ABSTRACT

Not all African borderlands that have experienced contracted conflict have the abundance of valuable natural resources that we find in Eastern Congo and Sierra Leone, or constitute an important route for informal and illicit trade such as Northern Mali. In the Acholi region of Northern Uganda there are few really valuable natural resources and the same is the case for a refugee settlement such as Nakivale. Yet, some of the processes at play are remarkably similar and as we have seen in the case of Northern Uganda, the production of perceptions about alienation, marginality and the existential uncertainty that it produces in a borderland such as this can sustain a conflict where the spoils of war are as few as the alternatives to conflict. Still, under the ‘shadow of the war’ those well connected may be able to carve out small business ‘empires’ that they otherwise would not have had access to. Thus. no matter whether it is in the alluvial pits in Kono, the coltan mines

in North Kivu, along the dark streets of Voinjama, the dust along the track in the sand from Gao to Kidal, or in the IDP or refugee camps of Uganda, the lives of the people who inhabit these spaces constitute livelihood dramas of social becoming. However, this is not the dramaturgy of a written script, but of improvising and adapting to changing circumstances, to fate, to an existence of being determined to a large extent by random factors beyond prediction or control; but still an agency of actions and events as people are hanging on to and trying to play the few cards that they have to the best of their ability. It is not an easy life, but still life goes on, and people not only merely survive, they also dream: they dream about the ‘diamond’; about a more dignified life, a life that is (re)connected to a global world of opportunity and mobility that those of us that live in privilege take for granted. In short, they are manoeuvring and navigating in a borderland of constraints (but also opportunities) in an often desperate attempt to avoid the status of what here in Henrik Vigh’s words has been described as ‘social death’. The point about ‘social death’ is not that it directly and by necessity leads to death (it may), but that people trapped in this ‘status’ for the lack of a better word are not necessarily becoming either. What this category of life therefore constitutes is therefore a bare life of no

or little social movement and mobility. It is therefore not a full life and its

consequences are despair and desperation, and thereby also the desire to make use of almost any means possible to connect to another social terrain. The measures undertaken may be peaceful, but may also contain connotations of violence (symbolic and manifest) and be attempted to be carried out individually or collectively. This also suggests that even if this tactical agency is an agency of severe constraints and limitations it nonetheless must be taken seriously as the very acting of it (individually as well as collectively) may have groundbreaking ramifications, even if it may only result in geographical as opposed to social mobility. Living in a world forced to focus on the immediate and the tactical must be

difficult, but still the argument can be made that even if ‘people make choices under some level of coercion – not an uncommon occurrence in any society – this does not remove their agency and their ability to evaluate alternative coping strategies’ (Bøås and Hatløy 2008a: 37). The analysis in this book has therefore been premised on the assumption that people have agency, and are not merely victims of circumstances and structures that they do not understand and did not create. Alcinda Honwana’s (2006) distinction between ‘tactical’ and ‘strategic’ agency has therefore informed this analysis directly and indirectly. The first is narrow and opportunistic, ‘exercised to cope with the concrete, immediate conditions of their lives in order to maximise the circumstances created by their environment’ (Honwana 2006: 71). The latter is based on a position of power that enables a certain degree of control over the self and the decisions taken. It is an agency of a longer time frame, where events and actions can be planned and are not only ‘determined by random factors they could neither predict nor control’ (ibid.: 71). The latter is, however, also unfortunately not a position easily reached for

many if not most of the people that inhabit the ‘borderlands’ that this book has been concerned with. Their life becomes a ‘trade’ and a ‘tactic’ that demands adjustment to a continuously changing environment where the only constant becomes the tactical agency as the ‘weapon of the weak’, who must constantly attempt to manipulate events in order to turn them into opportunities. Because most of those that dwell here have no firm or fixed power base, they are forced into the realm of short-term adjustments to the shifting conditions imposed by the evénements of history. This is basically just as much the case for ‘small men’ as for ‘big men’. If we take the trajectories of the ‘Nkundas’ and the ‘Konys’ seriously and look beneath their narratives of atrocities and plunder, most of their actions are precisely this: a manipulation of events in order to turn them into opportunities. Of course, built on some sort of idea, dream, imaginary, but still very much a story of a ‘tactical’ agency based on adjustments to a continuously changing environment. The result is therefore that these persons are not necessarily ‘Big Men’ as

‘Big Men’ constitute fixed nodal points in alternative systems of governance, but people who encapsulate positions of ad hoc power based on fluid social and monetary interactions. They exist as long as others tries to connect to them as ‘someone to be for’. If their connectivity and network capital disappears so

will they as these borderlands are networked societies where power basically is measured as ‘wealth in people’: you invest in people in order to make them invest in you.