Monthly Archives June 2019

European Peace Science Conference | Why do economic sanctions work? Do they? Will they? By Peter A.G. van Bergeijk, Binyam A. Demena, Alemayehu Reta, Gabriela Benalcazar Jativa and Patrick Kimararungu

European Peace Science Conference | Why do economic sanctions work? Do they? Will they? By Peter A.G. van Bergeijk, Binyam A. Demena, Alemayehu Reta, Gabriela Benalcazar Jativa and Patrick Kimararungu

Political scientists and economists claim to understand the mechanisms of economic sanctions as a tool for foreign policy and assert to have provided convincing statistical evidence for their theories. In ...

Do teachers discriminate in occupational expectations and grading? by Shradha Parashari

Do teachers discriminate in occupational expectations and grading? by Shradha Parashari

Marks assigned by teachers tend to motivate students, have bearing on their career choices, admission to universities and affect students' self-esteem. Existing literature shows that teachers may hold preconceived stereotypes ...

Creative Development | “Do I exist”? Miktivism for Land Rights and Identity in Ethiopia by Tatek Abebe

Miktivism—the use of music for the purposes of activism and social change—has become a popular strategy of resistance among Ethiopian youth. I use the term miktivism to refer to the practice of employing music to advance causes of social justice by youth who do not claim to be activists, at least not openly. This blog explores an example of miktivism: young musicians deploying what they regard as their talents and resource—music and microphone—to highlight questions of land and identity in the Oromia region, Ethiopia.

Land grabbing in the Oromia region  

The Oromia region is the largest of Ethiopia’s nine federal regions. Its inhabitants, the ethnic Oromo people, account for about 35% of the country’s population. Oromo people inhabit lands surrounding Addis Ababa and also in west, central, and south Ethiopia. Due to its proximity to Addis Ababa, the Oromia region has been subjected to continuous encroachment by industrial and real estate developments driven by Ethiopian and international investors and suffered from land grabbing driven by foreign agri-investments (e.g. Lavers 2012).

Maalan Jira? / Do I exist?

The struggle to retain agricultural land has been at the core of widespread youth protests in the Oromo region during the period 2015-2018. Music plays a key role in these protests and the song Maalan Jira by Oromo artist Hacaaluu Hundeessaa serves as a prime example.

Maalan Jira is a social-political song disguised by love lyrics in Affan Oromo language. The song was released in 2015, at the beginning phase of the youth protests and has had close to 6 million views on the YouTube.

Land grab as an existential threat

Maalan jiraa, maalan, jiraa, maalan jiraa, Yaa Gaa-laa-nee…
Maalan jiraa maalan, caccabsee na nyaatee jiraa
Ani hin jiruu… Ani hin jiruu, Ani hin jiruu… Yaa Ga-laa-ne, Ani hin jiruu Kukkutee na nyaate xurri

Do I exist Galaane? No Galaane I do not exist; they chopped and ate my liver [vital organs].
What is left of me Galaane? They broke up my bones and ate them.

Koo Galaanee tiyyaa, Sululta loon hin tiksuu darabaatti galchiisa, 

My dear Galaane, Sululta cannot let the cattle to graze freely; they have to fence them.

 The lyrics present contemporary land grabs as an existential threat. This is done by drawing an analogy between the human body/anatomy and land as a vital means of existence for the rural population. Hacaalu Hundessa repeatedly expresses that his ‘bones are broken up’, bit by bit, in order to exemplify how agricultural land is slowly becoming a scarce resource for farmers. Phrases like ‘vital organs chopped away’ and ‘eaten up’ represent first of all the grabbing and selling of rural land to investors. These existential metaphors also resonate with one of the most popular chants during the protests: ‘lafti keenya lafee keenya’ (‘our land is our bone’). Secondly, the music video and the lyrics refer to the need to fence cattle because of declining open pastures. Oromo people have a long tradition of letting their cattle unfettered in the field. Cattle is brought home only when they are to be milked or slaughtered. This is just one example of illustrating intensified land grab in the name of development, experienced by local population not as a mere change in livelihoods, but as a compromise to what it means to be Oromo.

Historical repetition of grabbing of Oromo lands

Laal Galoo-too, Gullalleen kan Tufaa, gaara Abbichuu turii, Galaan Finfinnee..see.
Laal Galoo-too, Silaa akka jaalalaa Laal Galoo-too, wal irraa hin fagaannuu Laal Galoo-too, Jarraa nu fageessee.

Look my Galoo, Gullallee belonged to Tufaa, Abbichuu was on the hills, Galaan farmed Finfinnee.
We, the lovers, should have never been separated, but those people separated us.

The main protagonist in the song is a woman named Gelaanee, who is affectionately referred to as ‘Galoo’. Gelaanee also refers to a queen of one of the Oromo clans which was conquered by Emperor Menellik II during his expansion in the 20th century. Following this conquest and resembling contemporary developments, queen Gelaanee’s land became incorporated into Ethiopia’s capital.

Malaan Jira recounts the violent expansion of Finfinnee into Addis Ababa through the gradual pushing away of indigenous Oromo clans. The song laments how—through land grabs—people are losing not just their land but also their rural mode of life. It refers to localities like Gullelle, Abbichuu, Galaan and, Sululta etc; places where Oromo clans lived for generations. These areas are now either part of Addis Ababa or suggested for incorporation into Addis Ababa’s Integrated Development Plan. This development plan, locally known as the master killer plan, is the main trigger for the ‘Ethiopian Spring’.

‘Separation of lovers’

Diiganii gaara sanaa, Gaara diigamuu hin-mallee,
Nu baasaan addaan baanee, nuu addaan bahuu hin-mallee. 
Seeqanii sesseeqanii, kan gar gar nu baasan jaraa—yii
They dug that hill, a hill that should never have been dug/destroyed.
They separated us, the people who should never have been separated.
Little by little, they cut us apart [alienated us].

Maalan Jira effectively mobilizes a number of metaphors to express social critique in a guarded manner. For example, the phrase ‘Separation of lovers’ refers to the growing rift between Oromia region and Finfinnee brought about by the allocation of its land for the development of Addis Ababa. The metaphor also stands for the ethnic-based federalism pursued by the Ethiopian government, amplifying differences rather than shared interests. Both the song and music video tell stories of several generations of farmers who went on to cultivate vast areas of land, yet the present generation does not even have a ‘ground to sleep on.’ The music video alludes to systemic dispossession, i.e. the process of political economy altering the material grounds of life as well as the ways in which people struggle for control of social reproduction.

Maalan Jira is a prime example of the miktivism embraced by Oromo youth. It shows how youth mobilize historical references and powerful metaphors, describing the loss of identity, way of life, livelihoods and lands of Oromo people. Yet, by using ‘Galoo’ they can just claim it is an innocent love song. This strategy enables youth to elude the risks engendered by voicing political issues openly.

Lavers, T. (2012). ‘Land grab’ as development strategy? The political economy of agricultural investment in Ethiopia. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 39 (1), 105-132.

This article is part of a series on Creative Development.

About the author:

Tatek AbebeTatek Abebe is a professor at the Norwegian University of Sciences and Technology (NTNU) where he convenes the MPhil in childhood studies. His current research focuses on generational implications of development/poverty with an emphasis on young people’s lives and transitions into adulthood. He conducts ethnographic and participatory fieldwork in diverse African contexts.








Confronting Apartheid Through Critical Discussion by Ana María Arbeláez Trujillo and Jeff Handmaker

Confronting Apartheid Through Critical Discussion by Ana María Arbeláez Trujillo and Jeff Handmaker

The history of apartheid in South Africa is generally well-known. Yet, apartheid is not exclusive to that country. According to international law, and on various social grounds, Israel too may ...

European Peace Science Conference | NEPS and the ISS Celebrate Jan Tinbergen with a Home Run by S. Mansoob Murshed

European Peace Science Conference | NEPS and the ISS Celebrate Jan Tinbergen with a Home Run by S. Mansoob Murshed

In less than two weeks from today, the ISS will host the 19th Jan Tinbergen European Peace Science Conference, which will witness the presentation of nearly a hundred papers in ...

Why Feelings Matter in Global Politics: Aesthetics, Vulnerability and Playing with Language by Aoileann Ní Mhurchú

What happens when we foreground the aesthetics of language -– that is the feelings, perceptions and imaginations it invokes – when thinking about resistance in voice?  Aoileann Ní Mhurchú argues that we can begin to think about the importance of vulnerability in language rather than just mastery of language. Looking in particular at shame and failure as feelings in language she considers playfulness as an imaginative response to these. 

Postcolonial resistance has often been linked to the act of mastering indigenous non-European languages, rather than just European languages for people to voice their concerns, alternative ideas and challenges against dominant structures of power (example: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o). However, such arguments also stress the importance of the aesthetics of language – understood as the invoked feelings, perceptions and imaginations. For example, Thiong’o (1983: 385) discusses ‘use of words, images, inflexion of voices to effect different tones’, and the significance of this to ‘human experience, culture and, perception of reality’.

What happens, therefore, when we go so far as to foreground an aesthetics approach to language when thinking about voice? I argue that we begin to think about vulnerability rather than just mastery in the possibilities of ‘voice’ against dominant structures of power.

For example, in postcolonial Ireland the revitalization of the indigenous Gaelic language was a key element in the reconstruction of a national identity in the early 1900s after 800 years of British colonial rule. In 1901 however only 16.5% of the population spoke Gaelic; and today, despite several revival attempts, less than 2% speak it on a daily basis outside of education. As someone who did grow up speaking Gaelic (alongside English) at home, I came to realise that there is a great shame which descends on people that rise up against their oppressors to claim an identity and self-determination only to wake up every day and fail to perform that identity ‘properly’.

Rather than mastery at play here, what is felt is a general sense of shame and thus vulnerability: both by those who do not speak Gaelic sufficiently or properly, which undermines their sense of Irishness, and by those of us who did command it somewhat for being ‘too Irish’, and thus too different from the majority. Indeed, Franz Fanon and Jacques Derrida explore the illusion, in their opinion, of the ability to escape colonial corporal and psychological otherness through mastery of a European language or through mastery of some pre-existing indigenous language. They emphasize how the psychic shame of Otherness undermines the ability of the colonized to truly inhabit either the European language – given the accompanying fear of performing it improperly without the correct accent or heritage – as well as indigenous/heritage languages which have been devalued for so long.

Decolonial literature accentuates an aesthetic approach that enables different ways of knowing reality rather than adding to what we already know as reality (Anzaldúa 2000; hooks 1989; Mignolo 2000; Mignolo and Vázquez 2013). Therefore, I want to move beyond simply equating vulnerability with shame and failure to exploring new social relations (Butler 2006) which such vulnerability enables – and specifically, the play with language which is enacted as a response.

In the Irish case, play with language can be seen in the haphazard mixing of broken Gaelic with English – summed up nicely by one rap song (and the controversial proverb) Is Fearr Gaeilge Briste Na Bearla Cliste, (‘Broken Irish is better than Clever English’). In many European countries we see today furthermore the adoption of playful vernacular language through the children and grandchildren of those who have migrated from former colonies. While such people of colonial heritage in these European countries may have multiple linguistic and cultural identifications; interestingly not all of these are places they visit or spend much time in, nor languages which they speak very well, nor cultures they are necessarily overly familiar with. What happens then is, that they use aspects of available heritage languages – words from here and there that they come to learn – and mix these together with the European language which they have grown up with (See Ní Mhurchú 2014 for examples and further discussion).

For bell hooks (1989: 17), vernacular language resembles the colonizer’s tongue but has undergone a transformation: ‘it includes recollections of broken tongues, given us ways to speak that decolonise our very minds, our very beings’. Officially termed a multi-ethnolect or ‘contact language’, a populist view is that these vernaculars are simply a random accumulation of errors; or examples of youth-speech which people grow out of (Radhhani 2016; Wiese 2014).

Refusing this, critical socio-linguists argue that multi-ethnolects are a form of creative expression of the self. Here creativity is understood beyond mastery of a single language to the creation of variety in language use (Wiese 2013). Multi-ethnolects are understood to have been developed in situations of vulnerability where the existing ‘repertoires of languages available to the people in contact did not provide a sufficiently effective tool for communication’ (Bakker and Matras 2013: 1)

The importance of vulnerability here as creativity is something that I am currently exploring in my research to open up understandings of hybrid/ambiguous experiences of identity and belonging.

This is a version of a presentation Aoileann Ní Mhurchú gave as part of the 2019 ISS Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) roundtable series in February this year.

About the authors:

Aioleann Ni MuruchuAoileann Ní Mhurchú is a lecturer in International Politics at the University of Manchester. Her research interests lie in the areas of critical citizenship studies, international migration, sovereignty and subjectivity, and theories of time and space. She recognises the limits of existing frameworks for understanding experiences of political resistance and participation from positions of marginality or ambiguity. And therefore engages with aesthetic forms of meaning and representation in literature and vernacular music and language.








EADI/ISS Series | Solidarity, Peace, and Social Justice – will these values prevail in times of fundamental threats to democracy? By Jürgen Wiemann

EADI/ISS Series | Solidarity, Peace, and Social Justice – will these values prevail in times of fundamental threats to democracy? By Jürgen Wiemann

In today’s world of constantly rising inequality, increasingly authoritarian governments and anti-immigration sentiments, solidarity, peace and social justice seem to be more out of reach than ever. In a joint ...