Working Papers

SWAB-WPS 1/2017

Title: “I wish I did not understand Arabic!” Living as a black migrant in contemporary Tunisia

Author: Marta Scaglioni

Number of pages: 22

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After the fall of former dictator Ben Ali in 2011, questions of race have come to the forefront in Tunisia, along with the quests for equality for ethnic minorities. Several associations and TV programs began tackling the everyday reality of social discrimination and violent attacks suffered by Black Tunisians and Black Foreign Nationals. Their discourse, however, tends to borrow the concept of human rights and values from the West, and rests ideologically and linguistically on American models―Martin Luther King―, French words―racisme―, and on an idea of race which risks to conflate Blacks’ categories and to overlook different historical trajectories behind every actor. Addressing life histories of Black sub-Saharan new comers in the Southern region of Mednine allowed me to question racial concepts in Southern Tunisia by drawing comparisons with the other biggest group of Blacks who were present on the same territory: Black slave descendants. This paper suggests that Blackness in this region is an ascription from the outside, and does not confine in one trait, that is, colour. It points at a conceptualization of race where racial prejudices are constructed, and come at play with other coordinates: lineage, Arab ethnocentrism, institutional and legal positioning, and the status of outsiders.


SWAB-WPS 2/2016

Title: “Anti-black racism”: debating racial prejudices and the legacies of slavery in Morocco

Author: Laura Menin

Number of pages: 25

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Growing public attention to violence and discrimination against sub-Saharan Africans in Morocco has recently opened a debate on the issue of “anti-black racism” and its connections to the history of slavery. The parallel between current racism and historical slavery offers a powerful narrative to draw attention to the very difficult situations of many sub-Saharan African migrants in Morocco, as well as to the lived effects of the contemporary racial legacies of slavery. Yet, conflating the two issues in linear and unproblematic ways may not help us to unravel the complexity of the socio-political dynamics underway. This paper seeks to unpack the issue of anti-black racism by examining the diverse ways in which the different social actors (sub-Saharan African migrants, students and activists, as well as Moroccan people and human rights activists) I met in Rabat in 2014 engaged with these debates. The paper suggests that current racism against sub-Saharan Africans cannot be conceptualized simply as a living remnant of the Moroccan history of slavery and its 17th century racialization. On the contrary, it contends that historically rooted anti-black prejudices are deeply entangled with and shaped by current media and political discourses, transnational geopolitics delegating border control to North African states and Morocco’s current position in the international political arena.


SWAB-WPS 1/2016

Title: Political Claims and the Legacies of Slavery in Madagascar: An Interview and Some Notes

Author: Marco Gardini

Number of pages: 24

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This working paper explores how the legacies of slavery inform the social and political landscape of contemporary Madagascar. In particular, it investigates how impoverished people of noble descent have invested statutory distinctions with new political values linked to the colonial and postcolonial political trajectories of the country. I will argue that, far from being a simple reproduction of the pre-colonial past, the contemporary use of statutory distinctions can only be fully understood if we take into account the role they have played historically in the local and national political struggle.



SWAB-WPS 2/2015

Title: “Citizens of a chief”. State building, emancipation and control by elites in the Guéra region

Author: Valerio Colosio

Number of pages: 29

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Despite the recent decentralization reforms, citizenship and freedom are still problematic in many Sahel countries. This paper focuses on the topic of citizenship in the Guéra region of central Chad. It opens with a brief history of the region, from its long days as a slave-reservoir for neighbouring Muslim sultanates until colonization by the French at the beginning of the 20th century. It then focuses on the way the French organised the area administratively, facilitating the creation of a local elite through the customary authority system. This arrangement led to the creation of a system in which people could fully enjoy their rights only under the protection of one of the customary authorities recognized by the state. In this process, people previously labelled as the descendants of slaves were able to gain in status and thus become part of the ruling elites. The post-colonial state suffered a long period of instability that preserved and reinforced this system of governance, which was then further strengthened by the recent policies of decentralization. Three cases are presented in order to explain this system of governance and its effects: the stories of David and Abdel, the case of the land around Kuju village and the resettlement of Ibis village. These cases show how local people’s ability to exert their rights depends on the protection of a recognized customary authority. Nowadays, if they are to fully enjoy their rights, Guéra people need to be “citizens of a chief”. The local elites that emerged during the colonial period are still in political control and individuals need to negotiate with them when building their own life projects.


SWAB-WPS 1/2015

Title: “Debtor forever”. Debt and bondage in Afghan and Pakistani brick kilns

Author: Antonio De Lauri

Number of pages: 28

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Moving beyond the isolated-victim paradigm typical of most modern slavery discourses, this paper takes into account the “voice” of both the bonded workers and the kiln owners in order to understand the social nature of debt bondage. I revisit comments from interviews and conversations collected in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2014 and 2015. Although the history of labour exploitation in these two countries deserves individual attention, my goal is to underline the transversal elements that are salient in both contexts. The crucial links and similarities between Afghan and Pakistani brick kilns are useful to pinpoint the bonding force of debt. Thus this paper focuses on how workers describe brick kiln labour and the role the dimension of “future” plays in their lives. Can work at the brick kiln be just a phase to attain a job, or does it stretch beyond a phase as the debtor/worker’s life is carried out?