By Jelena Salmi

"I've heard that the new 2,000-rupee note has Modi's face on it,"
claims a middle-aged Muslim man outside a small informal shop on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, "but I haven't seen the note yet." A young woman standing next to him echoes his view: "Yeah, yeah, that's true", she says, nodding. A shopkeeper, who sells inexpensive biscuits, sweets and tobacco products, stretches out from behind his blue counter to contradict his customers: "No way, listen, only dead people's faces get printed on bank notes! I bet it's the Father of the Nation whose face is on that note. It's Gandhi's face, for sure. And that's the way it should be!"

It's November 21st and I am in Vatva, the largest concentration of slum resettlement sites in Ahmedabad. It has been thirteen days since the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the nullification of all Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes in a move to deal with the corruption, black money and counterfeit currency that according to Modi, is being used to finance terrorist activities in India. In his speech on Tuesday evening, November 8th, he assured that "the rights and the interests of honest, hardworking people will be fully protected" as all the smaller notes would remain legal tender and people could deposit their old notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 in banks or post offices during a period of 50 days ending on December 30th.

Sign in front of the Raipur gate in Ahmedabad announcing the fight against
corruption, black money and counterfeit currency.

Modi also announced that banks and ATMs would remain closed for the next two days, after which there would be daily and weekly cash withdrawal limits to ensure the dispersal of new Rs 500 and Rs 2000 notes to all. Towards the end of his speech, he reached out to the common people, asking them to bear with him through difficult times:

"Brothers and sisters, in spite of all these efforts, there may be temporary hardships to be faced by honest citizens. Experience tells us that ordinary citizens are always ready to make sacrifices and face difficulties for the benefit of the nation. [...] Ordinary citizens have the determination to do anything if it will lead to the country's progress. So, in this fight against corruption, black money, fake currency, fake notes and terrorism, in this movement for glorifying our country, will our people not put up with difficulties for some days? I have full confidence that every citizen will stand up and participate in this mahāyajña [great sacrifice]."

In this blog I examine the elusive, mythical mahāyajña and ask: What kinds of sacrifices have been required from urban and rural poor in the face of demonetization? What are the effects of demonetization on the lives of the poor? While on a monitoring visit related to a development cooperation project by the Finnish NGO The Swallows of Finland, I had the chance to discuss the consequences of notebandhi ("closed notes") on everyday life with villagers from Dungarpur, Chhota Udepur, Anand and Kheda Districts, as well as with resettled slum-dwellers in Ahmedabad. I also had several discussions with representatives of an Ahmedabad-based non-governmental organization (hereby referred to as "NGO"), which works to enhance the rights and livelihoods of low-income female workers in India.

At the State Bank of India.

In Ahmedabad, the overnight nullification of 86 % of the country's currency was most concretely embodied in serpentine queues outside ATMs and banks. Throughout my sixteen-day stay, many ATM booths remained closed or had a "No cash" sign attached to the window. Everybody in the city seemed to be short of cash, both the rich and the poor. The rich, however, had a significant advantage: payment cards. I myself mostly dined in places that accepted cards, and due to their convenient payment system, I preferred to use Uber taxis instead of rickshaws. And, apparently so did many others who were fortunate enough to have plastic money. 

At one of Vatva's slum resettlement sites, where many men work as rickshaw drivers, I was told that business had been very bad since November 9th. And not just for rickshaw drivers: also marginal traders, daily-wage laborers and everyone operating on cash had been hit hard. "There's been no work available since notebandhi", an elderly man named Dilpesh told me. "We cannot even afford to pay this month's rent." Dilpesh did have a bank card for an account opened under Modi's Jan Dhan Yojna, but he didn't know how to pay with it. Besides, he bought his daily groceries from traders that only accepted cash. Luckily, he was able to buy food on credit, as traders in the neighborhood were his friends and acquaintances. For Dilpesh, demonetization meant increasing indebtedness.

Migrant laborers, however, rarely develop long-term relationships of trust with traders, therefore they cannot buy food on credit like Dilpesh can. In a meeting with the NGO's Urban Union I learned that two of Ahmedabad's numerous construction sites have been temporarily closed because all the migrant construction workers have either gone back to their villages or—less obviously—are queuing for money. They are not, however, standing in line to withdraw money from their own bank accounts—many of them do not even have one. Instead, queuing has become a profitable business for them: one is able to earn Rs 400 to Rs 500 a day by holding another person's place in a line outside a bank. This is more than workers can earn at construction sites. But not everyone can make a living from queuing. Some migrant workers have been forced to return to their villages empty-handed.

Queue outside the State Bank of India Head Office in Ahmedabad.

Unfortunately, the situation that awaits migrant workers in their villages is far worse. In the Chhota Udepur District, our team met a farmer named Anitaben. She told us about a woman who had sold her patch of land just a day before the demonetization. During the weekend, the woman learned that her money had turned into a worthless pile of paper, and she was so desperate that she took her own life. Banks were closed for two days and information about the possibility to exchange old notes into new ones had not yet reached her village. 

Anitaben herself lost the profits from approximately 720 kg of tomatoes, because the vegetable bazaar was closed for ten days after Modi's announcement. She lost more than 7000 rupees (approx. 100 euros). A representative of the NGO told me that as bazaars have now been opened again, there's the problem of big traders exploiting small farmers by paying low prices for agricultural products, and by paying with cheques instead of the urgently-needed cash. To tackle the drastic situation, NGO employees have been writing letters to District Collectors, asking them to intervene. Following these efforts, traders in some districts have now started paying in cash. The prices, however, are still lower than usual.

At the same time that Anitaben's tomatoes went to waste, women in the village of Khajuria in Dungarpur, Rajasthan, did not have money to buy vegetables. Many men from Khajuria work as migrant laborers at construction sites in Ahmedabad and Mumbai. With demonetization, the men had not been able to send money to their wives and children. Normally, cash had been sent home every fifteen days via a bus driver who takes Rs 100 for himself as a commission for transporting Rs 2000 from Ahmedabad to Khajuria. Without this money, the women were desperate. In the hope of filling their stomachs, they picked gram leaves from the field, spiced them up and ate them. To quote a representative of the NGO: "The situation is very dire in villages. People are literally starving."

Sudden demonetization also gave rise to various rumours. In Dungarpur, information was passed from person to person that not only big notes, but also ten-rupee coins had been nullified, and for this reason, no one wanted to accept them as payment. At the same time in rural Anand, a rumor came through the grapevine that the price of salt will go up significantly, and as a result, some people began to stock up on salt. Moreover, people started exchanging food crops: wheat for vegetables, vegetables for wheat.

Anitaben's fields.

In the face of the Indian government's radical move towards a cashless society, the poor are the ones who have been forced to sacrifice the most. Some have even sacrificed their lives. In his demonetization announcement, Modi claimed that "ordinary citizens are always ready to make sacrifices and face difficulties for the benefit of the nation". I, however, could not bring myself to ask the people with whom I spoke whether they considered their sacrifices "for the country's progress" to be fair and just.

Some names have been changed or omitted to protect the privacy of individuals.
Photos © Jelena Salmi.



A guest article by
Bonn Juego

In the past 15 years, “the private turn” in international development cooperation framework has become more evident. This shift in foreign policy is essentially characterized by a change in strategy from the old state-to-state relations centered on the giving and receiving of aid to the new economic diplomacy focused on the development of private sector business activities.

The implications of this emergent phenomenon for both development theory and practice are however understudied in (Nordic) development research, and no comparative studies have been undertaken. Such study is important in terms of: (i) the past, present, and future of North-South development cooperation; (ii) feasible development strategies for both developed and developing countries; and (iii) the processes of development and democratization in what used to be known as the “Third World” with durable authoritarian political regimes.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, and even during the Atlantic’s Great Recession of 2008 that led to a prolonged economic crises in Europe, the Nordic region—comprising of the governments of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland—have remained top donor countries, while many of their partner economies in Asia have become the world’s new growth areas. 

Contemporary Nordic-Asia development relations have not yet been thoroughly studied despite the fact that strategic engagements with Asia’s fast emerging economies are central to the official discourse and actual policy framework today of Nordic governments, as well as the OECD and other multilateral institutions. At the heart of this foreign policy re-strategizing is the crucial role assigned to the private sector as the driving force of development cooperation to pursue market-based solutions such as the promotion of entrepreneurship and the expansion of business operations to address poverty and other developmental problems.

Team Finland and the Nordic Development Institutions

The government of Finland, for instance, has formed “Team Finland” as a crucial institution to embody and implement the country’s emergent framework of private sector-oriented development cooperation. Team Finland is the network of state-funded organizations and programmes, including embassies and other funding agencies, with the mission to promote, support, or fund the internationalization of Finnish companies, enterprises, and investments even in high risk markets in many parts of the developing world. In addition to the trade, investments, and commercial sections of the Finnish missions in the world, four main agencies and programmes compose Team Finland, namely:
1. Finnfund (Finnish Fund for Industrial Cooperation), a development finance company that provides money for private sector projects in developing countries;
2. Finpro, a public organization helping Finnish companies, especially small-and-medium enterprises, to enter the international market, as well as to attract tourism and foreign investments to Finland, through its Growth Programs;

3. Finnvera, a specialized funding company whose specific mandate as Finland’s Export Credit Agency is to provide guarantees against political and commercial risks associated with Finnish export; and
4. Finnpartnership (Finnish Business Partnership Programme), a government programme that provides guidance and advisory services to Finnish companies through its Business Partnership Support Facility from the planning to implementation of projects in developing countries.
The same private enterprise-oriented development institutions and policy instruments are in operation in the other Nordic countries. Sweden has the Swedfund and Swedpartnership to facilitate the programme for private sector development. Denmark has the Danish Trade Council, the Investment Fund for Developing Countries, and the Export Credit Agency in line with their new foreign policy re-focusing on economic diplomacy that targets growth areas in today’s global economy. And Norway has Norfund, the Norwegian Investment Fund for Developing Countries, as their anti-poverty development finance institution funding private sector development programmes and other commercial activities for poor countries.

Historically, the role of the private sector in development cooperation has always been there since the United Nations’ First Development Decade of the 1960s. This began when developed countries committed to transfer one per cent (1%) of their gross domestic product (GDP) to achieve the five per cent (5%) GDP growth target for developing countries. The prescribed formula of one per cent of GDP as an indicator of a successful net positive transfer of real resources from developed to developing countries should have been 0.7% of official development assistance (ODA) from donor governments plus 0.3% flows from the private sector. 

However, during the five consecutive development decades, private flows have prevailed over donor government’s ODA whereby resource flows from rich to poor countries are subject to private incentives, rather than to development needs. Importantly, between 80 and 90 per cent of donor countries’ development finance, notably the development assistance budget of Nordic governments, are actually invested in the World Bank Group, Regional/Multilateral Development Banks, and other international development finance institutions together with other finance capital from private lenders and commercial banks that are loaned to developing countries.

Policy Choices and Business Strategies for Asian Regimes

What can also be observed in Nordic foreign policy nowadays is the geographical re-focusing of development cooperation partnerships with the economic growth areas of Asia, particularly with “rising China” and the emerging economies of Southeast Asia. Take, for example, the “China Action Plan” in 2010 of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland which identifies start-up and expansion opportunities for investors from both partner countries to do business in their respective economies. 

In 2015, “Finland’s Action Plan for Southeast Asia” was released which, notably, provides a detailed characterization of the politics and economies of the Southeast Asian countries Brunei, the Philippines, Indonesia, East Timor, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, and their regional bloc ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations). It also maps out Finland’s partnership priorities in each of these ASEAN member countries, including East Timor. This method of doing “political economy analysis” of the different types of socio-economic regimes of each of their (prospective) cooperation partners is telling of the shape to come in Finnish—and Nordic—international development strategy and policy.

Political economy analysis—which takes into account issues related to structural factors, institutions, stakeholder power constellation—now complements the established “technical and economic analysis of feasible solutions” in the planning, implementation, and management of development projects. While political economy analysis is still at its infancy in development policy advice, it will soon prove to be necessary and effective for the future of development studies and practice. Studies on contemporary Nordic-Asia development cooperation will have to test this new approach vis-à-vis empirical realities on the ground so as to re-articulate an analytical framework that could better guide development research and policy advice.

An important phenomenon integral to the Nordic’s private turn in development cooperation is the impact of the policy choices of their governments and the business strategies of the state-supported business enterprises on one of the fundamental objectives of their international development policy ideals: the promotion of democratic values which, at a minimum, means the establishment of the rule of law, respect for human rights, and good governance. The Nordic countries’ priority partners in East and Southeast Asia—specifically, China, Myanmar, and Vietnam—are generally characterized as authoritarian, undemocratic, or non-democratic regimes.

An Agenda for Development Research

In empirical terms, it would be both topical and significant for development research on contemporary Nordic-Asia cooperation to investigate: To what extent are Nordic governments’ policy choices and business strategies informed by a political economy analysis of each of their development partner countries in East and Southeast Asia? This also means asking in theoretical terms the questions: What are the implications of private sector-oriented development cooperation for the agenda of democratization? Is there any correlation between political objectives and economic agenda in contemporary development cooperation?

A couple of main research objectives will have to be pursued in studying this phenomenon of the private turn in Nordic-Asia development cooperation. The first is that it will identify risks, contradictions, and complementarities in doing business in these so-called non-democratic regimes vis-à-vis the motives behind the policy choices made by Nordic governments and the strategies conceived by their supported private enterprises. And the second is to determine the extent and logic of development cooperation between Nordic democratic regimes and a variety of largely non-democratic regimes in parts of Asia, and their implications for democratization processes and the evolution of the global economy.

Preliminary observation suggests that the private turn, or the private enterprise-oriented development framework, encourages the economic imperatives for entrepreneurship and investments to take precedence over the political agenda for democracy promotion. As a result, Nordic business interests can be made, or are being made, to operate even within the context of non-democratic political regimes in parts of East and Southeast Asia.

Bonn Juego is Postdoctoral Researcher specializing in political economy and development studies at the University of Jyväskylä, where he is also part of the core teaching staff of the Master’s Programme in Development and International Cooperation. In the autumn of 2016, he is based in Denmark as Guest Researcher at the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, Department of Political Science, University of Copenhagen working on a project for a Nordic-wide research consortium on the political economy of contemporary Nordic-Asia development relations.



By Jukka Jouhki and Kenneth Bo Nielsen (guest author)

The meaning of 'development' has been significantly transformed during the past decades of global neoliberal restructuring. As the political scientist Kanchan Chandra wrote recently with reference to India:
Before liberalisation, the term 'development' usually meant large state-led infrastructure or public works projects. Private sector activity was not considered 'developmental.' In the postliberalisation economy, the term 'development' has become a shorthand for a package of vaguely defined terms including 'urbanisation,' 'industrialisation,' and 'infrastructure creation' in which it is assumed that the private sector will take the lead.
What Chandra observes in India is of course not particular to that country, and it shows very clearly how almost anything that involves economic activity spearheaded by private capital can be subsumed under the label 'development' – including, perhaps surprisingly, gambling.

In this article we look at how gambling is being promoted as a driver of economic development in two small former Portuguese enclaves – Goa and Macau – in two of the world's most important emerging economies, namely India and China.

Goa and Macau were for centuries part of the Portuguese Estado da India, the Portuguese state of India. In 1961 the Indian army kicked out the Portuguese and Goa joined the Indian Union; sovereignty over Macau was, in contrast, transferred to China in 1999 under more peaceful circumstances, leaving Macau to operate with a high degree of autonomy.

As part of a (crumbling) sea-based Portuguese empire it was maritime trade – and not least a short-lived but very lucrative opium commerce – that for centuries connected these two trading stations. Apart from this shared colonial history, what unites them today is their reliance on gambling as a way of developing their respective tourism-based economies.

There are several more or less well-developed arguments for why casinos are good for economic development. They create jobs; they generate tax revenues that can be used to fund, for example, public education and health; and they boost local retail sales. These arguments are often heard when casinos are justified in the small state of Goa, known as the Las Vegas of India.
Goa, 'Las Vegas of India'. Source

The first casino in Goa opened in the late 1990s and the state is one of only three places in India where legal casinos operate. The others are the remote hill state of Sikkim and the small Union territory of Daman & Diu, the latter also a former Portuguese enclave. But, Goa is the only place where ‘live gaming’ – with a real person dealing you the cards or spinning the roulette – takes place on the handful of Goa’s floating casinos that are located offshore on the Mandovi River where it runs through the capital city of Panjim. In addition, Goa has several casinos located on land.

Most of the customers are domestic Indian tourists, and the casinos generate significant annual revenue for the state coffers. The exact figures appear to be uncertain and estimates range from anywhere between USD 30 million to 100 million per year. Although this amounts to no more than one to five percent of the annual state budget, it is a sum that the state cannot currently do without:

Goa's Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar defening Goa's casinos. Source: Calvin Ayre.com.

Over the past years the Goan economy has been badly hit by a total ban on mining, something which has hurt the state finances. And even though mining recently resumed, the sharp fall in the global price of iron ore means that mining no longer generates the kind of revenue that it did six or seven years ago. Not only do the casinos generate revenue and taxes, they also attract large numbers of domestic tourists who may spend lavishly also outside the casino – on food, drinks, accommodation, shopping, and more.

The gaming industry is enthusiastic about the future of casino gaming in Goa. With the Indian middle class growing, and with gaming only being legal in very few places, Goa looks set to remain the no. 1 holiday destination for Indians with money to spend. Thus, Jaydev Mody, the chairman of Delta Corp which operates two offshore casinos, recently said that it was possible to ‘create a destination just like Singapore or Macau’ in Goa. All one had to do was to create resorts and casinos and fill them up, he told the BBC.

But, there is also strong local opposition to the casinos which many see as a social evil and a bad influence on Goan society. In Panjim, many taxi drivers can tell you heart breaking stories of how they have taken devastated gamers from the floating casinos to the airport after they have gambled away their entire fortune in just a few hours. Gambling addiction is reportedly on the rise, and many want the casinos to either relocate out of the Mandovi and into the deep sea, or to shut down completely. But that is unlikely to happen. The current Chief Minister of the state, Laxmikant Parsekar, who had for many years stated that he is against casinos in Goa, has now – just like his predecessor in office – swung around to 'acknowledge' that the state depends on the casinos for employment and revenue. 
A floating casino in Macau. Source: Jukka Jouhki.

For Macau, the liberalisation of the state monopoly on gambling in 2002 is perhaps the single most important event to ever have taken place, politically, culturally and economically. After 2002, international casino companies and millions of gambling tourists rushed to Macau. Now, every year more than 30 million tourists visit Macau, the size of only one third of Manhattan and with a population of just 500,000, to spend their money in casinos, and on shopping in the casino complexes. Most tourists come from mainland China where gambling – other than lottery – is forbidden by law, but where different forms of gambling have been part of everyday life for ages. It is the growth of the Chinese middle class that has enabled tourism and recreational consumption so that Macau, as Professor Tim Simpson from the University of Macau puts it, is 'a laboratory of capitalist consumption for China'.

While Goa may be the Las Vegas of India, Macau is 'Vegas on Steroids'. In terms of revenue Macau surpassed Las Vegas as the global Mecca of gambling already a decade ago, and today revenue stands at six times that of Las Vegas. An average tourist spends only a day or two in Macau, but easily spends a thousand euros in a casino, and another thousand euros on shopping and services. Through taxation, the government of Macau earns more than 10 billion euros annually, making Macau's GDP per capita the second largest in the world. 

In the ten years after the gambling monopoly ended, Macau's total GDP grew fivefold; and, unlike in Goa where the number of casinos are limited in number, gambling has considerably increased the quality of life of many Macanese citizens. Employment rates are high because gambling, tourism and construction demand a large workforce, and some of the profits from the industry do trickle down to benefit people at large through better schools, better health care, heritage conservation, and so on.

However, this reliance on a single industry makes Macau's economy very vulnerable to the fluctuations of global economy and especially to the slowdown of China, where the anti-corruption campaign has stopped many wealthy mainland businessmen from traveling to Macau to spend their money. Hence, for a few years now Macau’s economy has slumped. The recent slump notwithstanding, however, the gambling boom has changed Macau culturally, socially, environmentally, and even geographically. 

A gondola inside the Venetetian Macao, the biggest casino in the world. Source: Jukka Jouhki.

The cityscape has become a 'casinoscape', and the increasing demand for gambling outlets has made Macau expand its territory into the sea. For example, a strait between two Macanese islands was filled to form the Cotai Strip, a concentration of casinos; and a new airfield was constructed by filling a strip of sea east of Taipa island. Incidentally, Goa too is in the process of building its second international airport in an attempt to increase tourist arrivals.

Even without the tourists, Macau is the most densely populated area in the world – three times more than nearby Hong Kong. Thus, hosting an additional 30 million visitors every year is a big challenge to the local transport system, to city planning and, of course, to local politicians who have to figure out ways to redistribute the gambling revenue and restrain inflation. As Professor of Political Science Bill Chou from the University of Macao observes, 'right now the biggest problem of Macau is that the benefit of the economic development is highly concentrated in the hands of a very small number of business people and pro-government organizations.' 

For that (and other) reasons, the Macanese citizens themselves are not uniformly enthusiastic about their economy being so dependent on gambling and, like in Goa, people are sceptical about the money laundering and prostitution that tend to accompany gambling on a large scale. Thus, while gambling is certainly a popular Chinese timepass that produces the kind of 'social heat' that is conventionally seen as good for social relationships, the way the industry works in contemporary Macau has rendered it somewhat morally dubious.

Seen from Goa, what has happened in Macau will appear as either a dream come true, or as the realisation of one's worst nightmare, depending on perspective. While there is no denying the fact that gambling increases economic activity and creates jobs, the question is whether this outweighs the perceived negative social impact of the gambling industry and, not least, the very real democratic deficit that emerges when a powerful gaming lobby acquires the clout to define state policy and economic priorities. 

Sources and more information



By Mowshimkka Renganathan

There is a famous saying in India, “you don’t cast your vote but you vote your caste” and it holds true in all the Indian elections. Castes in India are endogamous units of people synonymous with the term “ethnic” groups in other parts of the world. The entire population in India has organized itself into various castes and arranged themselves in a social hierarchy. Over the course of the past six decades, each caste has become its own political unit with leaders, registered associations, members etc. and they function to serve the interests of their caste members and to represent the caste in all matters necessary.

ADMK campaign. Source: The Indian Express.

While they appear to function and behave as a large extended family, they are viewed as viable “vote banks” by the politicians of India. Vote bank is an Indian term for a group of people who have a common identity or goal and can be relied upon to display solidarity while choosing whom to vote for.

Although not an explicit strategy, every political party strives to earn the support of the various caste groups that live in their constituencies. It is similar to Hillary Clinton appealing to the cause of the veterans or Donald Trump earning the support of the middle class voters in the US, but the difference is that when a caste allies itself with a political party, it is “understood” that almost everyone belonging to the caste would vote for the supporting party. These vote banks indirectly play a crucial rule in influencing the political discourse, policy making, candidate selection for constituencies, financial planning etc. of each state in India.

Tamil Nadu is a south Indian state which is historically known for its strong adherence to caste system and caste-based politics. The interplay of caste and politics are highlighted when elections are around the corner.

In May 2016, the state assembly elections were conducted in Tamil Nadu and I followed the election affairs to highlight the areas in which caste influence played a vital role. The important process of any election is the grouping of allies, announcing a manifesto (a declaration of plans and policies), selecting candidates for each constituency, campaigning, poll day and results.

In Tamil Nadu, the three major political parties are DMK, ADMK and DMDK and their ideology is not caste-based. However, there are many other political parties formed directly by castes such as the Vanniyars, Dalits, Mutharaiyars, Nadars etc., and there are parties that are formed around minority Muslim groups. These parties form alliances with the three major parties.

The alliances formed between the above mentioned parties for the 2016 elections reflected the caste- affiliations. Each party collected their caste based vote banks based on their allies. (The complete details of alliances and names of the parties can be found here).

Manifestos are a good place to analyse the influence of castes in policy making; In April 2016, numerous booklets were dropped from door to door by different parties to ensure that the manifesto of each party reached every possible voter. All the major parties accused each other of “intellectual theft” regarding their policies, and it was indeed evident that it was difficult to distinguish a party from another in terms of their policies. In most manifestos, there were chapters entitled “Welfare of backward and schedules castes” and “Welfare of minorities” which addressed the caste based policies and schemes that would be implemented by each party after winning the elections. 

Above and below: Parties exhibiting their manifestos. Sources: One India Tamil.com, Yashnews.com.

At this point it is important to note that the castes in India are organized into various categories such as “backward”, “most backward” and “scheduled” based on their historic socio-economic status. Each category of castes is given special benefits by the government so they can achieve “development”. The process is known as a reservation system according to which admissions in schools, government jobs, and sections of government schemes are “reserved” in various percentages for the different categories.

However, the government ceases to provide the benefits for families whose annual income exceeds a mandated threshold, thereby excluding the “creamy layer” (Rich families) of each caste from the reservation system.

Collectively, all of the parties vowed to increase the “percentage” of reservations and the threshold income, in order to gain the votes of a richer section of all castes. Additionally, DMK promised to implement the caste-based reservation system in the private industry sector. It also promised to revise the “list” and “upgrade” the categories of several castes so that they could enjoy more benefits. PMK, on the other hand, promised that the welfare and rights of the religious minorities like Christians and Muslims would be specially protected, some religious convicts released on mercy, and “manual scavenging” (latrine cleaning) by certain castes abolished.

At this juncture, each caste would decide the party they wanted to vote for based on the policies they would benefit the most from. Each party strategically earned itself a vote-bank through such policy declarations.

Kongu Gounder caste party campaigning in a village. Source: The Hindu.

Following the manifesto comes the nomination of candidates; each party selected their candidates for the various constituencies. As per government rules, there are 234 state assembly constituencies out of which 44 are reserved for candidates belonging to “scheduled castes” and 2 are reserved for candidates belonging to “scheduled tribes”. The candidates are chosen based on their caste and the maximum possible vote banks they can cull in their constituency.

Finally, the parties appealed to the cultural and ethnic identity sentiments of the voters by using highly emotional political rhetoric. PMK is known for their ‘80s rhyming campaign slogan “The votes of Vanniyar caste is for no-one else”. Another caste-party claimed that they are “children of the sun” and that no one can defeat them while another party retorted by asking “Why can you not beat the summer heat but need AC, if you are the children of the sun?” 

PMK campaigning. Source: Indian Express.

Such witty and emotionally charged discourse between parties appeal to the ordinary citizen who feels the need to take sides to protect his identity. However, within the last decade, there has been an increase in the number of caste associations that aim for caste solidarity, which is also the aim of political parties during their election campaigns. The politicians might break ethnic barriers by dining with various caste members, drinking tea with the people on the road, naming newborn babies. The most common strategy is delivering hair raising speeches on unity and solidarity. 

The election results were announced on May 19th 2016 and in a surprising turn of events, many caste-based parties actually lost the elections while there were only a few strong caste-based party leaders who were elected. Thus, there might be a change in the people’s preferences to caste-based politics in Tamil Nadu. 

Tamil Nadu 2016 election results.

Nevertheless, politics in Tamil Nadu is still dominantly caste-driven, and castes participate in politics by forming official caste organizations, mobilizing funds, doling out free memberships to their caste members, implementing strict endogamy in marriages, asserting their dominance and identity through communal violence, and slowly rising to power as a formidable vote bank after which they can demand for favours and policies in return for their loyalty as a vote bank.

Note from the Editor: Mowshimkka Renganathan is a new member of Poverty and Development Research Center at the Department of History and Ethnology, University of Jyväskylä. Her ongoing PhD research focuses on the caste-based reservation system in Tamil Nadu, India.



Click here to read the book of abstracts. 

By Jukka Jouhki

Our conference Poverty's Causes and Consequences in the Urban Developing World gathered together poverty researchers from 19 countries and all major continents for three days of discussion exploring new perspectives on urban poverty. Fifty paper presentations and four keynote lectures offered critical perspectives and encouraged approaches on the intersection between micro and macro levels of analysis. Papers represented a wide variety of disciplines and presented local case studies from many different countries with relevance for larger issues as well as larger-scale studies with theoretical implications for micro-level research.

The first day of conference started with Prof. Laura Stark's welcome, followed by Prof. Bipasha Baruah's keynote that focused on gender equality in India, and presented an initiative called Women on Wheels in New Delhi. Then Dr. Dayabati Roy gave her keynote speech about the way in which poverty vis-à-vis unemployment is created and recreated as a consequence of the complex relationship between capital, class and the state in India. The afternoon continued with panels focusing on themes such as childhood, gender, urbanization, religion, governance, and land-use as well as how to measure poverty (please see the programme).

Keynotes: Baruah, Roy Ferguson and Anand. 

The next day, panels continued with papers discussing rightful share, rights, labor, education, and sexual risks. Prof. James Ferguson delivered the third keynote of the conference, in which he offered ways to rethink production and distribution which draw upon his widely popular book Give a Man a Fish (see also the Q & A session). The day ended with a conference dinner at Hotel Alba.

Prof. Laura Stark welcoming our dinner guests. 

The last day of conference offered Sidy Lamine Bagayoko's ethnographic film on the challenges faced by a village school in Mali, and a panel about neoliberalism and urban politics. The last keynote of the conference was Dr. Harjit Singh Anand's talk about poverty and dynamics of the Indian informal work sector.

We wish to thank all the participants and our sponsor, the Academy of Finland.

Watch the keynote videos.



A guest article by
Kenneth Bo Nielsen

When people think of the Indian state of Goa it is usually images of beautiful beaches and coconut palms gently swaying in the breeze that spring to mind. Once a compulsory stop on the original hippie trail, Goa has now become a favoured playground for domestic Indian tourists who come to relax and have a good time in a place where kuch bhi chalta hai – ‘everything is ok’. 

What is less commonly known is that this small state on the Indian west coast has also been home to numerous, intense struggles over land and nature in recent decades. Mass tourism, for instance, is far from uniformly popular as it takes its toll on the environment: The hotels and resorts along the coast line lay claim to scarce space, produce unmanageable amounts of waste, and disrupt important tidal flows. 

Further inland, polluting industries have been resisted on many occasions, as have the state government’s attempt at setting up so-called special economic zones, that is, exclusive industrial enclaves. And, in the parts of the state that are farthest from the coast and bordering the Western Ghats – a UNESCO world heritage site – rampant and often illegal open pit iron ore mining has destroyed vast tracts of land and many water bodies. While mass tourism, industrialisation, and mining provide employment to many people and a much needed source of revenue for the state, they are thus, because of their impact on land and nature, also highly controversial and contested issues. 

Since 2015 I have been following an evolving controversy over a large tract of land in north Goa. Here, more than 2,000 acres on and around a large, lateritic plateau have been acquired by the state government to set up a new international airport. The airport project is being promoted by its supporters as a real economic book for the state as it will sustain and increase mass tourism during the years ahead, and, more generally, act as an economic catalyst for the northernmost part of Goa which is generally considered among the more ‘backward’ parts of the state. 

Aerial shot of the plateau. Source: Catch News

In contrast, those fiercely opposed to the airport – which includes both many locals as well as the larger environmental movement in the state – see it as not only destructive of Goa’s fragile nature, but also as a scam that is intended to benefit only real estate developers, wealthy entrepreneurs, land brokers, and corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. In the struggle over the land and the airport, both sides have relied on a vast array of arguments, both economic, political, and environmental, to argue their case and sway a larger public. Yet what struck me when listening to and studying these arguments was the radically different views the two sides had on the exact nature of land that was being acquired to make way for the airport, and what the impact of the airport would be. 

To the proponents of the airport, the plateau on which it would be located was little more than a rocky, barren patch of land without habitation, residents or permanent structures of any significance: ‘The land is largely non-cultivated due to an out cropping of lateritic soil and no residential and water bodies are found within the project location except few houses’, writes the mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report that was prepared at the behest of the Government of Goa. It added that ‘vegetation and trees are sparse’. Eighty-five per cent of the acquired land was, it said, either ‘land with scrub’ (55 %), barren rocky/stony waste (22 %) or scrub forest (8 %). 

In its conclusion, the report found that the airport would have a ‘medium impact’ on the local biological environment; but in effect, this ‘impact’ mostly referred to a larger risk of animals being killed in the increased car traffic, or falling into open construction pits or trenches. Beyond that, and given the seemingly rocky, inhospitable and barren nature of the place, a new international airport would have very little impact on the local land, water and socio-economic environment.

The airport project’s opponents would beg to differ. At a controversial public hearing on the EIA report which took place on top of the plateau itself on 2 February 2015, they spent considerable time deconstructing this view of the plateau as barren wasteland. To the project’s opponents, the plateau’s location close to the Western Ghats made it an intrinsically eco-sensitive zone almost on par with the Western Ghats itself, second only to the Amazons in terms of biodiversity. 

Some wildlife of the plateau. Source: Catch News.

The plateau was claimed to be home to a plethora of wildlife – including endangered species – and flora and fauna, as well as more than 40 surrounding perennial springs; and it performed an indispensable function in terms of ground water percolation and recharge, acting as a giant sponge that stored and released water throughout the year. To prove this point, activists did their own environmental impact assessment of the plateau, concluding that whereas the official EIA report mentions only the presence of mice, cats and dogs, leopards and bison in fact roam. The plateau recharged over two billion litres of water every year, it was found, meaning that if the plateau was destroyed to make way for the airport, its crucial role in the wider regional hydrology would be disrupted, leading to repercussions far beyond the plateau itself. 

A wrecked hydrology would not only destroy cultivation on the slopes of the plateau, and on the nearby plains below, but also the fisheries in the nearby Chapora and Tiracol rivers. Moreover, in the surrounding area agriculture was practised, including extensive cashew plantations on the slopes that generated an annual turnover of as much as 500 million INR, and which enabled the production of the locally popular cashew-feni, a strong liquor produced from the cashew apple. 

Sacred groves would be lost if the airport came up, including the Barazan on the very top of the plateau, a grove comprised by 12 trees at which important rituals were carried out yearly. For the same reason, one activist group consistently referred to the plateau as the ‘Barazan’, and not the more commonly used Mopa plateau, so as to underscore its importance in an ancient cultural and socio-economic order that was now fast disappearing.

The first phase of airport construction is planned to commence from November this year. By the time we know more about which of the two sides to the controversy got their facts about the plateau ‘more right’, it may thus be too late to do anything about it.

Kenneth Bo Nielsen is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Bergen Department of Sociology.



By Diana Diaz Delgado Raitala

“I want to go home [to my birth family]”, says the wife who has been mistreated by her husband, but her parents do not want her. There is so much poverty, her parents have no means to feed her, and her husband is her owner because he has paid for her with cows. Jane, a Luo woman, related this to me in order to explain some aspects of customary marriage on my ethnographic trip to eastern Kenya.

Bridewealth is the payment given by the groom and his kin to the bride’s family before or at marriage. Customary marriage involving bridewealth is a very common form of marriage in Kenya regardless of the ethnic group (Goody & Tambiah 1973; Comaroff 1980; Kanogo 2005). The brideprice is set in terms of cows and/or goats. Importantly, the payment is essential to legalize the union (Fortes 1972). The topic of bridewealth became the centre theme of my Master’s thesis.

Lanscape of the fieldsite. © Diana Raitala.

Lanscape from Nairobi towards the fieldsite. © Diana Raitala.

Although my dialogues with Jane and the other 28 participants in my interviews often were surrounded by an atmosphere of sadness and resignation, I have to say that the happiness of the ritual of customary marriage which I had the opportunity to witness will remain in my memory for ever. The ritual took place in a hut belonging to the grandmother of the bride. The neighbours and the congregation of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, which has many parishioners in Kenya, were all invited to the ceremony. A day before the ceremony the women (the bride, her family, the neighbours and I) started preparing the Kenyan delicacies which I show in the picture below. 

Kenyan delicacies. © Diana Raitala.

The white dish is ugali, a porridge made from maize; the red dish is a traditional sauce made from tomatoes and masala called ring'o; the yellow and red dish is called rabolo, made from beans and vegetables, and avocado and banana are served as garnish.

I feel that my role in preparing food was that of a well-behaved spectator, ready to do something whenever the bride and her family asked; in fact I did physically nothing, only watched, but even to this day, some of the cooks insist that I was a great help. In the ceremony, two head of cattle (see picture below) were given as payment of bridewealth. 

Bridewealth. © Diana Raitala.

The happiness of all the participants in the ceremony was palpable. When I asked the bride how she felt, she answered me with a smile, “Very happy!” In the ceremony, one of the bride’s close relatives confided in me: “She is happy although she is going to be owned by her husband.”

This ownership is an important consequence of customary marriage. In my dialogues with participants, ownership was understood to mean two things: 1) the obligation of the husband to protect his wives and children, and 2) the rights of husbands over wives and children. Some of these rights over wives include the fact that a wife needs permission from her husband to visit her birth family; and the right of the husband to perpetrate violent acts on her. Due to this right of ‘ownership’, violence is usually accepted or tolerated (Ludsin & Vetten 2005: 24). I was told by some participants that traditional marriage bestows legal custody of the children solely on the father.

In other words, the payment of bridewealth is essential for giving the father ‘ownership’ of his children, otherwise there is no legalized marriage and the husband does not have legal custody (Goody 1973: 12; Radcliffe-Brown 1950: 54). If the husband, for instance, promises to pay bridewealth after the marriage but does not pay it, the children will belong to the ethnic group of their mother (Ladislav 1996: 128). According to my participants, this situation is a cause for embarrassment to the father and mother and their respective ethnic groups. Robert, a Luo man, told me over supper in the house which he shared with his first wife that an honourable man always pays the bridewealth for his wives. 

The house of Robert and 2nd wife (the darker house is the
kitchen). © Diana Raitala.

Payment is not always an easy task to accomplish; this is illustrated by what happened to Keanu, a Kikuyu man, whose wife died before he had paid the bridewealth to her family. Keanu’s interview revealed the importance of the payment for being able to bury his wife and for retaining custody of his children. Without having paid bridewealth, Keanu could not be the one to bury his own wife. Keanu had a difficult time paying the bridewealth because the father of his dead wife was missing, and although her mother was available, it is the father who should negotiate and receive the payment according to custom. 

After much effort to find his dead wife’s father with unsuccessful results, Keanu and his kin and the grandfather of the deceased (who was in these circumstances authorized by tradition) arrived at an agreement on the price, and Keanu paid it. In this way, Keanu did not lose his child to the ethic group of his deceased wife. In my conversation with him, Keanu described to me his pain at the loss of his wife, his fear of losing custody of their child, and his sadness at having to negotiate over the dead body of his wife.

One of the central aspects of customary marriage mentioned in the academic literature and in my conversations with Kenyans relates to children and the importance of offspring (Radcliffe-Brown & Forde 1965; Goody 1973; Ansell 2001: 699). I was told by many people the more children the better. I observed in my ethnographic fieldwork that the responsibility for taking care of parents falls to adult children. Kenya is a country in which basic needs such as medical health, potable water, education and housing are not met by the state. Children have a moral duty to provide for their parents when they grow old (Offlong 1999: 25). As my friend and participant Paul, a Meru man, told me, responsible children provides for their parents; they should pay their parents’ medical bills as much as they are financially able, as he did for his mother until she died.

My ethnographic research for my Master’s thesis was carried out in 2012. I conducted interviews/dialogues with members of the Luo, Kikuyu, Kalenjin, Meru, Kamba, Maasai, Kisii and Luhya ethnic groups. All the names in this article have been changed. Additionally, all the participants mentioned in this article are middle-aged, married and highly educated with the exception of Robert, who is a tailor.




A guest article by
Elias Yitbarek Alemayehu

I live in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia, with a population of about five million (official estimate 3.5 million). The neighbourhood I live in is called Piazza, is the old centre of the city and one of the busiest. My apartment overlooks a busy traffic junction. The daily scenes from my window include traffic jams, a constant flow of pedestrians, shoeshine boys, car-washing youth, car parking attendants, beggars, street hustlers, street vendors, watchmen, stray dogs and people simply hanging out. During peak hours, the streets are completely full of packs of vehicles stuck in the traffic jam and incessantly honking. It is a teeming and vibrant junction without respite – chaotic, spontaneous, and at times, surreal.

Street view in Addis Ababa. © E. Y. Alemayehu.

In 2014–15 I had the opportunity to stay in Jyväskylä, Finland, at different intervals for a total of five months. During my first visit, I stayed in an apartment overlooking a street junction close to the city centre. The scene and sounds were in sharp contrast to the traffic junction in Addis Ababa. The most common sources of sounds were lone intermittent beeps from traffic lights and the few cars that stopped and passed through accordingly. From my Jyväskylä apartment window, whenever possible, I keenly observed activities at the junction. I saw a man who came every morning with a plastic bag in his hands to a corner kiosk located at the junction. He went into the kiosk and came out after a while. He stood by the corner, took a canned beer from his pocket and drank it. He smoked a cigarette and then went back into the kiosk. He repeated this routine three or four times each morning. At times, after his third or fourth beer, he urinated by the fence and then went back to the kiosk. This activity was repeated every morning at fixed intervals. 

In comparison to the chaotic view and buzzing sound of the street junction in Addis, in the case of Jyväskylä not only the activities but also the street sounds were rhythmic – bordering on monotony. It alternated between silence and sound. In fact the silence intervals were longer than the intervals with sound. I observed similar patterns with the activity of the man at the kiosk. His stays outside to drink beer and smoke cigarettes happened quickly compared to the time he spent inside the kiosk. The beeping sound of the traffic light and the noise from the cars took place against a dominant silence. Except for few pedestrians crossing the junction now and then, the man at the kiosk was the only activity in the street against the backdrop of the majority of people staying indoors. This was in stark contrast to Addis Ababa, where the majority of people are active in the streets and one can hardly enjoy any silence in the relentless noise. 

In addition, during my stay in Jyväskylä, a city of 140,000 people, what grabbed my attention was the vast availability of open spaces, lakes and forests. In Jyväskylä, I was told, almost every household can reach a lake or a forest within a walking distance. From an urban planning point of view, the built structures in Jyväskylä are pockets within large forests. This is the opposite of Addis Ababa, where the forests and open spaces are small pockets within the vast built environment.

I couldn’t help but think how my observations from my windows in both cities and the relationship between the built environment and open spaces could be related to the temperament of Jyväskylä’s and Addis Ababa’s people. After all, the built environment is the physical manifestation of who we are as people: “first we shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us” (a quote by Winston Churchill).

At the risk of over generalizing, the Finnish people are often characterized as silence-loving people. Coming from an African city, this I could vividly observe. In my encounters with the Finns I could also observe the absence of small talk. Silence, I was told, is considered part of a conversation in Finland. Words are used to transfer messages. There is respect for words; it is okay to be together or in the company of others and keep silent. Silence is considered not as the absence of noise but as another form of conversation. The following instances in Jyväskylä may demonstrate the aforementioned statements.

During my stay in Jyväskylä, after being invited to a gathering of friends, I was heading to my host’s home. On my way, I caught up with a friend who was walking with two of her children to the same place. The usual exchange of greetings was followed by silence. In an effort to break the silence, I said, “while I was checking the address of the house we are heading to, I found out that the roads of the neighbourhood are named after dancing styles: tango, waltz, humppa, and so on”. She said, “yes, some dancing styles”. Again, our very brief chat was followed by another silence. To continue some light conversation I said, “the neighbourhood’s residents must like dancing or could be dancers!” She did not pick up on my joke, instead she responded by saying, “no, I myself used to live in the same neighbourhood and I know that the naming is not because the residents like dancing.” I had to remind myself: “no small talk!” After some walks in silence, we arrived at our host’s house.

Another instance was when I invited a Finnish friend to my apartment for a cup of coffee. I knew that he was traveling out of town for some time. Thus, following his arrival at my place, to break the ice I asked, “how was your trip?” In Ethiopia this is a casual question usually posed without the expectation of a thoughtful answer. It is asked just for the sake of avoiding silence and possibly to initiate a conversation. The response I got from my Finnish friend, however, was rather a formal account of his trip. Following a thoughtful silence he started to carefully mention the places he visited, the activities he did in each visit and the type of people he met and the number of kilometers he covered. At the end of his rather rigorous account I had to remind myself I should not ask for the sake of asking – no small talk!

In sharp contrast to the above, in Addis Ababa, silence breeds nervousness. In the Ethiopian culture it is not considered courteous to keep quiet, particularly in the presence of a guest. One is expected to constantly engage in small talk. Something as simple thing as a greeting could go on and on for minutes with back and forth cliché statements. The whole city, particularly the city centers, continuously buzz with different types of sounds from people, vehicles, animals, places of worship, music instruments, etc. One can hardly get a silent corner for respite.

How does the above observation translate into cities? Here one could make a contrast between silence/open spaces/voids on the one hand and noise/objects/buildings on the other hand. The relationship between silence, open spaces and the voids between buildings is considered not only metaphorically but also functionally. The same is true with the relationship between objects and the noise emanating from the various street activities. The word “object” is, primarily, used here to denote buildings which do not take into account a given urban context – stand alone buildings that neither define streets or opens spaces nor respond to the climate and the way of life of residents.

The silence of the Finns seems to be made manifest in their love for open spaces, lakes and forests; and their measured talk could be expressed through the small pockets of buildings constructed within the vast forests. The constant chatter and noise in Addis Ababa, by contrast, is manifested in the love of placing buildings and objects in every available open spaces. The city has few parks and public spaces, far below the required standards. There has been a constant effort to fill every inch of the city with man-made things. Open spaces have been considered wasted land. A typical well-functioning city, however, is composed of both buildings and the spaces between the buildings (voids); a good balance between them is essential. It is like the balance needed between inhaling and exhaling, repose and wakefulness, action and reflection. People require silent moments to reflect and look into one self. This realization calls for looking at cities not as a mere collection of objects and blocks of buildings but also as places that satisfy psychological needs.

The city design of Addis Ababa has been focusing on the design of objects rather than the voids between them. But a mere collection of objects does not make a livable city. Following long years of deep slumber, unprecedented urban transformation is occurring in the city. The construction of roads, high rise buildings and condominium housing blocks are transforming the city for good – giving it a new skyline. Often redevelopment schemes are done without a proper urban design. It is only recently that the issue of urban design, one that could mediate the relationship between open spaces/silence and buildings/objects, has come into the picture.

In 2012, a proper urban design was made by the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City planning (EiABC) for an area located in the inner city, commonly known as Basha Wolde Chilot (the author was one of the coordinators of this project). The point of departure for the project was the fact that it started by designing first the open spaces/voids, and making the building blocks a secondary design element. (See Hebel & Yitbarek 2011.) Perimeter blocks of buildings were used to define both the open spaces and the streets. Thus, networks of open spaces were created which balanced out the buildings. Contrary to this approach, as mentioned earlier, most of redevelopment projects in the city have focused on the design of buildings/objects only. The spaces between the buildings are usually left-over spaces often appropriated by adjacent owners or utilized for garbage dumping or other unintended purposes.

In the case of Addis Ababa, it should be noted that, the provision of open spaces goes beyond the need for silence. Owing to the mild climate, many activities are carried out in the open; one only has to walk through the city and the informal settlements to observe this. The open spaces are used both for day-to-day household chores and larger communal activities. Owing to their varying sizes and locations, they accommodate activities ranging from the smallest outdoor chores such as manual coffee grinding and making laundry to accommodating wedding ceremonies. Thus, in Addis Ababa, contrary to Le-Corbusie’s famous dictum that “the house is a machine for living”, rather the open space is a machine for living. This is true particularly for the majority of low-income people of Addis Ababa, for whom common spaces are not a luxury but crucial components of survival.

Thus, if Addis Ababa is to be more livable city, it needs to learn from Jyväskylä’s silence and open spaces. It is high time that it considers the provision of public spaces and parks. Unless the noise surrounding objects and buildings is balanced with the provision of silence and open spaces, the city will end up being a jungle of concrete. At present, it seems the city administration has become increasingly aware of this. It has planned to develop more than 100 parks, in the coming five years.

For its part, Jyväskylä may need some of the Addis Ababa’s vibrant street life and spontaneity to balance its vast silence and predictable rhythm. One of the reasons for marital divorces in Finland, I was told, is lack of sufficient communication between husband and wife. Communication is minimized and assumptions are made instead, to the extent of reaching a breaking point. The pretext for the minimal communication, I was told, is avoiding redundancy of information or the telling of something which is obvious. A good friend of mine tried to explain this by relating the following story: 

An old man wanted to visit a place whose location he didn’t know. He went to his friend’s family, who knew the place, and asked for somebody to accompany him. The lady of the house was gracious enough to give permission to her young son to accompany the elderly man. The old man and the young boy started to head toward the place. They walked in silence without uttering a word. After a long distance, the young boy, observing the dark sky with heavy clouds, commented, “I think it is going to rain”. There was no reply from the old man. After a while they reached their destination. The old man visited the place he wanted to see and they started walking back home. Again, all the way back there was no conversation. The only talk on the whole trip had been the earlier comment of the boy about the rain. Finally, after arriving at the boy’s home, the old man said to the boy’s mother, “you have a good boy but he talks too much.”
Then, said my Finnish friend, “you see, it is not that we do not talk but it is because we avoid the obvious and the redundant as much as possible. Why should the boy say ‘it will rain’ when it is obviously so!" However, in my opinion, ideal cities could be created if Addis Ababa could share Jyväskylä some of its "noise" and man-made objects and Jyväskylä could lend Addis Ababa some of its silence and open spaces. Addis Ababa needs more "repose" and "reflection" and Jyväskylä more "wakefulness" and "action".

For those who insist in favor of silence at the cost of objects: I think, communication and the need for bonding with fellow dwellers are inherent characteristics of human beings. The molecules of minerals, plants, animals and human beings bond with each other in order to exist for what they are. It is nature’s law that bonds and interaction produce life while separation and disintegration lead to death. Similarly, on a larger scale, residents need to bond with their fellow neighbors in order to enjoy a fulfilling life. Communication and social interaction is not a luxury but a necessity. It is not an externality to the collective identity of human beings but an essential characteristic.

And for those who insist in favor of objects at the cost of silence, I share the quotation below on Malevich’s painting of 2015 “the black square” - devoid of any representational objects:

The traditionalists tried to laugh the picture off. They said Malevich had gone mad, he must’ve painted the black square in the dark! His response was straightforward: "I am glad I am not like you. I can go further and further into the wilderness because it’s only there that transformation will take place. My black square is a bare and frameless icon for our times. Arise, comrades, and free yourselves from the tyranny of objects!" (Andrew Graham-Dixon quoting Kazimir Malevich in the BBC documentary, the Art of Russia, episode 2.)

Dr. Alemayehu is Assistant Professor, Housing Chair, at the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development (EiABC),and the former president of the Association of Ethiopian Architects (AEA).

Source cited: Dirk Hebel & Elias Yitbarek (2011). “Addis Ababa, Extracting Character from Voids”. In, Anza (East African Architectural Magazine), Bracom Associates, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. 

Acknowledgements: Serkalem Girma, Dr. Sileshi Yitbarek,
Kumneger Alemu, Sylvie Fanta and Prof. Laura stark.