Non-Governmental Organisations: An attempt at clarity.

For an academic trying to write with clarity on development and non-governmental organisations, acronyms are the enemy. Or rather, as many in the sector would no doubt have it, FAATTWWCODANGO, AATE.

It is vital that academic work is as accessible as possible to those who haven’t had the fortune or privilege to dedicate several years of their life to esoteric study… after all, if academics can’t make their point to those who haven’t studied their subjects, what indeed is the point of ‘experts’ in political science, sociology or philosophy? What recourse can we have to complain about, for example, the sidelining of political economy experts in the Brexit debate if those same experts struggle to hold a normal and useful conversation on the subject with someone who simply wants to understand their options?

Similarly, it is vital that the processes of aid, development and charity are made as accessible as possible to the private donors and taxpayers who fund these projects that save and improve lives. Often, though, academic work on aid and development hits the casual reader with a double whammy: The over-complicated language of academia coupled with the industry-specific acronyms of the aid industry.

“…this is a deficiency on the part of the writer who can’t make their point clearly, or the organisation deliberately obfuscating their mandatory public reports.”

In my line of work and in studying for a PhD focusing on aid/development, I hear a lot of people talking about aid, development and charity. The most common thing I hear is ‘There’s no point giving money to these organisations, they just spend it all on wages and parties’. The second most common is ‘I tried to find out where my money was being spent, I found an end of year report or academic article, and I didn’t understand what it was on about’. This isn’t a deficiency on the part of the reader who finds they can’t access the work; rather, this is a deficiency on the part of the writer who can’t make their point clearly, or the organisation deliberately obfuscating their mandatory public reports.

This article is my attempt to try to address this by creating a guideline to the typologies of aid and development… hopefully this will provide some small solution to the access issue so many have when trying to figure out what happens in the aid/development sector.

What actually is an NGO?

There are some acronyms we’re not going to be able to get away from using. NGO is one of them. An NGO is an organisation that isn’t tied to a government, and as such is a ‘private’ organisation. This covers a huge and varied architecture of organisations, from massive global entities like Oxfam and ActionAid to a tiny group of three staff looking to fund the building of a well in a remote village. Essentially, the key attributes of a non governmental organisation are that it must be:

1) Not part of a government.
2) Not for profit (this doesn’t mean it can’t hold a turnover higher than its expenditure, but rather that this excess shouldn’t be used to line the pockets of owners and shareholders).
3) Not a criminal organisation.

Both public and private donors employ non-governmental organisations to deliver projects*, as well as to promote specific causes and raise awareness of certain issues. Foundations such as the Gates Foundation, and government agencies such as UK’s development agency (the Department for International Development), for example, rely upon the NGO sector to deliver projects. This takes the form of either direct solicitation, discussion, or requests for proposals.

Direct solicitation is used when the donor already knows which NGO they believe is best suited to the required work. For example, the donor may have an existing relationship with an NGO. This is an intuitive process: Emma is a well-priced and reliable carpenter who built your shed, so you contact Emma directly when you want a new kitchen installed.

Discussion involves multiple NGOs discussing the work in terms of interest and capacity, followed up by invitations to submit proposals. You ask Emma, Raj, Maryam and Steve how much work and for what price a new kitchen should go for, and then you ask them to submit their bids.

Finally, requests for proposals are issued either publicly for open bids or privately for targeted bids- you post on a local Facebook community discussion page asking for quotes and references from local carpenters, or you target it more specifically and post on a local Facebook carpentry page.

*these projects can range from aid projects such as humanitarian responses to natural disasters to development projects such as installing and maintaining a wireless internet network in a rural community… You should always be able to find out what kind of projects a specific organisation is doing, usually by looking at their reports or requesting the information directly.

Types of Non-Governmental Organisations

Lewis (2009) states that “NGOs are a diverse groups of organisations that defy generalisation, ranging from small informal groups to large formal agencies”. The term ‘NGO’ describes private organisations that operate outside of direct government control, although they can operate under the aegis of public direction. The World Bank defines NGOs as ‘private organizations that pursue activities to relieve suffering, promote the interests of the poor, protect the environment, provide basic social services or undertake community development’ (World Bank 1994). When we are talking NGOs in development, aid and the charity sector then, we are discussing groups that work to support, protect and/or promote the welfare and rights of individuals and communities.

There are definitions of NGO that demand an NGO must be secular, or that they must be specifically working towards the empowerment of marginalised groups. I disagree with these restrictions as NGOs can, for example, be religious in nature but operate in the same manner as their secular equivalents. It is essential, however, to establish clear categories of NGO, as the work that the NGO sector undertakes is so varied and wide-ranging.

There is a seemingly inexhaustible trove of categories and acronyms used to describe various types of NGO. NGOs can, for example, be divided by category according to orientation (eg charitable, service, participatory, empowerment) and/or scope (local, community based, national, international). Similarly, NGOs can be defined by various acronyms, for example BINGO (business friendly international NGO), DONGO (donor organised NGO), ENGO (environmental NGO), GONGO (government-operated NGO), INGO (international NGO), MANGO (market advocacy NGO) and QUANGO (quasi-autonomous NGO).

It should be clear that this is confusing, irritating, and, when used in academic and/or policy papers, massively off-putting to the reader.

It should be clear that this is confusing, irritating, and, when used in academic and/or policy papers, massively off-putting to the reader… and it cannot be stressed enough that these readers constitute once of the primary potential sources of funding for aid and development projects.

For the purposes of my work, I categorise NGOs in general discussion according to scale and primary purpose, with more specific categorisation when discussing an individual NGO or when it is necessary to provide clarity for a specific section.

Primary Purpose

In terms of primary purpose, I use World Bank typology, which divides NGOs into two distinct categories: Operational NGOs and Advocacy NGOs.

Operational NGOs ‘design and implement the development-related projects.’ These are the NGOs involved in service delivery, response, infrastructure development, and so on. The nature of this work can be extremely diverse; for example, NGOs can deliver services directly with their own staff, or by working with local community based organisations by delivering resources, training and supervision. However, the link that categorises operational NGOs is that they implement projects, through whatever means.

The main purpose of Advocacy NGOs, in contrast, is to ‘promote a specific cause… [they] make efforts to raise awareness and knowledge by doing various activities like lobbying, press work and activist events’ (World Bank 1994). This ‘promotion’ of causes involves three main foci: Research, mobilisation and advocacy. Typically, Advocacy NGOs will work with communities to raise awareness of their chosen issue, and to identify where advocacy is required, as well as conducting research into the issue in order to enhance understanding. Advocacy NGOs will then seek to raise public awareness of the issue, and provide members and partners with the tools to conduct advocacy; this provision of tools is often characterised as the strengthening of ‘grassroots’ organisations. Finally, the Advocacy NGO will bring the issue to the attention of policymakers, nationally or internationally depending on the scope and reach of the organisation, and seek to enact change.

Summary: Operational NGOs work in service delivery and response, whereas Advocacy NGOs work in awareness, research and activism.

It is by no means the case that these primary purposes are mutually exclusive; in fact, it often the crossover between activities which leads to the incompatibility between NGO work and state sovereignty that is an increasing point of discussion for policy makers. NGOs will often work in both operations (implementation) and advocacy. However, the stark definitions are certainly useful for the characterisation and categorisation of NGOs in the first instance.

Scale

My second category is that of scale; whether the NGO works on a local, national or international level. Different states have a different way of categorising NGOs working in their territory. I have chosen to use the example of NGO categories required when registering to work in Uganda, as Uganda is so often cited as the poster state for NGO work.

District-based NGOs ‘operate in areas not exceeding one district’ (Uganda National NGO Forum 2018) and represent what are often categorised as ‘local NGOs’.

The NGO world is full of these inconsistencies and gaps in database auditing, which poses a clear danger to the ability of the sector to market itself with any efficiency and clarity.

National NGOs operate in more than one district; note that a national NGO does not need to be present in the whole state. For example, an NGO may be regional, working in advocacy for issues pertaining to a particular reason (such as on behalf of the Acholi in the North) or in refugee camps spread around the state. An example of a national NGO in Uganda is InterAid Uganda: InterAid works with support from United Nations Refugee Agency and the Ugandan state to support and protect urban refugees in Uganda. InterAid is registered with the Ugandan NGO Board, is based in Kampala, and works exclusively within Uganda. It’s also worth noting that InterAid’s website is no longer active, although it is still listed as an United Nations Refugee Agency partner. The NGO world is full of these inconsistencies and gaps in database auditing, which poses a clear danger to the ability of the sector to market itself with any efficiency and clarity.

Networks and umbrellas: These are composed as registered associations, in which multiple NGOs are registered as members. This gives donors or INGOs (see below…) seeking local partners more opportunity to connect with the right NGO, and gives the NGOs a degree of legitimacy and profile. An example of this is the Uganda NGO Forum.

International NGOs (INGOs) are NGOs which operate in multiple states, regionally and/or globally. INGOs such as World Vision, CARE and Oxfam have operating budgets of over a billion US dollars a year and a presence in 120, 87 and 95 states respectively. INGOs form partnerships with national and district NGOs in which the national and district NGOs are given access to INGO resources and capital in order to carry out operations and advocacy.

INGOs are characterised by a number of attributes aside from where they operate that set them apart from other NGOs, although these attributes are of course linked to their size and scope. INGOs often have multiple autonomous branches in multiple states, but these autonomous branches work together under the same aegis: for example, while Oxfam GB and Oxfam NOVIB are autonomous organisations with their own operations and governance, they also operate as part of a ‘confederation’ as Oxfam International.

As long as the INGO maintains a positive relationship with donors, then, they are able to operate in a sphere essentially above that in which other NGOs are able to operate.

The size and scope of INGOs also means that they have relatively large budgets and staff numbers, essentially meaning that they have the capacity to achieve more than national or local NGOs. By virtue of having more capacity, INGOs are therefore able to garner more funding as donors regard them as having more legitimacy. As such, INGOs are likely to be solicited by donors, thus giving them more funding, more capacity, and more legitimacy. As long as the INGO maintains a positive relationship with donors, then, they are able to operate in a sphere essentially above that in which other NGOs are able to operate.

The budgets and staff that INGOs are able to sustain also allows for greater organisational capacity, which means that they are able to sustain dedicated operations staff. This further enhances the capacity and legitimacy of INGOs to donors, especially when one considers that the national branches of INGOs are able to access staff from other branches of the international confederation.

The upshot of this increased capacity and legitimacy is that INGOs have more voice and power in terms of having genuine impact on decision makers and, therefore, policy.

Summary: INGOs are bigger, with more staff, more money and more connections.

They have more power, so they’re able to be more cost-effective when run ‘properly’. When they’re not run properly, the huge power that an individual can have due to having the name of the global organisation behind them can lead to exploitation and abuse. I recommend Deborah Doane’s recent article as an accessible explanation of this, summarised by the statement “The rich donors of the north have all the money and all the power. Those who are beholden to their services have neither.”

The intricacies, both public/obvious and private/nuanced of the aid and development sector are part of a different conversation, albeit one intrinsically interwoven into the lack of clarity and accessibility that so often marks the sector.

But I digress… The intricacies, both public/obvious and private/nuanced of the aid and development sector are part of a different conversation, albeit one intrinsically interwoven into the lack of clarity and accessibility that so often marks the sector.

Community Based Organisations

There is one last set of actors to add to this typology: Community based organisations.

Community based organisations, also known as grassroots organisations, are fundamentally distinct from other NGOs. Whereas NGOs are set up to help others, through operations or advocacy, CBOs are set up within communities by local resident, and can be both formal and informal organisations. Examples of CBOs include, but are not limited to, farmer associations, youth clubs, cooperatives and women’s groups. The binding characteristic which ties CBOs together is their nature as grassroots, local organisations set up to serve a specific community .

The binding characteristic which ties CBOs together is their nature as grassroots, local organisations set up to serve a specific community.

There are certainly blurred lines when one seeks to make a clear distinction between local NGOs and CBOs; much of the work these organisations undertake will be similar in terms of mechanics and goals. CBOs are often employed as grassroots partners by operations and advocacy NGOs, and successful CBOs may become local or national NGOs as members realise their efforts could, and should, be monetised to further their capacity and exported to others to exact positive change. An example of this is Global Mamas, originally a women’s advocacy CBO in Accra, Ghana and now a network NGO bringing together 350 producers in Ghana, shipping fair trade products internationally and running a volunteer program for overseas volunteers.

The line between CBO and NGO, then, is a difference in capacity. CBOs are voluntary, grassroots organisations, lacking resources, and operating within the boundaries of their community.

CBOs perform a vital role in the aid chain, providing community knowledge and working with NGOs to develop an institutional framework for beneficiary participation. CBOs are also employed to implement sub-projects to strengthen or facilitate NGO projects.

As the registration process for CBOs tends to be very lax, however, there can be a real issue with capacity; an issue I experienced in Ghana when partnering as a research institute with a local CBO, only to find out down the line that they had registered as a CBO but had misrepresented their capacity, were unable to deliver on their promises and were entirely reliant upon our resources.

(The temptation to hyperlink to their website is huge, but I will resist.)

Donors seek to improve the lives of people in developing states, and use their capital and resources to do so. Some of this funding is sent directly to national and local governments as budget support, and some is deployed as project aid through the medium of the non-governmental sector. Donors seek to use the most effective and legitimate bodies to deliver the best support, be it advocacy or operations, to beneficiaries, and as such solicit bids from NGOs, awarding the majority of bids to INGOs due to their relative capacity and legitimacy.

Summary: Most donors prefer to use big organisations to get things done, as they represent a safer and more efficient investment of capital.

International INGOs with large budgets and organisational capacity undertake these projects on behalf of donors, but also act as intermediaries for the effective disbursement of resources, and so in turn deploy the capacity of NGOs to help deliver projects.

Development projects and advocacy are undertaken by INGOs and NGOs in the recipient state, and must be registered to work within the recipient state where it has this capacity.

Summary: The big organisations employ smaller organisations to do a lot of the work, but these organisations have to be officially registered… Compare this to a project management company using private contractors on a building site.

INGOs and NGOs work with CBOs in order to ensure their projects and advocacy are suitably tailored to the needs of the beneficiary; this knowledge is passed ‘up’ the aid chain from beneficiaries, through CBOs, the state, and NGOs, to donors, who can then make better and more effective choices on how to allocate their capital.

Summary: Usually it’s best to use local knowledge, and the more this is done, the more the big organisation learns about how to do things properly in that area.

Conclusion

I am a firm believer in the idea that most people will, if they can afford to do so, help those in need. I am also a firm believer in the idea that you can’t expect people to have any trust at all in a process that is confusing, jargon-filled and exclusionary. It is imperative that the aid and development sectors learn to better market their processes.

Rather than either providing too little information and excluding people entirely, or providing overly jargon-filled information in annual reports that no one can actual understand, there must be a middle way… not patronising, but also not expecting sector-specific knowledge of a range of acronyms and random esoteric terms.

I will certainly have used jargon in this article, without realising I am doing so… the more academic work one does on a subject, the more one seems to disappear up the rear end of that subject and forget how to speak about it in a useful manner. I have tried to demystify some of the processes and jargon, and hopefully this will be useful to some!

I invite and welcome any comments to help me improve this process… the role of academia should be to enhance and inform a subject, not to confuse it and remove it from normal discussion.

Follow the author (or bombard the author with criticisms & feedback) on Twitter: @GFBowden


Populism and the African Region: Potential Dangers

J.A. Doma

NDC Rally – Image by Jarreth Merz

Populism has taken flight throughout the world today, and despite an aggressive response primarily in the media, the populist movement has surged on. With recent European Parliamentary elections all but highlighting that far-right populist parties had become a mainstay in Europe as IvanKrastev has highlighted in the New York Times, one is compelled to imagine what a populist Europe means for the rest of the world. With the United States (U.S.) all but lost, except for a much-changed outcome in the 2020 presidential election, the global order and balance of power is most certain to be transformed, with the developing world once again being the greatest losers. Some of the consequences of growing populism throughout the world have been identified, for example, Max Bergmann, Carolyn Kenney, and Trevor Sutton have highlighted the dangers of the rise of far-right populism to global democracy and security. In particular, of concern to me is the potential impact of populism on the African region. While the liberals of the international community have failed to respond adequately to rising populist movements, there has been a subtle and quiet convergence of a coalition of the radicals. This coalition is set to upset the way things are done today, all to the detriment of the most disadvantaged regions of the world.

With the United States (U.S.) all but lost… the global order and balance of power is most certain to be transformed

Already, Paul Rogers and Richard Reeve in a report titled Climate Change, Populism and National Security have highlighted that many countries usually consider climate change (in)security in terms of how it directly affects national security. Today, many governments especially of the populist kind, have persistently understated the dangers posed by climate change. From current indications, the world may not be able to deliver on the agreements reached in Paris. Already, many African countries are negatively being impacted by a changing climate, with no African country possessing the resources and the ability to mitigate climate change, Africa’s hope solely rests on global action. However, global action will be difficult to attain when some of the world’s most influential nations are climate change cynics. A coalition of populist nations, driven by skepticism in climate change will greatly undermine efforts against climate change, and the first casualties will be regions who contribute little to no carbon emissions – African countries and other developing nations. Ian Dunlop and David Spratt’s recent climate change report has highlighted the horrors the world might face in the coming three decades if fast action is not taken. This implies that action to tackle populism must equally be implemented rapidly.

While we are able to infer Chinese intentions in the region, we will never be able to tell with all certainty what their objectives are.

Similarly, as populist nations continue to gain ground, and as they begin to adopt protectionist policies in international trade, once again the African region is left at the mercy of poor global economic choices. Sino-African relations today is at an all-time high, and has sparked intense debate on the intentions of the Chinese for Africans. Martin Wolf has argued in a Financial Times essay titled The Looming 100-year US-China conflict,that as America and possibly its allies in Europe continue to antagonize Beijing, the rest of the world is set to have to leave with the consequences. In the face of populism, African countries will find it impossible to resist Chinese advances. While numerous literatures have defended China-Africa engagements as a win-win, numerous others consider Beijing’s encroachment as neo-imperialist in nature. Presently, Trump’s America has greatly reduced aid to developing nations, rhetoric from western populist nations has further dampened the confidence of the global south in the global north, compelling developing states to see China as an increasingly more attractive partner. While we are able to infer Chinese intentions in the region, we will never be able to tell with all certainty what their objectives are. The west has continually served as an important check to Chinese advances in the African region, however, as these countries adopt more nationalistic values, their waning interest in Africa will pave the way for the Chinese to take full control of affairs.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, March 31, 2015

Once consequence of this will probably leave the region financially worse off. Historically, colonialism and imperialism has left the region underdeveloped, and its people in great poverty. If the Chinese were to thread similar paths as Africa’s colonial lords or imperialist partners, the region will further be underdeveloped. Furthermore, one is compelled to contemplate what a Chinese global leadership will imply for Africa’s growing and fragile democracy. The Chinese model has continually been mooted as an alternative path to growth and development for poor countries, in the face of neglect from western states, African nations maybe compelled to do away with democratic values believing that the Beijing system maybe more suitable to their developmental needs.

The political structure of the African region has always sought to emulate western nations, and has indeed made progress albeit gradually.

I am additionally curious as to how current populist trends would affect regional and global integrations. While the African Union (AU) and most especially the United Nations (UN), are not as politically integrated as the European Union (EU), their relevance nonetheless for the world and the African region can not be understated. Britain has begun processes of formally exiting the EU, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally Party has unequivocally vowed to attempt to withdraw France from the European organization, many more governments have hinted on their desire to leave the EU. However, writing in the Washington Post, Chico Harlan has suggested that after watching the strenuous processes Britain has undergone in an attempt to leave the EU, many countries seem to have had a change of heart on taking a similar path. With a possible coalition of radical western nations gradually and silently emerging, united by their nationalistic sentiments, harsh immigration policies, and an aversion to integration, the chances of European disintegration persists. The political structure of the African region has always sought to emulate western nations, and has indeed made progress albeit gradually. With the collapse of the EU and a weakened UN, African states would be left lost and looking to be rescued.

J. A. Doma holds a BA in Politics and International Relations from Lancaster University Ghana. Doma is a scholar of African politics, and is currently a volunteer advocate for the implementation of SDGs in Nigeria. Doma is seeking to pursue an MA around International Relations, Security, Conflict and Peace.

Enriching Discourse Theory

Cypriot memorials as an example of the workings of the discursive-material knot

Nico Carpentier

One of the issues where Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse theory has been struggling with, is its relationship with the material. This struggle is not caused by the lack of acknowledgement of the significance of the material in their discourse theory, on the contrary. From the very beginning, discourse theory has made it clear that the material matters, and that it cannot be equated with, or subsumed by, the discursive. Moreover, for Laclau and Mouffe, discourse is not the same as language, a position that opens up considerable opportunities for acknowledging the communicative capacities of objects and bodies. But that is not where the issue is situated. Even though Laclau and Mouffe emphasize the importance of the material, it remains a bit hidden under the theoretical weight of the discourse-theoretical vocabulary, and receives little specific conceptual attention. If the material matters, then there is also a need to have a vocabulary that allows to think through the role of the material. And if the material and the discursive interact, or, in other words, if the material and discursive are knotted or entangled, then there is a need to think through the knot and to develop a theory (or theories) of entanglement.

…new materialism’s acknowledgement of the discursive also has its limits…

One resource that can provide help in enriching discourse theory is new materialism, which has strongly thematized material agency, without ignoring the role of the discursive (or the representational, as it is often called in this field of study). Interestingly, new materialism’s acknowledgement of the discursive also has its limits, in the very same way as discourse theory’s relationship to the material has remained underdeveloped. This is why a non-hierarchical reconciliation of the material and the discursive requires a gentle reworking of both traditions, without moving too far away from their respective comfort zones.

In the search for a more developed theoretical-conceptual vocabulary, there are some obvious candidates. One example is the dislocation, a discourse-theoretical concept that captures the capacity of the material to disrupt a discourse, forcing it into discursive repair or sometimes even destroying it. Arguably, there is also the need for a more positive version of the dislocation, which is the invitation. Materials can extend invitations towards particular discourses, exactly through their material characteristics. This does not imply that invitations cannot be declined; other discourses can still be invoked to generate meanings to materials. One other useful concept that has more stronger roots in new materialism, is the assemblage, which can be used to think about the translation of the ontological principles of the discursive-material knot to the ontic level, where particular discourses and materials become (seen as) part of equally particular assemblages. Finally, the attention for contingency unifies both traditions, and structurally matters to our understanding of entangled discourses and materials, where discourses, materials and their assemblages are fixated through socio-political practices, but never in unchangeable and definitive ways.

One way to illustrate the workings of the discursive-material knot is through the “Iconoclastic Controversies” photography exhibitions, which took place in Cyprus in the autumn of 2015 (Nicosia), the beginning of 2016 (Limassol) and the autumn of 2018 (Brasilia). This video shows a 2-minute report of the Brasilia exhibition, which ran from 17 September to 5 October 2018 at the University of Brasilia:

The “Iconoclastic Controversies” exhibitions included between 20 and 23 photographs of memorials—more specifically: statutes and commemoration sites—related to the Cyprus Problem, and more in particular to the Cypriot Independence War of 1955-59, and the Turkish invasion of 1974. These photographs are investigations of the hegemonic forces of Greek-Cypriot antagonistic nationalism, and of the condensation of this discourse into memorials that celebrate heroism, militarism and nationalism. The materials of these memorials are invested with meanings produced by these particular discourses, and become part of the antagonistic nationalist assemblage. At the same time, the memorials extend an invitation through their materiality—e.g., the display of triumphant male fighters, connected to the Greek-Cypriot nation—to identify with this nationalist discourse.

…these exhibitions also show that this identification is not to be taken for granted

But these exhibitions also show that this identification is not to be taken for granted. First, the invitation can simply be declined, and a different discourse can be used to give meaning to a memorial. For instance, a war hero can become articulated as a war criminal. Second, the practices of everyday life often lead to memorials not being noticed and respected. The photographs show how in some cases, memorials are used as gathering place for sunbathers and swimmers, ideally situated to leave towels behind. In other cases, the ever-expanding tourist industry encroached on memorial sites, hiding them from sight.

The strength of the antagonistic nationalism assemblage is also weakened by the presence of counter-hegemonic memorials, that attempt to dislocate this assemblage by paying tribute to peace-building initiatives, or to peace in general. One photograph in the “Iconoclastic Controversies” exhibitions shows the Kavazoğlu-Misiaoulis statues in Athienou, a Greek-Cypriot village north of Larnaca, one of the four villages in the buffer zone. Beneath the two busts is inscribed a text which summons passers-by to remember the “heroic martyrs of the Greek-Turkish friendship”. These statues not only commemorate the violent deaths of these two labour union activists (the first of whom was Turkish Cypriot and the second one Greek Cypriot), they also show that the antagonism between both communities can be overcome by collaboration. But the photograph, taken after the Kavazoğlu bust was stolen by metal thieves, also symbolizes the vulnerability of these counter-hegemonic memorials in the South Cypriot landscape.

As a series of exhibitions—and an assemblage in its own right—“Iconoclastic Controversies” explicitly reflects on the discursive-material knot, and shows how memorials are part of particular assemblages, but also how these assemblages are contingent and contested. Embedded in one approach toward the development of a theory of entanglement, it is also a call to continue our work on the further development of this theoretical and empirical field, leaving behind the need to privilege one of the knot’s components over the other.

Nico Carpentier is Docent at the Institute of Communication Studies and Journalism of Charles University in Prague; he also holds part-time positions at Uppsala University and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB – Free University of Brussels).

Failure of progressive politics and the rise of a new ‘dangerous’ India

Idreas Khandy 22.05.19

The largest electoral exercise in the world –17th parliamentary elections of India – concluded on the 19th of this month. The mammoth task was carried out over 39 days and in 7 phases to decide the fate of 543 parliamentary seats. At the time of writing, the first post-poll surveys have begun to make rounds in the media. According to these post-poll surveys, the incumbent Narendra Modi led NDA (National Democratic Alliance) is all set to return to power; the accuracy of these surveys remains to be seen. Regardless of which party takes power, it is vital we pay attention to what these elections mean for the world’s largest electoral democracy in times of fake news, and the resurgence of chauvinism in the realm of high politics.

A tale of two manifestos:

To understand any election, a comparison of party manifestos is always a good starting point. Before doing that, a general comment on how Modi’s tenure has been covered is in order. Observers from across the world dubbed these elections as a referendum on Modi’s tenure, and much has been written about the rising intolerance, vigilante violence, and crackdown on dissent during Modi’s tenure. Domestically, Modi was widely criticised for his demonetisation move, which sent the economy into a shock. Modi’s frequent travels abroad received their share of criticism as well for being useless, and also became a template for hilarious internet memes

Coming to the manifestos of the two parties, both sought to cash in on political rhetoric and populist imagination. The manifesto of BJP read like a PR handout for its 5-year long tenure and sought to embellish its supposed tough stance on terrorism as the number one item on the manifesto titled ‘Nation First’. This section of the manifesto aimed to reinforce the rhetoric that India is continuously facing threats, both internal and external, by cashing in on the 14th February suicide attack in Kashmir, stoking anti-immigrant sentiment, and labelling social activists/dissenters as ‘left-wing extremists’. The manifesto also dedicated a whole section to what it calls ‘cultural heritage’, which shows the party’s intention to embark on a homogenisation drive in what is for intents and purposes a multi-national state. Lastly, the manifesto emphasised the aspect of development, and its aspirations to make India a global power by raising the issue of securing a permanent seat at the UNSC.

The manifestos appeared to have been written for the consumption of India’s tech-savvy Anglophone middle-class

On the other hand, the manifesto of the Congress party appeared radical in contrast to its rival. The key pledges the manifesto emphasised were a jobs revolution, universal healthcare, end to hate crimes, increasing defence spending, among other things. However, a closer reading of the party manifestos reveals that they are more similar than they appeared, as Irfan Ahmad had also pointed out in his Al Jazeera article in 2014. Things have not changed on that front; both manifestos raved about the discourse of development, the need to counter cross border terrorism and promise to acquire a permanent seat for India at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). On the disputed and politically rebellious region of Kashmir, both parties have pledged to take an assimilationist approach, albeit these approaches are phrased differently. The manifestos appeared to have been written for the consumption of India’s tech-savvy Anglophone middle-class, which over the years has become a site for the ideological fight between the right and the centre in Indian politics represented by the invocation of Ram Temple by the BJP and a hat-tip to tolerance by the Congress party.

Most of the pledges and promises the manifestos spoke of were absent from the speeches delivered by the politicians of the respective parties while on the campaign trail. The tenor of the election campaign appeared to be entirely divorced from the manifestos, more so from the Congress side. BJP, on its part, left no chance of polarising the electorate go begging.

Campaigning in the age of social media:

Political parties spent a staggering £3.8 billion in the 2014 parliamentary elections on election campaigning and other related activities. The amount spent during the recently concluded elections was almost double that and stood at £5.42 billion. A significant chunk of these funds was dedicated to digital campaigning over social media platforms, especially Facebook and Google ads. The massive spending on campaigning points towards the fact that elections in India revolve more around the spectacle of campaigns and are less dependent on what the parties have pledged in their respective election manifestos. Election campaigns in India are designed not only to entertain the audience, but also informally known to be opportunities to make a quick buck as audiences/voters are lured with promises of cash, liquor, and even food. It is hardly surprising that issues of critical importance for public policy are barely discussed on the campaign trail by the politicians in India. The recently concluded elections were no different.

Pressing matters of public policy were conveniently elided over by politicians in their campaigning and by the media in their coverage of the elections. Matters of public policy such as environmental pollution, rising inequality amongst different social classes, farmer crisis,   dispossession of tribal people from their lands were either wholly pushed out of the conversation or at best given half-hearted and short-lived attention. The issues that were highlighted by the media as the core issues of the elections were jobs and economic slowdown, and national security. Additionally, BJP’s muscular nationalism and its links to corruption have also been thrown in the mix by the sections of media sympathetic to the Congressi vision of India.

The move sought to project Modi as a politician with a clean image, with the interests of the poor at heart.

The discourse and rhetoric on the campaign trail from all sides was shrill vitriol and a public mudslinging competition. Election campaigning of the incumbent BJP revolved around a spectacle of securitisation and hyperbole. ‘Sacrifices’ of soldiers, surgical strikes inside Pakistani territory, and a right-wing brand of national loyalty were some of the continuously invoked themes throughout BJP’s election campaign. A BJP candidate even praised and hailed the assassin of Gandhi as a patriot. The polarising character of BJP’s campaign was further enhanced by a massively potent campaign of misinformation, primarily carried out through the messaging app WhatsApp. The party also undertook an ingenious PR campaign – led by Modi himself, when he added the prefix ‘Chowkidar’ (Watchman) to his Twitter handle. The move sought to project Modi as a politician with a clean image, with the interests of the poor at heart. While the move may not have succeeded in achieving that objective, it, however, succeeded in a far more significant way. The ‘Chowkidar’ move succeeded in shifting the focus of political discourse from serious political and economic issues to trivial matters of self-adorned labels; a trap Indian National Congress (INC) willingly walked into and remained caged in throughout the elections.

On the other hand, the election campaign of the Congress party from the beginning and throughout the election appeared to be interested in replicating the spectacular and entertaining model of campaigning, something the BJP seems to have perfected. The Congress party instead of sticking to discussing its manifesto pledges and making a persuasive argument as to why the voters should consider its manifesto succumbed to the tactics of the blitz, name-calling, and petty sloganeering. The President of the INC Rahul Gandhi repeatedly pointed fingers at the alleged connivance of Modi’s office in the mishandling of the Rafale fighter jet deal. Gandhi almost ritualistically dared Modi to debate him on the Rafale issue, beyond that Gandhi had no potent critique of BJP’s planned implementation of The Citizenship Bill and the National Register of Citizens, or its planned homogenisation drive at a national level. Gandhi appeared to be immensely pleased with himself for coming up with the ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai (Watchman is the Thief) slogan, which may have improved the acoustics of Congress election rallies, but miserably failed to project the Congress party as a viable alternative to the BJP – a development with far-reaching consequences for Indian polity in general..

A new ‘dangerous’ India?

An explanation of why Congress chose to ape BJP’s campaigning strategy, instead of forcefully putting forth its supposed ‘radical manifesto’ is that the policies that both these parties have pursued when in power since the early 1990s are qualitatively no different and are rooted in a neoliberal logic, which transcends the supposed divide of right and centre in Indian politics. Indian politics appears to have become a prisoner of what Marcuse called ‘liberal totalitarianism’, where the logic of neoliberal economic development has become the only acceptable and imaginable way to move forward. Neoliberal policies are unironically prescribed as the solution for problems whose roots lie in neoliberal thinking.

The failure of the Congress party and its allies to truly put progressive policies on the table and demonstrate the political will to pursue them forcefully has made a significant contribution in pushing Indian politics towards a dangerous trajectory. The legitimacy crisis of Congress has deepened in recent years to such an extent that the rhetoric of ‘If not Modi, then who?’ no longer sounds absurd, regardless of how frightening it is as a prospect. They call this the TINA; There is No Alternative.

The situation is exacerbated by the fact that India is not a democracy in the truest sense of the word; it is a ‘quasi-democracy’ at best if I am to use Larry Diamond’s terminology, i.e., India is neither clearly democratic nor [overtly] authoritarian. The rise of BJP in such a ‘quasi-democracy’ makes the prospect of a ‘reverse wave of democracy’ in India very real. Snapping of internet services, curbs on press freedom, vigilante violence, systematic undermining of educational institutions all in the name of protecting the ‘national interest’ appear to confirm the trend of reversal in India.

Idreas Khandy is a PhD candidate at Lancaster University’s Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion

Catalonia: Challenging the Notions of Nationalism

Marc Perelló-Sobrepere

Nationalism has been one of the determining forces of modern history. After the fall of the Ancient Empires, it represented something to be proud of: the defence of one’s citizenship, traditions, language and culture-with Hans Kohn being one of the major historians of the old nationalism. The fascist movements of the Europe of the 19th and 20th centuries, however, caused the term to develop many negative connotations. Today, it is often related to authoritative regimes and political ideas of exclusion rather than inclusion. It is even used as an insult in some political and cultural magazines. In terms of language also, a huge effort has been made to debate differences between ‘nationalism’ and ‘patriotism’, concluding that the latter contains all the good will that the former supposedly lacks.

The truth is, however, that nationalism is an evolving term with a rich history and many footnotes, depending on which type we are discussing. The many theories under which academics have been studying and defining most of the nationalist movements that there have been in contemporary history derive from the works of Hans Kohn, Anthony Smith, Tom Nairn, John Breuilly and Elie Kedourie to name a few. Kedourie takes a hostile stance towards nationalism and defines it as a form of politics that is unrelated to reality. He labels it a new form of romanticism and cites Fichte and Herder as examples of intellectuals who have been seduced. In a similar way, Smith claims that nationalism is nothing but an exaggeration of history combined with mythology. Breuilly is equally critical, suggesting that nationalist leaders aim for total control of the masses. Nairn also shares the idea that nationalism is an elite movement that seeks to spread throughout the masses. Most, if not all of the 20th century scholars describe nationalism negatively.

More recently, however, writers such as Taras Kuzio, Rogers Brubaker, Will Kymlicka and Montserrat Guibernau have challenged these assumptions, demonstrating that the new nationalisms’ characteristics are too varied to fit under a single, negatively- connotated umbrella. For instance, Guibernau describes Catalan nationalism as a form of nationalism without a state, tearing apart the premise that the ideology needs a state to survive. Guibernau’s definition seems quite appropriate if we consider that most Catalans are nowadays in favour of a new state. Yet how exactly is Catalan nationalism different from other types?

Contrary to most nationalist movements, Catalan nationalism is a bottom-up process, having arisen from social movements.

Contrary to most nationalist movements, Catalan nationalism is a bottom-up process, having arisen from social movements. In this case, the masses convinced the elite to pursue a Catalan state, not the other way around. In fact, the leading political party in Catalonia for the majority of the last twenty years, CiU (Convergència i Unió), always denied the possibility of a new state. It was not until after 11th September 2012 that this idea was even considered by its then-leader, Artur Mas, after millions went out onto the streets of Barcelona demanding independence. Since then, the party has been reformed under the name JxC (Junts per Catalunya) and is now led by Carles Puigdemont. He is currently exiled in Brussels, however, due to the Spanish state prosecution of those Catalan leaders who declared independence in 2017, even though this declaration never had a legal impact on either Spanish or Catalan politics.

Another major pillar of nationalism that is challenged by Catalan nationalism is that of romanticism. While it does have its own fair dose of mythology and idolized history, these are not at this nationalism’s core. The growth of this nationalism in the past two decades -and thus the growth in the number of supporters of independence- stems mainly from economic interest, rather than from a sentimental or mythological ideology. Different studies carried out by some of the most prominent economists have revealed that Catalonia would benefit more from being a new state than from remaining as part of Spain; Catalan GDP is actually one of Europe’s highest. To many Catalans out there, independence is, in fact, a rather pragmatic matter of survival.

In 2015, a newly formed political coalition aiming for independence won the Catalan elections. In 2017, after the failed declaration of independence, the pro-independence parties formed a government once again, only this time as two separate parties: JxC and ERC. Additionally, in the 2019 Spanish General Election, the pro-independence parties won more seats in the Spanish Congress than ever before. The Spanish answer to the ever-growing support for independence has drifted between feigned dialogue (always within the limits of the Spanish Constitution) and a legal-criminal response that witnesses several of the old leaders of Catalan independentism behind bars at this time.


It must be said that social networks have had a huge influence in the deployment of Catalan nationalism.

It must be said that social networks have had a huge influence in the deployment of Catalan nationalism. The more social networks’ popularity has spread among Catalans, the more supporters of independence there have been. Many arguments and reasons to support independence have been shared by Catalan activists on social networks, with effective results. Catalan nationalism also benefits from a huge pool of supporters based in academia thanks to a pacifying tone and well-researched arguments regarding the formation of a new state in Europe. The two most recent Spanish foreign ministers, Alfonso Dastis and Josep Borrell, have acknowledged that the international empathy, even sympathy, expressed towards the Catalan pro-independence movement stems, in part, from academia-related efforts to sustain Catalan claims. International attention was also drawn by the referenda of 9th November 2014 and 1st October 2017, both organized without the Spanish government’s approval and also by the terrific police charges that followed the second.

Could Catalan nationalism ultimately lead to the creation of a new Catalan state? Such an idea should not surprise anyone in Europe-over 20 new states came to be during the 20th and 21st centuries. However, while the Yes to independence leads most surveys on this issue, the Spanish state is not even considering such a possibility. While some far-right and conservative politicians (from the Partido Popular, Ciudadanos and VOX) fantasize about the possibility of erasing Catalan autonomy, currently under a pro-independence government, the centre-left and left parties (PSOE, Podemos) aim for a political solution within the limits of the Spanish Constitution. This would, however, exclude the chance for a referendum like the one held in Scotland in 2014. With the Catalan pro-independence supporters gaining power in Catalonia and the two major political forces in Spain not allowing a referendum (let alone an eventual secession) for both sides, engaging in sincere dialogue will, sooner or later, be a necessity.

Marc Perelló-Sobrepere holds a PhD in Communications (Universitat Ramon Llull – URL).

Marc is Professor at Universitat International de Catalunya (UIC) and Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB). Former Visiting Researcher at City University London and at the University of Copenhagen.

Marc’s research focuses on digital communication and political activism, especially massive social networks and its social-political use.