Poverty and Prosperity in Africa: Local and Global Perspectives

Programme Co-ordinator: Vigdis Broch-Due
The programme started in 1994 and was ended in 1999

Poverty is at the cross-road of major social issues confronting Africa. Poverty is an obstacle to development and democratisation. Poverty and inequality are at the core of conflicts, environmental concerns and the management of populations. Indeed, economic and ecological policies and projects initiated to alleviate poverty have become the major forms of foreign intervention in contemporary African affairs. Clearly, these interventions themselves have complex consequences for the distribution of wealth and poverty on the continent. One influential factor is the privileging of the global perspective in the construction and prioritisation of specific poverty problems, and in the invocation of particular definitions and management rationalities. This bias has of necessity involved eclipsing other-scale perspectives, perceptions, polities and social struggles.

One of the primary aims of this research programme was to develop new theoretical models and methods capable of dealing with the reality of poverty as a multiply constituted and conflicting social phenomenon. By developing better explanatory models of the interactions between poverty and a range of social, economic, political and cultural factors, we hope to gain insights into the nature of these phenomena which will, in turn, assist development planners to assess the long-term impact of development aid. Within the overall analytical framework of poverty interpretations and interventions (local and global ones), we have identified the following interconnected fields of research:

  • The Genealogy of the Poverty Concept
  • Poverty Discourses and Development Interventions
  • Poverty, Gender and Conflict: The Politics of Environmental Interventions
  • Poverty, Gender and the Politics of Reproduction
  • Organisational forms and Social movements
  • Categories of Wealth and Property in Pastoral Societies
  • Video Visions of Poverty and Wealth
In 1996, additional research funding for a three-year period was granted by the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the component 'Poverty, Conflict and Gender: The politics of reconstruction and redistribution'. This enabled the programme to undertake more empirical fieldwork and archival studies. This research component was a collaboration between the Nordic Africa Institute and the University of London's Centre of African Studies located at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and through this centre, the Gender Institute at the London School of Economics (LSE). The aim was to link up Nordic Africa research to the encompassing European research network, which is done primarily by involving the active participation of Nordic graduate and post-graduate students who receive research training and supervision in themes and areas relevant to this particular research component.

A workshop was held in 1995: 'The Poverties and Prosperities of East African Pastoralism' which resulted in the volume 'The Poor Are not Us: Poverty and Pastoralism in Eastern Africa', published by James Curry in 1999.

Two workshops were held in 1997: 'The Politics of Poverty and Environmental Interventions' and 'Poverty and Prosperity in the African Context'. The second was part of the Institute's Africa Days. The first workshop will result in a volume 'Producing Nature and Poverty in Africa'
to be published by the Nordic Africa Institute during 2000.
In October 1999 a conference was held in Denmark entitled 'Conflict's Fruit: Poverty, Violence and the Politics of Identity in African Arenas'.

During the fall of 1997 Dr. Joseph Okokon Charles from the Department of Sociology, University of Calabar in Nigeria, visited the Institute as the programme's first guest researcher. During the winter of 1999 Dr. Owen B. Sichone from the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cape Town, South Africa visited the Institute as the programme's second guest researcher.

The programme co-ordinator has been Vigdis Broch-Due, who holds a Dr. Philos from the University of Bergen. Before coming to the Nordic Africa Institute, she was a senior lecturer at the Museum and Institute for Social Anthropology, Oslo University, previous to which she was a research fellow at the Centre for Development Research at the University of School of Economics. In addition to her post at the Nordic Africa Institute, Dr. Broch-Due has a position as Visiting Reader at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

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