The social life of identity documents in Africa
Date and Start Time [TBD] at [TBD]
This panel is focused on identification documents in Africa as objects of governmentality, from the colonial moment up to current biometric times. It seeks to go beyond a state-centric perspective to analyze, from below, the social life of papers and related ordinary practices of citizenship.
For a variety of reasons, the norms and practices of biometric identities and identification are currently objects of global fascination, anxiety and scrutiny. This panel is focused on identification documents in Africa as objects of governmentality, from the colonial moment up to current times. It seeks to go beyond a state-centric perspective by approaching the multiple registers of identification as technologies of power on the one hand, and as material contributors to the emergence of moral and political subjectivities, on the other.
Recognizing the pluralization/privatization of identification infrastructures, we will adress the diversity of these documents that refer to different types of identification (national, social, regional, religious, political, professional, etc.). We aim to understand the complex relations that individuals weave around or with these documents and their institutions and agents. We will also attempt to empirically test the hypothesis that there is an ongoing popular appropriation of bureaucratic imaginaries and practices.
The panel will welcome papers focused on the « encardment » of individuals and on the role of the bureaucratization of identification, in order to revisit the issues of state formation and citizenship in Africa. We will encourage papers that analyze the social life of identification documents and/or study the material culture of identification documents to highlight the practical negotiations that occur around the making of such documents as well as their everyday use, including in relation to state authorities. Either case studies at national or local level, or comparative analysis, the papers will necessarily be empirically grounded.
Panel sponsored by the International African Institute.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Playing with identity: producing certificates of indigenes in Nigeria (Oyo State, Lagos State, Plateau State)
This papers explains how bureaucrats produce certicificates of indigene in Nigeria and what this entails in terms of politics of identity
In the last three decades, the politics of indigeneity have led to discrimination against and marginalization of non-indigenes. This discrimination is bureaucratized: local governments produce certificates of indigene to identify the origin of their holders. Certificates are needed to get access to public jobs, to university and sometimes to secondary schools and international passports. They are part of the daily working of the state and manifestation of its post-civil war consensus based on a politics of quota (referred as the Federal Character). This paper looks at the bureaucratic machinery of issuing certificates of origin in different local governments in Oyo state, in Lagos state and Plateau state. It reveals both the standardised nature of certificates produced in mass by local administrations to respond to an increasing demand in the last 15 years and the discretionary power of local bureaucrats and politicians in issuing certificates. In deciding the questions to be asked, the procedure to be followed and the fees to be raised, local officials are not only implementing exclusionary public policies, they are also making decisions that shape those politics in delineating the lines between who is a true indigene and who is not. The materiality of these certificates, the bureaucratic procedure to get them and the major actors in charge of issuing them eventually reveal very different historical construction of power relationships at the local level, non-stabilised citizens-bureaucrat interactions and radical different politics of identity at play in those states.
« L'État sous l'arbre » : production et usages de papiers d'identité bricolés au Cameroun
Cette communication s'intéresse à la production et aux usages de "faux" papiers d'identité au Cameroun et à ce qu'ils nous disent sur les rapports pratiques et imaginaires à l'Etat, le travail de l'administration, et les limites aux projets de rationalisation de l'identification.
Le long du Palais de Justice de Yaoundé, dans ses couloirs, ou plus loin dans les cantines qui l'entourent se pressent les « appacheurs », proposant casiers judiciaires, certificats de nationalité, ou jugements supplétifs aux justiciables. La visibilité de ces activités informelles et leur proximité avec l'institution étatique pointent les ambiguités de cette production de papiers d'identité , que l'on appellera ici « bricolés » ou informels. Leur production, leurs usages et les commentaires - officiels ou officieux - auxquels ils donnent lieu seront décrits et sommairement analysés ici pour mieux comprendre le fonctionnement de ce qu'un des acteurs de cette économie des papiers appellent « L'État sous l'arbre ». Quels rapports pratiques à et quels imaginaires de l'État ressortent de ce recours à des « faux papiers » : s'agit-il de le contourner, de le pénétrer ? Comment les administrations contribuent-elles et réagissent-elles face à ce qui facilite et entrave leur travail ? Dans quels contextes et par qui sont dressées les limites à l'usage des faux ? A partir d'une enquête préliminaire, cette communication voudrait proposer plusieurs pistes de recherche sur des pratiques sociales et étatiques imbriquées et extrêmement répandues malgré les multiples projets de rationalisation de l'identification.
Lizards outside the courthouse. Middlemen, bureaucrats and morality in Abidjan.
At Abidjan’s courthouse, just outside the entrance hall, there’s a crowd of informal intermediaries waiting for their clients. They offer their service for an easier release of documents Working as middlemen between state officials and citizens, they navigate through different forms of morality.
In the administrative district of Abidjan, sitting on the sidewalks and on the benches in the gardens just outside the entrance hall of the courthouse, there's a crowd of informal intermediaries waiting for their clients: for the citizens who come to the "palais de justice" in order to obtain documents of identity, official statements of Ivorian nationality, personal criminal records etc. These intermediaries are known as "margouillats" (agama lizards) by the Abidjan's crowds. They offer their service for an easier and faster release of documents, bypassing the formal procedure thanks to their "personal contacts" with the bureaucrats working in the courthouse. Their work as middlemen, between state officials and citizens, intersects and combine different moralities: the "morality of the belly" reigning in the street, the impersonal morality of bureaucracy, the moral expectations of citizen coming into contact with the state.
What election technologies do when they do not prevent rigging: Insights from Chad
Election technologies do not prevent rigging. However, they modify practices and conceptions of citizenship. Based on the case of Chad, the paper shows that while biometric voter registration did not increase the overall transparency of the 2016 election, it modified the routines of the political game.
International donors and electoral advisors seem more and more sceptical about the use of costly election technologies in countries with no centralized population register. Such technological solutions are, however, still implemented in many countries. Based on fieldwork conducted in Chad before, during and after the 2016 presidential election, this presentation explains why biometric voter registration did not prevent rigging and shows that there is no good technological response to inherently political problems. But while biometric voter registration did not increase the overall transparency of elections, it raised citizens' expectations, became the most debated issue during the campaign and after the election, and in the end modified the routines of the political game.
Materialities in the lives of Malian urban refugees in Burkina Faso: uses and understandings of refugee biometric ID cards
This paper looks into the meanings, understandings and uses of a particular object by Malian forced migrants living in Burkina Faso – their refugee biometric ID.
Two topics have gained increased attention in recent years: humanitarian and refugeeness' materialities and objects (e.g.: Y. Navaro-Yashin, T. Scott-Smith, J. Darling) on the one side, and the development of (biometric) identity documents in the African continent on the other side. My work operates at their intersection, by addressing the meanings, understandings and uses of a particular object by Malian forced migrants living in Burkina Faso - their refugee biometric IDs (provided by UNHCR and the government of Burkina Faso). My paper is based on ethnographic fieldwork with Malian urban refugees living in Burkina Faso, and this project broadly looks at the 'relations' between the forced migrants and their refugee ID cards. I argue that by analysing how the current use of these refugee ID cards came to be - a 'proof of innocence', according to most of my informants - and why these documents were introduced in the first place, we can shed some lights on broader dynamics concerning representations, interactions with local communities, ideals of refugeeness, the role of intersectionality, citizenship, as well as how the label 'refugee' can be negotiated and strategized upon by the migrants themselves. This project has two aims: firstly, to underline how objects and materiality can be extremely revealing if we are to better understand the variety of experiences forced migrants live; secondly, to explore what can seem a contradictory case, where ID documents are created to prove the non-belonging, the 'non-citizenship' of a person in the country where she/he is currently living.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.