In their revealing new book, “Politics of Origin in Africa: Autochthony, Citizenship and Conflict,” Kevin Dunn, chair and associate professor of political science at Hobart and William Smith, and Morten Bøås, senior researcher at Fafo Institute for Applied International Studies in Oslo, explore the phenomenon of ‘autochthony’ – literally ‘sons of the soil’ – and its impact on contemporary African politics and conflicts.
A few years ago, when Dunn and Bøås were editing their book on African rebel movements, “African Guerrillas: Raging Against the Machine,” they discovered that more research was needed on the issue of autochthony. “We saw claims to being ‘sons of the soil,’ in which one asserts certain rights and privileges because one occupied the land first, becoming a pronounced feature in a number of African conflicts,” says Dunn. “What was striking to us was that these claims to being ‘native’ or ‘indigenous’ were, in some cases, becoming violent as ‘outsiders’ or ‘invaders’ were targeted.”
Dunn and Bøås subsequently published journal articles on the issue separately, but decided to jointly co-author a full-length monograph. In “Politics of Origin in Africa,” they examine the often complex reasons behind the recent rise of autochthony across a number of high-profile case studies- Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Kenya.
“These cases come from across the continent and reflect a wide range of colonial and post-colonial experiences. Yet they all have experienced autochthonous violence in recent years, whether as part of a civil war or in more limited forms of electoral violence,” explains Dunn.
“In contemporary Africa, questions concerning origin are currently among the most crucial and contested issues in political life, directly relating to the politics of place, belonging, identity and contested citizenship. Thus, land claims and autochthony disputes are the hallmark of political crises in many places on the African continent,” he says. “Politics of Origin in Africa” was published by Zed Books earlier this month.
Currently, Dunn is in the process of final revisions on “Inside African Politics,” a textbook he is co-authoring with Professor of African Politics Pierre Englebert of Pomona College. “Inside African Politics” will be published later this year by Lynne Rienner Press.
Dunn received his Ph.D. from Boston University, M.A. from Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia and B.A. from Davidson College. He joined the HWS faculty in 2001 and is the author of “Imaging the Congo: Identity and International Relations” and co-editor of “Africa’s Challenge to International Relations Theory,” “Identity and Global Politics” and “African Guerrillas: Raging Against the Machine.”