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  • The Perils of Belonging: Autochthony, Citizenship, and Exclusion in Europe and Africa
  • Edwin S. Segal
Peter Geschiere , The Perils of Belonging: Autochthony, Citizenship, and Exclusion in Europe and Africa. 2009. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 304 pp.

This book is about the aftermath of colonial conquests and cultural imperialism. It focuses on the sense of ethnicity and special place denied by colonialists in some places and exaggerated by them in others. The case studies presented here are mostly African, which, given the history and impact of colonialism on the continent, seems more than merely appropriate. The surprise is the instance of the Netherlands, which forms a counterpoint to the African cases (Cameroon and Côte d'Ivoire).

From a continental perspective, Africa has between 800 and 1,000 ethnic groups. By the time colonialism ended, there were 54 nations. Geographically, Africa possesses few barriers to slow population movement and nomadic life styles similar to the Rocky, Appalachian, Alps or Tien Shan Mountains. This has meant that the ethnic and linguistic geographies contain evidence of long term population movements. Although hard data are difficult to assemble, it is clear that many came to their [End Page 607] present location from " somewhere else." Add to this the migration patterns imposed by colonial regimes in the service of economic exploitation and those imposed by post colonial regimes in the service of economic development and further exploitation, and the picture emerges of a continent that was and continues to be in economic and demographic flux.

In the cases of African states, the basic dynamic is a competition over resources being presented as available under a variety of development efforts. In the Dutch instance it is the dynamic created by migration, and, Geschiere makes clear, not all of the migration is from outside Europe, which complicates the dynamic. Both of these apparently different instances are united by the appearance of a concept of autochthony, a sense of being tied to the land and coming from it and, of course, the land (as well as who owns or controls it) is also a significant aspect of African political dynamics. In the European instance, the land seems to be replaced by the authenticity of national culture and immigrants' relationship (both normative and juridical) to it.

Although the literal meaning of autochthonous is " tied to the soil," the general meaning is something closer to "originating where found." Geschiere seems to make a bit too much of the tied to the soil element, and the rejection of terms such as "indigenous" as conveying the same meaning, but in the African context, colonial experiences and loss of land, or, as in Cameroon, being moved from one place to another, has certainly enhanced a concern with control over land.

In Côte d'Ivoire, the concept gained a local significance as the government claimed that one of the Presidential candidates was not really Ivoirian, having been born someplace else. A registration law was passed, and it forced everyone to go to their "village of origin" in order to register. It turns out that "village of origin" did not mean where you were born, but where your family came from. This was clearly an effort, apparently successful, to brand some Ivoirians as not really from Côte d'Ivoire. The electoral and subsequent political ramifications were significant.

In Cameroon, the question of "who was here first" is also highlighted by a variety of population movements between Francophone and Anglophone regions. But most of all, it becomes who receives and who administers, on the local level, development funds. One of the interesting aspects of this situation is that the World Bank's and IMF's current notion that development should side step national governments and go directly [End Page 608] to the grassroots, the people, has exacerbated the tendency to say some people are not really "from here."

By contrast, in the Netherlands, the issue proved to be not so much who was autochthonous, as who was not and what should be done about that. The trigger has been non-European labor migration and specifically migration from Moslem countries. Politically that has translated to demands ranging from expulsion to forced assimilation...


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