Volume 9, Issue 3
Displacement Risks in Africa: Refugees, Resettlers and Their Host Population. Itaru Ohta and Yntiso D. Gebre (eds). Kyoto, Japan: Kyoto University Press/Trans Pacific Press, 2005. 394 pp.
Displacement Risks in Africa: Refugees, Resettlers and Their Host Population is a compilation of studies that were initially presented at the conference, “Multidimensionality of Displacement Risks in Africa,” held in Kyoto,
The result is a book that contains a collection of articles that are at times fascinating for their research methodology, thematic focus or unique policy-relevant findings. However, as an overall volume, the book fall short of the aims outlined in the introduction, while the shortcomings are made all the more glaring by the strong statement in the introduction that the book “conceptually qualifies” as one of only three studies that “promote comparative analysis of displacement experiences” (9). Despite including the impacts of displacement on groups who have been “largely underestimated or neglected by donors, mainstream development researchers, and policy makers” (9), the volume fails to capitalize on this focus and draw firmer theoretical analysis from some of the threads of commonality that emerge through the articles.
In the introduction of the volume, Ohta and Gebre advocate for a shift from a focus on ‘forced migration,’ or indeed, specialized sub-fields of study including refugee studies, disaster studies or resettlement research, claiming that such “compartmentalization of sub-fields [has] prevented cross-boundary communication and knowledge sharing” (8). As such, they suggest a focus on displacement as a concept, rather than migration, arguing that the concept of displacement is “more holistic and integrative than most other terms” (1). Having provided this interesting and important conceptualization however, very few of the articles make any reference to this shift, making it seem as though it is simply a change in nomenclature mentioned in the introduction, rather than a substantive shift in understanding that could actually shed light on the impacts of various forms of displacement on diverse risk groups.
Moreover, the actual structure of the volume – divided into three sections, each addressing issues separately that the editors claim have strong commonalities – undermines the claims that displacement can be understood more holistically. Overall, it is the truncated structure of the book which lessens the potential for the reader to believe that the individual contributions of the articles can together be understood to answer some of the questions posed in the introduction. This is not as much a failing of the articles themselves, but is due to a lack of a cohesive feel to the volume, which does not have concluding comments for each separate section or an overall concluding chapter.
One particular strength of the book is the policy focus that the researchers provide. Beginning with Crisp’s analysis of the challenges of protracted refugee situations in Africa, many of the authors provide throughout their chapters recommendations and reflections for policy action. These proposals range from Schmidt-Soltau’s argument for a shift in the current paradigm of conservation that often leads to displacement, to analysis of post-repatriation land problems in
The title of the book also implies a strong focus on risk, which actually only becomes a substantive focus in the sixth article by Michael M. Cernea entitled “Concept and Method: Applying the IRR Model in Africa to Resettlement and Poverty.” The IRR model outlines the eight major risks associated with displacement. Cernea’s article provides a detailed literature review of examples where the IRR model has been used to analyze issues relating to displacement, and the model is then drawn on in a number of the following articles. However, given the article only comes halfway through the volume, it does not adequately frame the previous articles.
Moreover, one question that surfaces in reading Cernea’s reserved optimism about the power of the IRR model in providing a framework for mitigation of resettlement risks is the dissonance with the findings in the later articles. For example, de Wet’s analysis of dam-induced resettlement in Africa finds that regardless of a necessary legal framework, resettlement policy and financing, these safeguards cannot “be seen as sufficient conditions for successful resettlement” (277). However, Cernea’s argument – despite his admission that reconstruction has rarely happened in the majority of cases of development-induced displacement – is that risk analysis can be a tool “to make development sounder, more beneficial, by anticipating and preventing risks” (214). In fact, for Cernea, the IRR model can be used to make resettlement a cause of poverty reduction, and has the potential to become “itself one of the roads upon those affected could step towards poverty reduction is writ large” (241). The tension between Cernea’s position and the empirical findings in other chapters is not adequately explored, and would make an interesting point of departure for debate and analysis.
This volume addresses an important development challenge, which relates to a broad range of contemporary processes and dynamics in Africa, including increasing investment in infrastructure and industrialization, conflict and conservation. As such, the policy analysis that can be drawn from the chapters individually will be useful and interesting for scholars, policy-makers and students alike. The volume could have been vastly improved by a stronger emphasis on the theoretical shift advocated in the introduction and a structure that lends itself to understanding the linkages proposed by the editors. If Cernea’s IRR model is the proposed framework of analysis, it should not have only been examined halfway through the book, and some critical analysis of the framework would have been useful.