country may need more help in dealing with unemployment and job retraining.

Québec, with its Institut de la statistique, is the only province capable of replicating the fine detail provided by Statistics Canada's long-form census.

The list of groups opposed to the change comprises virtually every sector in Canadian public line. Religious groups (Jews, evangelical Christians, "mainline" Christians, doubtless et cetera), cities in fast-growing Alberta, First Nations groups already unhappy with Statistics Canada's perceived issues, my hometown of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, the city of Toronto, practically everyone in Québec, the government of Nunavut, obviously the opposition Liberal Party and New Democratic Party along with the Bloc Québécois ...

Practically the only people or organizations, besides the government, supporting the scrapping of the mandatory long-form census are groups like the libertarian Fraser Institute, which said that groups which made use of the mandatory long-form census were free-riding on government and that it's time that this stopped.

I'm unconvinced that this is anything but a political move. Already, the government backed down and added language-related questions to the mandatory short-form census in order to limit the damage among Francophones; many Francophone minority organizations were strongly opposed to the change, some going as far as preparing to launch a court battle. Does the suggestion that the government is trying to preserve privacy make sense given how its planning to pass mandatory boaters' registration, say, never mind the cornucopia of information available to the Canadian government thanks to the Canadian habit of funding public services with income tax (among other taxes). Oh, and there's been talk about the Canadian government following a Scandinavian model and not conduct a detailed census, rather collating data from different government agencies (never mind Canada's particular privacy laws).

It should be obvious that I favour the retention--restoration, now, sadly--of the mandatory long-form census. (I filled it in last time and didn't feel intruded upon, for whatever that's worth.) The arguments of groups like the Fraser Institute and political parties like the one currently forming the federal government that the mandatory long-form census is intrusive is, besides representing a complaint that really and truly hasn't been voiced before, overlooks the fact that detailed statistics are necessary if a government is to manage a complex society, and if society itself--including, say, blogs and bloggers like this one and me--is to understand itself. For shame.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

More notes, some history, and a speculation on Russian immigration to China

The theme of Russian immigration into northeastern China that I explored this January is something I'd like to revisit now, thanks to an interesting post by the frequently interesting Window on Eurasia that claims that the volume has taken on large proportions.

Moscow media routinely talk about the influx of ethnic Chinese into Russian territories in Siberia and the Far East, but they rarely pay much attention to a movement in the other direction, one that has resulted in nearly 200,000 Russians living and working in the Peoples Republic of China.
Only a tiny share of these are descendents of the once enormous Russian presence in Harbin and Manchuria, Beregrus.ru reports, noting that “they are already intermixed with the Chinese population [and therefore] impossible to uncover.” The basic mass of those people who arrived in the imperial period and after the Russian Civil War were later forced to leave.
The Russians of Harbin, the portal continues were “Russian people who respective the hospitality of the Chinese as well as their own traditions. The Chinese responded warmly to Russians,” the portal says, because “our compatriots, while remaining themselves and valuing and preserving their culture, with respect accepted the Chinese world” (beregrus.ru/?p=350).
Today, the site laments, “our compatriots in China are different.” They try “with all their strength to please the Chinese, to fit into their culture, and to emulate the civilized Chinese in every way” – not “of course” with the culture of the Chinese peasantry but rather with “Chinese business people who know English and the computer just like Europeans.”

The blog cites this Russian-language People's Daily article as an example. I got Google to translate it and edited it into some kind of idiomatic English (so be warned)

22-year-old Elena Zhuzina arrived in Harbin from Russia's Sakhalin province. From childhood she had heard a lot from her parents about China, leading to her taking a great interest in Chinese culture. On graduating from high school, Elena decided to continue her education in China. In 2006, Elena started studying the Chinese language in the International Institute of Culture and Education at Heilongjiang University.

"In the first part of my stay in China I did not know what I could eat in the dining room. In my first month I was eating only fruits and yogurt." Cheerful and inquisitive, Elena achieved notable success at school, quickly made friends with many Chinese, and became used to her new conditions. "The Chinese are friendly towards foreigners. When I walk down the street often someone warmly greets. Sausage and bread in Harbin to taste like they do in Russia. Most of all I love to eat Peking duck," said Elena.

In 2007, Elena was a contestant in the "Image Ambassador" competition of Harbin. On the recommendation of her teacher, Elena participated in the contest and won. Since Elena is a foreign ambassador, she has been actively involved in various events including Heilongjiang's New Year festivities and the International Beer Festival. She also was elected the Beauty of Oktoberfest.

[. . .]

Turning to her future life, Elena said that after her universities studies she intends to remain in China for further experiences. "I studied the Chinese language and made Chinese friends, I like living here," said Elena.

The Russians of China constitute one of the 56 recognized ethnic minorities of the People's Republic. It may well be that, given the growing disparities in income and infrastructure between the Chinese northeast and the Russian Far East that I mentioned earlier, the ranks of this minority may yet grow sharply.

This migration, from periphery to a newly-emergent core, would accentuate the recreatuion of the old community that once united the current Chinese northeast and the Russian Far East's southern territories together into the Manchuria home to the Qing dynasty that ruled China. Forced to cede the lands north of the Amur and east of the Ussuri to Russia in 1860, the Qing reluctantly opened up their homeland to Chinese migration, in what one source identifies as "one of the largest migrations in world history -- the movement of some twenty-five million Chinese farmers in the first four decades of the twentieth century from the provinces of Shandong and Hebei in North China to Manchuria. Of the twenty-five million who made the journey, about two thirds returned home, around eight million stayed." This immigration was a classic case of combined push factors (poverty in north China) and pull factors (the potential of the new frontier).

Because the [Qing] dynasty had forbidden immigration into Manchuria prior to 1887, the region had a relatively small population, approximately 25 million in the early 1920s [versus 110 million now], in an area as large as Germany and France combined. Since the railroads connecting the southern and northern parts of the region were opened only after the turn of the century, and because of the colder temperature in the north, [Heilongjiang] Province in the north was particularly underpopulated. As the new industries, mines, and farms needed additional labor, many from northern China made their way to Manchuria by rail and ship.

These immigrants were concentrated in the southern two-thirds of Chinese Manchuria, not in the more frigid Heilongjiang that bordered on the Russian then Soviet Far East, but even there estimates suggest that in twenty-two years from 1908 to 1930 that province's population grew from 1.8 to 5.2 million.

The settlement of the new Russian Far East, meanwhile, was more piecemeal, a half-million settlers arriving between 1860 and the Russian Revolution in 1917, the number growing as transportation links with the metropole improved. Anti-Chinese violence aside, even in the Tsarist era Chinese migration to the Russian Far East seems to have been more temporary than elsewhere in this space, Chinese most often being traders and miners in an area that was increasingly European in origin. Indeed, European migrants flocked in large numbers beyond the Tsarist empire's borders to settle in Heilongjiang's capital of Harbin, a major transportation nexus and industrial centre founded by Russian settlers and home to a community that lasted to the People's Republic.

Built in 1898 by Russians who were extending the railroad across northeastern China to Vladivostok on the Sea of Japan, Harbin was home to perhaps 100,000 Russian citizens in the 1920s, their ranks swollen by refugees first from tsarist oppression and later from the meltdown of their homeland under Bolshevism.

They were a microcosm of the Russian empire. Ukrainian Catholics worshiped at their own church, Jews built two synagogues and a rabbinical school and Tatars established a mosque topped by domes and crescents. Old Believers, a splinter Orthodox sect, chanted their ancient liturgies, and German-speaking Mennonites from Russia's Volga River area, relocated to the Siberian city of Blagoveshchensk, fled across the frozen Amur River in 1928-29 and settled in Harbin.

"It was a free zone," said Svetlana Rusnak, senior researcher at Vladivostok's V.K. Arseniev Primorye Local Studies Museum. "What was impossible in the Russian empire was implemented in Harbin. For instance, in Russia, Jews didn't have the right to own land and had limitations on entering universities and couldn't freely do business in the capital. But in Harbin, there was nothing like that. ... It was a mosaic, a multiethnic society, united by Russian culture."

But all this would vanish under three successive regimes hostile to the Russians of Harbin: Japanese occupiers, the postwar Soviet army and China's communist government.

[. . .]

With the arrival of Chinese communist forces, many Chinese celebrated the liberation of their country from foreigners. Russians began flooding from Harbin to Australia, Canada, the United States and other countries. Many of them had already fled the ravages of the Russian Revolution, and they were unwilling to live under a communist government.

After the death of Stalin, the Soviet Union itself recruited thousands of Harbiners. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev began a policy of cultivating the "virgin lands" of Kazakhstan in 1953, and he sent trains to Harbin to transport settlers to the grasslands of Central Asia, Rusnak said.

The Cultural Revolution and onset of Sino-Soviet hostilities didn't do good things, either.

Now this might all change, with northeast China taking on a new role for the Russian Far East, not as a source of immigrants bound to swamp Russian territories, but rather as a complementary economic partner that--who knows?--might join in some measure, but not replace, European Russia as a metropole for the region's ambitious young.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A valuable source of demographic information

The Population Reference Bureau, a private research organization, has released their 2010 World Population Data Sheet. PRB prepares this research annually, and it contains a wealth of data on demographic measurements for every country in the world, along with commentary that highlights significant trends.

PRB's commentary this year points out two major demographic issues that exist globally:

""On the one hand, chronically low birth rates in developed countries are beginning to challenge the health and financial security of their elderly. On the other, the developing countries are adding over 80 million to the population every year and the poorest of those countries are adding 20 million, exacerbating poverty and threatening the environment."

Here are the countries in 2010 with the largest percentages of the population over the age of 65, per PRB's data:

Japan 22.6%
Germany 20.5%
Italy 20.4%
Sweden 18.3%
Greece 18.3%
Portugal 17.9%
Bulgaria 17.6%
Austria 17.6%
Latvia 17.4%
Belgium 17.4%

The imbalance in population growth rates between developed countries and the rest of the world would seem to indicate that migration could help mitigate the economic problems caused by shrinking workforces on the one hand and difficulties generating enough growth to provide jobs for workers on the other hand. Political and cultural considerations result in significant barriers to migration, of course.

Key metrics that are included in the data sheet for each country include estimated 2010 population, rate of natural increase, total fertility rate, and projected population for 2025 and 2050.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

More on Iran's continuing demographic transition

Over at the Population Reference Bureau's Behind the Numbers blog, Farzaneh Roudi writes about the latest population-related news in Iran. trying to reverse the ongoing demographic transiton in Iran that I wrote about last July, Ahmedinejad wants to create a sort of baby bonus for prospective Iranian parents. This bonus, Roudi notes, won't go nearly far enough to overcome the real economic costs of parenthood.

Under this new plan each child born in the current Iranian year, which began March 21, will receive a $950 deposit in a government bank account. They will then continue to receive $95 every year until they reach 18. Parents will also be expected to pay matching funds into the accounts. Then, children can withdraw the money at the age of 20 and use it for education, marriage, health and housing. But Iranian parents, with their daily economic struggle to make the ends meet, know that this amount is not going to go far. This reminds me of when I was in Iran about 10 years ago, a few months after Dr. Marandi, former Iranian minister of health, received UNFPA’s annual award for his contribution to improving maternal and child health in Iran. When I told relatives and friends about Dr. Marandi’s award and the drop in fertility, they all had a similar reaction. They would laughingly say, “Why did HE receive the award? You only need to go to a grocery store and check prices and you can see for yourself why families don’t want to have more children.” And today, prices are even higher than 10 years ago.

This crude approach also underestimates the extent and depth of the changes in Iranian culture. Traditional gender norms, no matter how strictly the Iranian government might try to enforce them, are going.

Iranian women live a modern lifestyle that is often not seen in Western media that show women covered head to toe in black, as if they belong to centuries ago. Elementary school enrollment is universal; the gender gap in secondary school enrollment is almost closed; and more girls are enrolled in universities than boys. And more important, the educational system is modern and only a very small percentage of students attend religious schools—contrary to what is happening in some neighboring countries. In short, Ahmadinejad’s argument—rejecting family planning as a Western and secular plot – is not going to be bought by Iranians. Despite continued international economic sanctions and political isolations, secular ideas are pouring into the country through satellite TVs and the Internet. Iranians have the second-highest rate of Internet use in the Middle East and North Africa region, after the United Arab Emirates.

While I don’t see much reason for Ahmadinejd’s new policy to influence country’s overall fertility, the crude birth rate in Iran is going to increase for a decade or so, as the baby boomers go through their childbearing years. So one should not rush to judgment and attribute future increases in the number of births to the success of Ahmadinejad’s policy. Today, a significant portion of Iran’s population are in their 20s and early 30s (prime ages to marry and have children), born during the high-fertility era around the 1979 Islamic revolution and 1980s.

If anything, I'd suggest that Iran's government trying to force traditional gender roles on economically autonomous women could lead to women postponing or opting out of parenthood altogether, pushing Iran towards the lowest-low fertility trap that dominates southern Europe within a generation. That wouldn't do anything for Iran's economic prospects.