The End of Schengenland?

Map of Europe's Evolving Borders

Map of Europe's Evolving BordersOver the past several decades, Europe has been dismantling border controls, creating the zone of free movement informally known as Schengenland. Although the Schengen area is scheduled to expand into the southeastern European Union countries of Bulgaria, Romania, and even divided Cyprus, such a development seems increasingly unlikely. Even in the core EU countries, the integration process is currently running in reverse. On May 14, 2011 an exaggerated headline in The Independent proclaimed that the “flood of North African refugees ends EU passport-free travel.” In actuality, “the EU” never had “passport-free travel,” as several EU countries (Britain, Ireland) remained outside the Schengen area, while several non-EU countries (Iceland, Norway, Switzerland) opted in. More important, passport-free travel within Schengenland has not ended. But it is threatened. In April 2011, French authorities began checking trains arriving from Italy, looking for undocumented North African immigrants. France insisted that such actions were unrelated to the establishment of border controls, but both France and Italy have proposed the re-establishment of border checkpoints in certain circumstances. A more far-reaching challenge to open travel came in early May 2011, when Denmark announced that it would reestablish controls along its frontiers with Germany and Sweden. Immediately afterward, the European Union threatened Denmark with legal reprisals.

Denmark’s action came about through a series of parliamentary negotiations. The country’s governing coalition includes the Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti, or DF), a right-wing, populist organization that advocates strict limits on immigration and is skeptical of European integration. The People’s Party also generally supports social welfare spending, provided that it is not oriented toward immigrants. Other issues, however, come first. The leading party of Denmark’s governing coalition, the center-right Liberal Party,* had been trying to phase out a costly early retirement program. Support from the People’s Party was necessary to push through the reform, but its leaders initially balked, wary of reducing governmental support for elderly Danes. Before signing on, they demanded a major change of their own: the re-imposition of border controls. The deal was subsequently accepted and pushed through parliament, putting Denmark at odds with the rest of the Schengen community.

The Danish government insists that renewed border controls are not aimed at immigrants, but rather at staunching the flow of illegal drugs and the activities of crime syndicates based in Eastern Europe. It is no secret, however, that the People’s Party wants further restrictions on the movement of people. The party, which won almost fourteen percent of the vote in Denmark’s 2007 parliamentary election, has already helped push through the EU’s toughest immigration rules. Further limitations are now being discussed. A recent report put together by five governmental ministries contends that existing restrictions have saved the Danish government five billion kroner (roughly 900 million dollars) per year since 2002, mostly from reduced social-service expenditures. As a result:

The government and its main ally, the Danish People’s Party (DF), intend to use the findings from the report to further tighten the immigration rules. …The [People’s] party also wants the local authorities to encourage immigrants who cannot find work in Denmark to return to their home countries.

If Denmark has saved money by restricting immigration, the same will almost certainly not be true in regard to the re-imposition of border controls. EU legal action against Denmark could prove costly, and the check-points themselves will be expensive to run. According to Gerd Battrup of the Department of Border Region Studies at the University of Southern Denmark, controls will result in a reduction of trade and tourism, and will also impose costs on “highly-skilled cross-border commuters, who would be discouraged by hassles and delays associated with border checkpoints.” If such commuters decide to quit their jobs in Denmark, Battrup argues, the Danish economy will suffer.

Denmark’s hardening of its borders might also impinge upon travelers from the United States. In late 2010, representative of the Danish People’s Party proposed instituting more thorough checks of U.S. citizens entering the country. “We have to acknowledge that the Americans haven’t had as good a handle on their counter-terrorism as we thought,” argued party spokesman Peter Skaarup. Particular scrutiny, his party contends, should be applied to “US citizens who have travelled many times to countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

* The party is officially called, in Danish, Venstre, Danmarks Liberale Parti, which translated as “Left, Liberal Party,” a rather ironic name for a center-right organization.

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The Iran-Pakistan Border Barrier

Google Earth Image of Iran-Pakistan Barrier

Google Earth Image of Iran-Pakistan BarrierOne of the world’s most heavily fortified borders stretches between Iran and Pakistan. The Iran-Pakistan Barrier, currently under construction by the Iranian government, features a three-foot thick (.91 meters), ten-foot high (3.05 meter) concrete wall extending across 700 kilometers of forbidding desert terrain. The actual wall, however, is merely one part of an elaborate system of barriers. Exploration via Google Earth reveals several parallel structures running along much of the border, which evidently consist of linked embankments and ditches. Fortress-like structures are also visible in several areas, as are extensive road and track networks. As the walls, berms, dry moats, and other fortifications are all built on the Iranian side of the border, Pakistan has voiced no objections to the project. Tracing the barrier on Google Earth, however, shows several places in which it seemingly crosses the divide between the two countries. Either Iran has encroached on Pakistani territory or—as is vastly more likely—Google Earth does not accurately depict the actual boundary between the two states.

The official purpose of the Iran-Pakistan Barrier is two-fold: to stop illegal border crossings and to reduce the flow of illegal drugs into Iran. The latter issue is certainly serious. According to a 2005 United Nations report, Iran has the world’s highest rate of opiate addiction by a substantial margin, with an estimated four million regular users in a population of roughly seventy-three million. Afghanistan is the ultimate source of narcotics entering Iran, but Afghan opium is often processed in, and exported from, Pakistan. As there is only one legal crossing between the two countries, at the small oasis town of Taftan, the Iranian government hopes to gain control over the flow of goods by hardening the frontier. But despite both the barricades and the elaborate Taftan portal, a large amount of contraband evidently gets through; the two-sentence Wikipedia article on Taftan claims that it is “famed by locals as the ‘road to London’ because it is a famous smuggling route.”*

Taftan Border Crossing between Iran and PakistanThe issue of illegal border-crossing by Pakistanis is more complicated. Iran is a much more prosperous and less densely populated country than Pakistan, circumstances that often result in a large flow of surreptitious immigrants. And indeed, the westward movement of undocumented migrants is substantial. It is also apparently increasing, despite the barrier. But most of the people illegally crossing the border evidently aim to pass through Iran on their way to Europe, a region with substantially higher wages and benefits. As recently reported in Pakistan’s Express Tribune:

Iranian border security forces have handed over 2,666 illegal immigrants to Pakistani officials during the past four months. More than a thousand of these however are Afghan nationals. These fresh figures point out the worsening situation with regards to human trafficking. Last year, Iranian forces handed over 8,732 illegal immigrants to Pakistani officials at the Taftan border, a township on the Pakistan-Iran border. “High-profile people are involved in this lucrative business. Agents backed by powerful elements make false claims about economic opportunities in Europe in order to attract the youth,” Balochistan Home Secretary Akbar Hussain Durrani said.

Map of Baloch People and the Iran-Pakistan Border
Map of Baloch People and the Iran-Pakistan Border

The illegal movement of drugs and people, however, does not seem to be the main reason for the construction of the extraordinarily expensive barrier by the cash-strapped Iranian state. More important is the desire to quell the Baloch rebellion. As can be seen on the map, the boundary between Iran and Pakistan also divides the land of the Baloch people, a distinct ethno-linguistic group some nine million strong. The bulk of the Baloch, a Sunni Muslim people, live in Pakistan, but as many as a million and a half reside in southeastern Iran, with another half million or so in southwestern Afghanistan. The Baloch in Pakistan have been engaged in a low-intensity insurgency for decades, while those of Iran have become increasingly restive in recent years. In 2003, Iranian Baloch militants formed a violent organization called Jundullah (“Soldiers of God”), dedicated to fighting on behalf of Sunni Muslims against the Shi’ite regime of Iran. Iran has long classified Jundullah as a terrorist group; in October 2010 the United States agreed, adding the organization to its official list of foreign terrorist organizations.

Considering the fact that the governments of both Iran and Pakistan are threatened by Baloch insurgents, it is hardly surprising that Pakistan has voiced no objections to the barrier. Prohibiting the free movement of militants may benefit both countries, but it also harms local civilians. In 2007, a prominent Baloch leader denounced the wall “as a blatant endeavor to divide the Baloch nation on either side of Pak-Iran border.” Local economic consequences could also be severe, as many Baloch are nomadic pastoralists, roving over large distances with flocks of sheep, goats, and other animals. The barricade prevents such movement along its extent, placing additional pressures on the hard-pressed people of the region.

The Baluchistan dispute is a complex, multi-sided issue that deserves more extensive consideration. Before delving further, however, it would be worthwhile to examine the most recent change in international borders. As we shall see in tomorrow’s post, Denmark has just announced that it will reestablish border controls, thus threatening the Schengen area of free travel among most European countries. As a result, the GeoCurrents map published just two days ago is already becoming obsolete.

* Pakistan, by the way, is concerned about drug-smuggling from Iran, but of a different kind: alcohol. On April 26, 2011, Pakistani agents seized 2,586 bottles of liquor and beer in “the Kumb area of Balochistan near the Pak-Iran Border.”

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International Land Borders, Hard and Soft

Map of the variety of international land borders

Map of the variety of international land bordersOn the standard world political map, all boundaries between sovereign states are the same, simple lines separating one country from another. In actuality, borders vary tremendously. The four-kilometer-wide “demilitarized zone”— sandwiched between two hyper-militarized zones—that splits North from South Koreas does not even remotely resemble the stroll-over border between Germany and France. Such border disparities have increased in recent decades. Europe has seen a massive softening of borders; first the Iron Curtain dissolved, then the Schengen Agreement allowed control-free movement across most state lines. In the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, and elsewhere, borders have hardened in the same period, marked by the massive construction of “separation barriers.” Some of these barricades are designed to prevent the infiltration of militants; others to staunch the movement of immigrants.

GeoCurrents will examine recently fortified borders over the next week or so. Today’s post focuses on the global distribution of exceptional borders, hard and soft. The map depicts the extremes of free movement and fortification. In blue are the international boundaries within the Schengen area, with lighter blue showing Schengenland’s planned expansion to encompass Romania and Bulgaria. Red shows barricaded borders, existing and under construction. Serious proposals for new barriers are depicted in orange.

The map is not comprehensive. Maritime borders are ignored, as are land boundaries too small to be seen on a map of this scale. Heavily fortified borders thus excluded include those separating Israel from Lebanon, Gaza from Egypt, Northern Cyprus from the rest of the island,* and the Spanish exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla from Morocco. Hard barriers within sovereign states, such as that between Hong Kong and China proper, are also excluded, as are those that do not correspond with internationally recognized boundaries, such as the “Moroccan Wall” in Western Sahara. I have also excluded the barrier between South Africa and Mozambique, as it is slated for demolition.

It quite possible that other hard borders, existing and proposed, have not been given their due. The map’s source material is limited to the Wikipedia article entitled “Separation Barrier”; the article is informative, but is marred by discrepancies between its text and its table. The only Russian entry in the impressive table listing “current barriers” is the proposed divide between Russia and Chechnya, excluded from the GeoCurrents map because it is internal to the Russian state. Yet the article notes the existence of “a security barrier … on the border of Russia with Norway, Finland, China, Mongolia and North Korea.” No other information is provided; the linked Wikipedia article is in Russian, hence inaccessible to me. Combining the two sources, I have mapped these Russian borders as “hard.”

The mapping of “soft borders” is also tentative. The GeoCurrents map merely follows the internal boundaries within the Schengen area, noting as well planned expansions f the zone. Yet other international boundaries also have certain soft features. Until recently, one was very open; the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland long formed a “common travel area” with “minimal or non-existent border controls.” Such openness, however, is evidently vanishing. As reported in a 2007 Sunday Times article:

The free movement of people between Ireland and Britain has survived centuries of tension and even terrorism, but that tradition is about to end with the severing of a special relationship between the two countries because of tighter security procedures. Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister, confirmed in the Dáil yesterday that the Common Travel Area – which was created between the Republic of Ireland and the UK after independence – is to be dismantled with the construction of an electronic border control system by Britain by 2009. Mr Ahern said that it was now only sensible for the Republic to follow Britain’s example and introduce similar security.

As always, I welcome comments on the accuracy of the map. Subsequent posts will examine in detail specific barricaded borders, beginning with that separating Iran from Pakistan. This barrier divides not only two different countries, but also a single major ethnic group, the Baloch.

*Northern Cyprus, moreover, is not an internationally recognized state, as it receives recognition only from Turkey

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Japan: An Egalitarian Society?

Income of Japan's Prefectures

Income of Japan's Prefectures
Income of Japan’s Prefectures

Japan is commonly perceived as an egalitarian society. It is a well-developed country commonly thought to have limited poverty; and as such, Japan is often grouped with the egalitarian Nordic countries. For example, in The Spirit Level: Why Equality Makes Societies Stronger, Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson* argue that equal societies are better for all citizens, using Japan as an important example. In actuality, inequality in Japan runs deep. Japan may be more egalitarian than the United Statues, but it is still beset by many layers of inequality.

Proportion of Population Living on Welfare

My previous blog entry explored three distinct layers of geographic inequality, focused on China, which all apply to Japan: regional disparities, the rural/urban divide, and the existence of an urban underclass. The map posted here shows the percentage of the population defined as living on welfare. The prefecture with the greatest proportion of welfare households is Osaka, with 4.35 of every 100 people in this category (colored red in the map).  However, throughout Japan, more families live under the poverty line than live off welfare, as nearly one in six lives on less than $1,830 a month for a four-person family. The map highlights significant regional inequalities across Japan. In general, the north and the south (including the island of Okinawa) are poorer, whereas the center of Japan is better off. In particular, the area between Tokyo and Osaka has the lowest rates of households living on welfare.

Like most other countries, Japan also has a significant rural/urban divide. Cities have a much higher levels of development and economic vitality. This economic divide manifests itself in several forms, particularly education. The cities tend to have more student funding and are able to provide better educational opportunities, especially in regard to English language instruction. Although cities are generally better off than rural areas, there is a significant poor urban population across Japan, even in the wealthiest cities such as Tokyo. As seen in the map of households receiving welfare, the highest rates tend to be in large metropolitan areas.

Another form of inequality significant for Japan is the gender disparity. Among well-developed countries, Japan’s gender inequality is pronounced, as measured by several different indices. Although Japan is often compared to the Nordic countries, it has comparatively much higher levels of gender inequality. Opportunities for Japanese women may be better than those found in less-developed countries, however,  Japan’s gender disparity is unique for its level of development.

In many regards, Japanese culture tends to value humble and reserved behavior. This tendency directly relates to perceptions of economic disparity across Japan. Although many people live below the poverty line, such poverty is often hidden. As poorer people are often ashamed about their socio-economic status, they commonly work hard to “keep face” by seeming to be better off than they actually are. Such behavior makes economic inequality in Japan particularly easy to overlook. Furthermore, reserved attitudes make it difficult for the poorer population, as Japanese society as a whole is against inserting themselves in other’s lives, and hence often refrain from helping others economically. In contrast to many other countries, Japan tends to keep poverty out of sight and mind (the victims of the recent tsunami are an exception here.) Japanese culture is conducive to maintaining an illusion of greater equality than what actually exists.

Another major difference between Japan and most other countries is that the Japanese tend to not discuss or identify with a particular “social class.” Although people often know who is “binbo” (poor) and who is “okane-mochi” (money-holding, rich), politics are generally not based around such distinctions. As a result, the government’s ability to pursue class-based policies is limited, leaving poorer citizens’ interests neglected.

Percentage of Children in Poverty

A 2006 OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) report on inequality in Japan provides insight on inequality in Japan. It shows that inequality has been increasing recently, linked to the stagnation of the Japanese economy. The report demonstrates that in some ways, Japan may actually have a less equal distribution of wealth than the OECD average. Although income disparities in Japan are lower than in most OECD countries, taxes and transfers do not always benefit those in need. In particular, the system of financial reallocation has been slightly regressive; as a result, the percentage of children living in poverty in Japan has increased since the 1980s if one takes into account taxes and transfers. In fact, Japan now clearly is above the OECD average in terms of percentage of children living in poverty. As this demonstrates, Japan is characterized by many significant hidden elements of economic inequality.

Note: Maps are taken from this map database. Also, special thanks to Tyler Mantaring for his insight.

* The Spirit Level: Why Equality Makes Societies Stronger, Bloomsbury Press, April 2010, by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson

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Ivory Coast: Divided and Reunited

Map of the main political/ethnic blocks in Ivory Coast

Map of the main political/ethnic blocks in Ivory CoastAccording to most reports, Ivory Coast is slowly returning to normal. On May 6, 2011, Alassane Ouattara was sworn into office by Constitutional Council President Paul Yao N’Dre, a close associate of deposed leader Laurent Gbagbo. N’Dre, not surprisingly, called for national reconciliation. Although he was heckled at times, the event generally proceeded smoothly. A day before, news reports indicated that the “last” of Gbagbo’s loyalist militias had been eliminated, its naval base seized. Business concerns are increasingly optimistic that mining and agricultural exports will pick back up—although there is concern that neighboring Ghana will supplant Ivory Coast as the world’s top cacao producer.

Economic reconstruction will take time, as war-damage was considerable, and ethnic reconciliation may not come easily either. Both sides accuse the other of committing atrocities, and with good evidence. Ouattara’s forces are accused of attacking a Baptist church in which as many as 2,500 displaced persons had sought sanctuary. In Abidjan and environs, victims of Gbagbo’s militias are being exhumed. On May 9, sixty-eight bodies were discovered in mass graves on a soccer field, allegedly targeted for belonging to the Baoulé and Dyula ethnic groups, which had supported Ouattara in the recent election.

Those optimistic about Ivory Coast’s future often point to the stability and prosperity experienced under the government of founding president Félix Houphouët-Boigny (1960 to 1993). Yet by the end of that period, the country was economically reeling and beset by ethnic tensions. After Houphouët-Boigny’s death, National Assembly president Henri Bédié outmaneuvered Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara in a struggle for the presidency. Bédié rejected the pro-immigration stance of his predecessor, a fellow Baoulé, pushing instead the ideology of Ivoirité, designed to restrict the rights of the immigrant community. Under new rules, those whose parents were not born in Ivory Coast—such as Ouattara—were not eligible for the presidency. Bédié’s term was marked by economic decline and rampant corruption, provoking a military coup in 1999 that installed Robert Guéï as president. In the presidential election held the next year, Ouattara was still excluded. Laurent Gbagbo, of the previously somewhat marginal Bété ethnic group, won the contest, but Guéï refused to honor the results. In the end, street protests brought Gbagbo to power. With Ouattara demanding a new and open presidential contest, northerners widely boycotted a parliamentary election later in 2000. Gbagbo’s victory did not merely anger northern supporters of Ouattara. The Baoulé, previously the politically dominant Ivorian group, were also displeased with the Gbagbo regime, reflecting Baoulé-Bété tension over land rights in southwestern Ivory Coast.

Map of the Ivory Coast Civil WarAt the end of the millennium, the political situation in Ivory Coast was spiraling out of control, but the decisive break did not come until September 2002, when northern troops mutinied, demanding an end to the doctrine of Ivoirité. The rebelling troops soon gained control of the entire northern half of the country, basing themselves in Bouaké, located in the northern Baoulé region. The Baoulé zone was itself split by the war, as the government remained centered in Yamoussoukro, Houphouët-Boigny’s natal village that had been transformed into the national capital. A U.N.-mandated, French-enforced buffer zone (zone de confiance) soon stretched across the country, cutting through Baoulé territory between the rival capitals.

Map of the conflict between Ivory Coast and FranceFrench peacekeepers were themselves eventually drawn into the fighting. Both sides mistrusted French intentions, but the break occurred with the governmental forces. In 2004, Gbagbo ordered an aerial bombardment of the rebel capital of Bouaké, during which a French base was also bombed, killing nine French troops and injuring more than thirty. The Ivorian government claimed that the assault was accidental, but France disagreed. In response, it destroyed the Ivorian air force. Anti-French riots then broke out in Abidjan, provoking another French military response, which took twenty to sixty Ivorian lives. Although Paris reestablished normal relations with the Ivorian government after the official end of the Civil War in 2007, relations with the Gbagbo regime remained icy. Anti-French rhetoric played a significant role in Gbagbo’s unsuccessful 2010 re-election bid. Gbagbo’s subsequent downfall intensified anti-French sentiments across most of southern Ivory Coast—and in neighboring Ghana as well. Critics accuse France of playing a neo-colonial role, manipulating Ivorian politics for its own benefit; supporters counter that French forces have sought only to maintain order by allowing the will of the Ivorian people to be realized.

Ivory Coast continues to face major challenges. Suspicions run deep, and impartial arbiters—whether Ivorian or foreign—are not easily found. Although Ouattara did win the election, it is important to recall that he received just thirty-two percent of the vote in the first round, as opposed to Gbagbo’s thirty-eight percent; in that contest, both candidates were rejected by the powerful Baoulé block in favor of its own favorite son, former president Henri Bédié. Although the Baoulé districts voted for Ouattara in the final round, support remained hesitant and dissatisfaction runs deep. If Ivory Coast is to successfully rebuild its economy, some degree of ethnic reconciliation will be necessary. Whether it is achievable remains to be seen.  Much depends on the evolving attitudes of the Baoulé, the ethnic group that once dominated the country, and which today occupies the middle ground between Ivory Coast’s Muslim-majority north and its Christian-majority south.


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Electoral Politics and Religious Strife in Nigeria

Map of Nigeria's 2011 Presidential Election

Map of Nigeria's 2011 Presidential ElectionFor the past week, GeoCurrents has demonstrated that the conflict in Ivory Coast cannot be reduced to a simple north/south, Muslim/Christian split. This kind of broad cleavage is more apparent in Nigeria, as shown by its recent election. But even in Nigeria, the contrast between a Muslim north and a Christian south is not as simple as it may appear. As in Ivory Coast, religious adherence in Nigeria is an uncertain matter. Most sources claim that the country has slightly more Muslims than Christians. Wikipedia puts the breakdown at 50.4 percent Muslim, 48.2 percent Christian, and 1.4 percent “other”; the CIA World Factbook states that 50 percent of Nigerians are Muslim, 40 percent Christian, and ten percent “indigenous.”

Map of Ethnic Groups in NigeriaAs these numbers suggest, Nigeria’s religiously indigenous population is proportionally smaller than that of Ivory Coast, although both sources quoted above probably understate it. Indigenous religion is especially prominent among the Yoruba of the southwest, one of the country’s main ethnic groups. Yoruba Religion may actually be expanding in Nigeria; its South American off-shoot, Candomblé, is certainly thriving in Brazil. Nonetheless, Islam is deeply entrenched in the north, and Christianity is dominant in the southeast. Southwestern Nigeria is mixed, with substantial Christian, Muslim, and Yoruba Religion communities, as is much of the central zone. Religious strife has long been most intense in the middle area and in the northern cities, where substantial Christian minorities reside. Despite the religious heterogeneity of Yorubaland, the region has seen relatively little conflict, in part because it is relatively homogeneous in terms of language and ethnicity.

Map of Sharia in NigeriaThe northern focus of Islam in Nigeria is clearly visible on the map of Sharia in the country. Since 1999, Nigeria’s constituent states have been permitted to institute Islamic Law as the basis of local civil and criminal court procedures. All twelve northern states have done so—nine over their entire expanse, and three over large areas with Muslim majorities. Today, the geography of Sharia cleanly cleaves Nigeria’s north from its south.

So too does the electoral map. On April 16, 2011, Nigeria’s incumbent president—Christian southerner Goodluck Jonathan—trounced his main Muslim opponent, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, by fifty-nine to thirty-two percent. Every state in the Sharia belt gave a majority of its votes to Buhari; almost every other state massively rejected him. In partially Islamic southwestern Osun, the majority of votes went to another Muslim candidate, the anti-corruption stalwart Nuhu Ribadu. Ribadu polled well across Yorubaland and in parts of the country’s midsection, but he received only 5.4 percent of the votes nationally, and did even worse in the solidly Muslim north. (For returns by state, see Electoral Politics 2.0.)

Goodluck Jonathan crushed all other candidates across the southeast, receiving more than ninety-five percent of the vote in nine states, and more than ninety-eight percent in six. Jonathan also did surprising well over much the north, winning not just Christian votes. In the solidly Muslim state of Jigawa, he was favored by 36.7 percent of the voters.

But if many Muslim northerners were willing to vote for the Christian candidate, others were not willing to accept his victory. By all reports, the Nigerian election was relatively clean and calm, but the aftermath across much of the north was stormy. Post-election violence, directed mainly against Christians, may have taken 500 lives. In the north-central state of Kaduna, one estimate claims that 14,000 Christian fled their homes; in Katsina state, Buhari’s homeland, sixty-five churches have been burned or otherwise damaged, according to Christian sources.

The post-election carnage in northern Nigeria has been ascribed to several factors. Some sources emphasize high youth unemployment and the economic marginalization of the north. Christian sources point to radical Muslim leaders, arguing that the spasm of violence was not a case of “spontaneous combustion” but part of a planned campaign. Some Muslim activists stress anger over possible electoral fraud, dumbfounded that a supposedly Muslim-majority country would cast fifty-nine percent of its votes for a Christian candidate. Another source of anger was the supposed violation of the unwritten rules of Nigerian politics, which hold that Christians and Muslims must alternate in the presidency. This policy had been upended when the previous incumbent, Muslim leader Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, died in office before serving his full term. Yar’Adua was succeeded by vice-president Goodluck Jonathan, whose subsequent incumbency, some say, gave him an unfair advantage in the 2011 election.

Assuming that the election results were accurate, several issues call for further investigation. Why did Jonathan poll as well as he did in the north, winning a substantial minority of Muslim votes? Why did southern Muslims decisively reject the main Muslim candidate, Buhari, and why did northern Muslims equally rebuff the Muslim reformer, Ribadu? Tempting as it may be to delve into these issues, our next post will return to Ivory Coast before GeoCurrents moves on to another part of the world.

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The Demographic Dimensions of the Conflict in Ivory Coast

Map of population density in West Africa, 1960

Map of population density in West Africa, 1960Migration has played a major role in Ivory Coast’s recent troubles. As immigrants from neighboring countries have moved in, Ivorian nativists have reacted by seeking to exclude foreigners—and their children—from citizenship. Such anti-immigrant attitudes and resulting policies have in turn provoked both migrant communities and members of related ethnic groups living in northern Ivory Coast. As roughly seventy percent of immigrants are estimated to follow Islam, the conflict is often framed in religious terms. Non-Muslim immigrants from other African countries, however, find themselves in the same position as Muslim ones. Internal population transfers within Ivory Coast, moreover, have generated similar and equally severe conflicts, again regardless of the religious persuasion of the migrants in question.

At the time of independence in 1960, Ivory Coast was a lightly populated land, with only three and a half million people living in an area slightly larger than Italy. As the Ivorian economy boomed through the 1960s and 1970s, propelled by cacao and other tropical plantation crops, the demand for labor surged. To meet labor needs, the government of Félix Houphouët-Boigny (president from 1960 to 1993) encouraged migration, both from neighboring Francophone countries and internally within Ivory Coast. During the boom years, immigrants and sojourners also came from more distant places. From 1960 to 1980, the French population of Ivory Coast doubled, rising from 30,000 to 60,000. Lebanese arrived in even greater numbers. By the late 1980s, as many as 300,000 people from Lebanon and Syria had settled in the country. Through the 1970s, the Ivorian government encouraged this influx, valuing the entrepreneurial skills of the Lebanese migrants. In late 2010 and early 2011, however, thousands of Lebanese fled the country after their community was targeted by militia groups, supposedly for meddling  in Ivorian affairs

Map of population density in West Africa, 1990Population distribution maps help illuminate the dynamics of migration in Ivory Coast and neighboring countries. As the first map shows, settlement in 1960 was sparse across northern Ivory Coast, yet was significantly thicker across the border in Mali and especially in Burkina Faso (then called Upper Volta). These inland countries, partially isolated from global commerce, did not share Ivory Coast’s prosperity during the 1960s and ‘70s. As a result, large numbers of northerners, especially Burkinabe (as the people of Burkina Faso are called), streamed southward into the plantation districts and burgeoning cities of southern Ivory Coast. By 1990, the southeast had clearly emerged as the most densely populated part of the country, as is evident in the second map.

Migration patterns within Ivory Coast have also been influenced by population differentials. The 1965 Ivory Coast population map posted here illustrates well the internal demographic patterns shortly after independence. At that time, the southeast was relatively well settled, but the highest population densities were found in the central belt, particularly in the Baoulé heartland around the city of Bouaké. At the time, southwestern Ivory Coast was sparsely settled. To be sure, the Bété core area north of Gagnoa had numerous inhabitants, but few people lived in most other parts of the region.

Map of population density in Ivory Coast, 1965Both to enhance agricultural development in Ivory Coast and to relieve population pressure in densely settled areas, President Houphouët-Boigny encouraged his Baoulé ethnic kin to move into the southwest, promising them rights to the land that they could take under cultivation. In 1967, the government decreed that, “land belongs to the person who cultivates it.” As the Baoulé (along with the Senufo of the north) were reputed to be the country’s best farmers, Baoulé migration was widely associated with rising agricultural production and hence national economic growth.

The economic situation of Ivory Coast changed dramatically after 1980. Cacao prices, like those of many other agricultural and mineral commodities, slumped though 1980s and ‘90s; not until 2011 did the value of cacao—spurred by Ivory Coast’s recent travails—again reach the level seen in the late 1970s. In the 1980s, the Ivorian economy shrank by 28 percent, and it slipped by another 22 percent in the 1990s. At the same time, the country’s population surged, exceeding thirteen million in 1991 (it is now over twenty million). Ivorian birth rates remained exceedingly high through the 1970s, at almost eight children per woman. The country’s total fertility rate began to drop in the 1980s, but at roughly four children per woman it still stands well above the replacement level.

The combination of population growth, migration, and economic decline sparked widespread ethnic conflicts by the 1990s. The southwest emerged as a particular hotspot, as Bété indigenes clashed with Baoulé migrants, a conflict that has nothing to do with Ivory Coast’s north/south and Muslim/Christian divides. A 2005 Christian Science Monitor article does a good job of covering strife in the region that took an estimated 123 lives in that year:

Village official Stefan Kouassi talks of a “persistent tension” between his settler community of Yaokro and the indigenous villagers from Briéhoua. Yaokro was established in 1967 by 30 families from the Baoulé ethnic group who had migrated from central Ivory Coast. But Briéhoua’s people are from the Bete tribe and see themselves as the ultimate owners of the land, on the basis of centuries-old ancestral tradition. Celine Koukou Ahou, an ethnic Baoulé from Yaokro, says she can no longer sell food in the main local market because of harassment. ‘They [the Betes] say the land is theirs – that we should go back to where we came from.” … Betes throughout their southwestern home region echo the anti-settler sentiment. “The foreigners didn’t even ask permission from anyone” to take farmland, says Oubon Andre Okrou, the chief of nearby Gra-Zie village. “Now there are youths here who don’t have anywhere to farm.” In the southwest, the term “foreigner” is used for anyone outside of the region – whether Ivorian or not.

The article notes that tensions in the Bété country had been exacerbated by the Ivorian Civil War. Even though the area is well south of the military fault line that temporarily (2002-2007) split the country, the war forced many people to return to their natal villages, intensifying local ethnic struggles. The civil war itself will form the next and final topic in this series of posts on unrest in Ivory Coast.

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Historical Roots of the Crisis in Ivory Coast

Political Units in West Africa, 1750

Political Units in West Africa, 1750The entangled roots of the recent crisis in Ivory Coast extend back to the pre-colonial period. For several hundred years before the imposition of French rule in the late 1800s, the area now known as Ivory Coast contained both relatively centralized, hierarchical kingdoms and decentralized societies organized around kinship lineages. The kingdoms were located in the east and the north, associated with centers of state-formation outside of the boundaries of current-day Ivory Coast. Those in the north were linked to the Muslim kingdoms of the Sahel, particularly the great medieval empire of Mali. Those in the east were associated with the Akan people, whose Ashante Empire dominated most of what is now Ghana.

Much of Ivory Coast was a backwater relative to the more important core zones of West African trade and political consolidation. The southwest was characterized by small-scale societies with little integration beyond the village level. The entire coastal region, moreover, engaged in much less trade with Europeans than areas further to the east. The “Ivory Coast” was a good location for tusks until local elephant herds were exhausted in the early 1700s, but it lacked harbors suitable for European ships. The eastern coastal strip was cut off from its hinterland by surf-pounded barrier islands, behind which lay a complex network of lagoons and swamps. The western coast was also largely by-passed by European merchants. Due to its relative isolation, the Ivory Coast suffered much less from the slave trade than Ghana or Nigeria, although local residents were sometimes recruited or enslaved to serve on ships. In fact, some scholars suggest that the linguistic term “Kru” was derived from the English word “crew.”

Map of pre-colonial polities in Ivory CoastThe 17th and 18th centuries saw important political changes. Mali was essentially finished by 1600, but the heritage of centralized authority, along with strong Islamic institutions, persisted in the north. By the early 1700s, the Kong Empire, founded by members of the Dyula trading diaspora with roots in Mali, was spreading its power over both Muslim and animist peoples of the north-center. The undated Wikipedia map (in French) of pre-colonial polities shows a series of seemingly equivalent kingdoms (royaumes) across the north, but none could compare with Kong. (The so-called “Senoufo kingdom” is more aptly classified as a cluster of chiefdoms.) Significant transformation also marked the east, where the expanding Ashante Empire forced out Akan groups that refused to submit. Fleeing to what is now Ivory Coast, the Akan spread both their languages and their political systems, based on royal authority and social hierarchy. (On the Wikipedia map, the five Akan kingdoms are coded in blue.) The strongest of these kingdoms turned out to be that of the Baoulé people, who resisted French rule strenuously in the late 1800s. The Baoulé emerged out of a union of Akan immigrants and the indigenous population of the central region. Baoulé institutions deviated from Akan norms in several respects, which enhanced local ethnic solidarity—one of the key ingredients of Baoulé political success in the post-colonial period.

In sum, before the establishment of French power in the 1880s and 1890s, the two zones of state-level organization in Ivory Coast were highly distinctive. The northern states—although not all of the northern peoples—were Muslim, closely linked to Islamic trade networks and scholarly circles based in the Sahel and stretching across the Sahara. The eastern kingdoms, by contrast, were animist in religion, and had a social heritage of matrilineal organization (tracing descent through the female line). They also had much closer links to European merchants.

The expansion of French imperial power at the end of the 1800s brought vast changes, creating Ivory Coast as a political unit. In doing so, it cut through the territories of indigenous states and ethnic groups all along its borders. French authority also rearranged the power dynamics of the entire region, enhancing the significance of the southeast while undermining that of the north.

Map of Education in Ivory Coast, 1960Map of economic development in Ivory Coast, 1960sThroughout the colonial period (1893-1960), French influence tilted to the south and especially the southeast. In part this was a simple matter of proximity to the colonial settlements on the coast, especially Abidjan. But it is also true that southern (and especially southeastern) Ivorians took to French education more readily than northerners. Education in the north had long been linked to Islam, encouraging cultural resistance to the Europeans. As can be seen in the map, primary school attendance had reached more than 70 percent over much of the southeast by the end of the colonial period, yet the rate was below twenty percent in the northwest. Economic development acted as another wedge. As cacao emerged as Ivory Coast’s economic mainstay, the north lost out, being climatically unsuited to the crop. As the cartoonish economic map posted here shows, most modern commercial activities were concentrated in the greater southeast. Colonial engineering further accentuated the divide, as France embarked on a massive project in 1936 (completed in 1950) to cut though the sand bars and barrier islands and thus link the lagoons to the sea. As recounted in the 1966 work, Africa, a New Geographical Survey*:

This Vridi Canal is [1.75] miles long, 1,000 yards wide, and the channel and lagoon give a 45-foot depth for shipping. The economic effect was immediate: trade increased threefold, a range of industries became attracted, and Abidjan’s population (24,000 in 1937) is now well over 200,000.

French colonial developments thus enhanced the positions of Kwa-speaking peoples of the southwest, including the centralized Akan peoples of the inland zone and the lineage-based Lagoon Complex along the coast. With independence in 1960, predominant political power passed to the Baoulé people of the center, with the greater southeast retaining economic primacy. The north (and to a lesser extent the southwest) remained marginalized.

Such political and economic dynamics were to play a major role in the unrest that engulfed the Ivory Coast after the turn of the millennium. The Kwa-speaking peoples of the southeast had come occupy most positions of power, and they tended to look down on the poorer residents of the north as well as the tribal peoples of the southwest. Northerners, in turn, felt excluded and marginalized, a situation  especially galling to those whose ancestries linked them to the great Muslim empires and trading circuits on the past, and whose Islamic educations counted for little in the new country’s halls of power. After independence, massive migration streams from north to south and from the center to the southwest would further upset the precarious post-colonial balance, as we shall explore in the next post.

*by Alan Mountjoy and Clifford Embleton. New York: Praeger

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Global Inequality: Where is it Found?

Poverty and inequality are contentious topics whose geography is often oversimplified. When many people think of extreme poverty and aid, they often focus on Sub-Saharan Africa, but global inequality and poverty are much more complex issues. Overall, it is increasingly apparent that a country-based framework that generalizes levels of income over entire national territories is inadequate, as inequality exists in at a variety of spatial scales. In many parts of the world, inequality is increasingly experienced at local levels.

In The New Geography of Global Income Inequality, Glenn Firebaugh makes several key claims with regards to global trends in income disparity. He focuses on two components of income inequality: between-country inequality, and within-country inequality. I previously explored the challenges of measuring income disparity, but Firebaugh uses different statistical methods to successfully demonstrate that inter-country inequality has declined recently, whereas intra-country inequality has dramatically increased.

Currently, inter-country income inequality accounts for approximately two-thirds of total global inequality. However, this figure is decreasing as many poorer countries are experiencing more rapid economic growth than wealthier countries. This trend leads to gradual convergence and hence less disproportion of wealth between countries. As can be seen from the PPP per capita GDP map above, between-country inequality exhibits distinct world regional patterns, but disparity within regions is also notable.

As The New Geography of Global Income Inequality acknowledges, much of both the decline in inter-country inequality and the increase in intra-country inequality stem from China’s recent economic development and parallel growth in internal wealth variation. With around one sixth of the world’s population, China significantly affects global levels of income inequality. During and immediately after the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), China had relatively high levels of income equality: in 1978 its Gini index was even around 0.3. Although China was extremely poor at this time its population was fairly equally impoverished. Due both to China’s large population and its extreme deprivation, its standing at this time significantly heightened inter-nation disparities. With industrialization and the movement to market-based economics, China grew much wealthier, but its newfound riches have not been equally distributed, greatly increasing inequality within the country. China is thus a major factor in, and a great example of, the shift from inter-country inequality to intra-country inequality.

The general trends of inequality in China are similar to those found in many other countries. China has regional divides, rural and urban splits, as well as a significant urban underclass in the cities as well. Geocurrents has previously explored the regional differences within China itself, noting that the coastal provinces are significantly better off than provinces inland. However, it is important to note (as Geocurrents has), that even within the coastal provinces large economic distinction are found between different provinces. The rural/urban divide adds a separate layer of inequality in both coastal and inland provinces. The urban areas, on average, are much wealthier than rural areas, across all provinces. China’s hukou system of laws, moreover, seeks to prevent rural people from moving to cities unless they have official documentation. This system not only contributes to the inequality between urban and rural areas, but it also results in large migrant populations of undocumented rural workers in Chinese cities, generating rapidly increasing inequality and a large urban underclass in cities across China. Even though major Chinese cities have experienced breathtaking growth and are generally much wealthier than rural areas, a large portion of their population remains in severe poverty. The development of China has thus been linked with increasing inequality across the country, and has become a cause for concern within China.

China, as the world’s most populous country, exhibits high levels of economic differentiation, as is explored by this selection of interactive maps from the Economist. China is a good example of how increasing development is leading to greater intra-country disparities across the world. As China continues to economically expand, more areas of the country will become similar to the well-developed regions of Western Europe and the United States, symbolic of decreasing differences between countries. However, there will likely continue to be an increase of inequality within China, visible from multiple viewpoints, from the macro perspective across regions to the micro scale of individual cities and their neighborhoods.

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Ethnic Dimensions of the Conflict in Ivory Coast

Map of Ethnic Groups in Ivory Coast

Map of Ethnic Groups in Ivory CoastCareful map analysis reveals that the conflict in Ivory Coast cannot be reduced to a split between the Muslim north and Christian south, as is routinely suggested in the press. But it is structured around ethnic differences that have religious aspects. Today’s post seeks to demonstrate the struggle’s cultural parameters by comparing maps of electoral returns from the 2010 presidential election with those depicting Ivory Coast’s ethnic geography.

Before examining maps of the 2010 election, it is worth revisiting the basic ethnic divisions of Ivory Coast. Ivorian ethnicity is a complex matter, as the country has an estimated sixty-plus distinct ethno-linguistic groups. Most maps thus simplify the situation, as was the case with the Wikipedia map posted yesterday. Further simplification is useful for revealing role of ethnicity in the 2010 election. The map posted here highlights both broad, linguistically defined cultural divisions as well as the most politically charged ethnic groups. (For further explanation of the map, see the comments at the bottom of this post.*)

Map of the Ivory Coast Election, Round 1Thanks to the efforts of Electoral Politics 2.0, detailed maps of the 2010 Ivorian presidential election are readily available. Posted on the left is the pattern of the first round, in which only four of fourteen candidates garnered more than two percent of the vote. A quick comparison of this map with that of ethnic territories reveals close correlations. To highlight those connections, the next map abstracts areas in which one candidate scored an overwhelming victory in the first round (winning more than 70 percent of the vote) and overlays them on a lightened version of the ethnic map. Major candidates’ own ethnicity is also color coded; thus the areas that voted overwhelmingly for Laurent Gbagbo, who is Bété, are marked with diagonal purple lines, echoing the purple used to depict the Bété region, and so on.

Map of ethnic groups and electoral returns, Ivory CoastLayering in this way reveals several interesting patterns. For starters, three of the top four vote-getters fully dominated the election in their own ethnic homelands. The central Baoulé people, long Ivory Coast’s politically dominant group, voted overwhelmingly for their own candidate, Henri Konan Bédié, a former president of the country (1993-1999). Bédié, who had been accused of “stratospheric levels of corruption” while in office, polled reasonably well throughout southern and northeastern Ivory Coast, but not in the northwest and north-center. Those regions were dominated by Alassane Ouattara, of Dyula paternal descent, who won more than 70 percent of the vote even in animist Senufo country. Ouattra polled fairly well in most of the rest of the country, but in the Baoulé heartland he received less than ten percent of the vote. Finally, Albert Mabri trounced all other candidates in the relatively small area occupied by the Dan. The Dan are one of the “peripheral Mande” peoples; although their language is in the Mande group, they lack the heritage of political centralization found among the Malinke and they are largely non-Muslim. Although a small group, the Dan have played a significant role in Ivorian politics, largely due to the career of Robert Guéï. (Guéï was a military leader of Ivory Coast who became the country’s third president after the violent overthrow of Henri Bédié in 1999; he and his family were killed in the opening hours of the Ivorian Civil War in 2002.)

The geography of support for the incumbent, by contrast, did not follow the pattern of the other candidates. Laurent Gbagbo carried the major districts of his Bété-speaking homeland, but not decisively; he took only half of the votes, with Ouattara and Bédié splitting the rest. The Bété region is home to large numbers of immigrants from other parts of the country, most of whom likely cast their ballots their own ethnic “favorite sons.” But Gbagbo did crush the other candidates across most of the southeast, the economic heartland of Ivory Coast as well as its most Christian region. He also did extremely well in some of the non-Muslim Mande areas of the west.

Overall, one could say that the voting patterns in the first round of the 2010 Ivorian election reveal low levels of national cohesion. In democracies with high cohesion, political parties compete across all regions, contending for votes on the basis of ideological and policy differences rather than ethnic solidarity or regional favoritism. To be sure, some parts of Ivory Coast did exhibit balanced voting in the first round. In the Zanzan region of the far northeast, Bédié received 30 percent of the vote, Gbagbo 36 percent, and Ouattara 26 percent. In the extreme southwest as well, all three candidates polled reasonably well. Significantly, both areas are marked by high levels of ethnic diversity, populated by small groups that have not been able to stake a claim in national politics.

Map of Ivory Coast Election The final round of voting was limited to the two top contenders: Ouattara, who received 32 percent of the vote in the first round, and Gbago, who got 38 percent (Bédié had received 25 percent). It was a foregone conclusion that Ouattara would triumph in the northwest and the north-center, and that Gbagbo would win in the economically vital southeast. The contest really came down to the Baoulé core, a region that had spurned both Ouattara and Gbagbo in the first round. Recall that the Baoulé are a partly Christian but mostly animist group that dominated Ivorian political life for the first four decades of independence. As Ouattara is usually said to represent the hitherto largely excluded northern and Muslim elements of Ivory Coast, one might have expected the Baoulé to rally around his opponent. But that did not happen. Bédié eventually threw his support to Ouattara, who captured the Baoulé region decisively in the final election. To clarify the relationship between ethnicity and voting in the final round, the last map depicts the districts won by Gbagbo overlain on the map of ethnic divisions. As this exercise reveals, Gbagbo took most of southern Ivory Coast, crushingly so in a number of districts, but he failed in the Baoulé heartland. Why this happened is a question for another post.


Ivory Coast ethnic election map(*The GeoCurrents ethnic map of Ivory Coast first partitions the country into four linguistically based divisions, indicating with coloration the zones in which local languages fall into the Gur, Kwa, Kru, and Mande sub-families of the Niger-Congo language phylum. It also distinguishes the most important ethnic group within each of these broad divisions with a darker shade of the same color: Baoulé (Kwa), Bété (Kru), Malinke (Mande), and Senufo (Gur). Several other groups are noted with labels only: the Dyula (closely linked to the Malinke), the Dan, the Akan complex of ethnicities (which is sometime defined as including the Baoulé), and the so-called Lagoon complex in the southern Kwa region. Ivory Coast’s most important cities are also shown. Note that the ethnic territories so depicted are by no means absolute, as widespread migration has resulted in considerable mixing in many areas—one of the main factors in the recent unrest.  Note also that some linguists think that the Senufo dialects form their own language family, rather than belonging to the Gur group.)

Ethnic Dimensions of the Conflict in Ivory Coast Read More »

Religious Complexity in Ivory Coast

Map of Islam in Ivory Coast

Map of Islam in Ivory CoastAs we saw in the previous post, great uncertainty surrounds the demography of religion in Ivory Coast. Even basic figures on religious adherence are subject to heated debate.

While most sources estimate the country’s Muslim population at thirty-five to forty percent, others put it at more than sixty percent, arguing that Muslims in the south conceal their faith for fear of discrimination, and that the large and mostly Muslim immigrant population is systematically undercounted. Christian sources give much lower numbers, while stressing the Islamic community’s rapid growth. The two camps tend to concur, however, in discounting Ivory Coast’s sizable animist (or religiously “indigenous”) population. The CIA World Factbook pegs the animist population at only twelve percent, claiming that seventeen percent of Ivorians are without religion—an unbelievably high figure for an African country, and one that no doubt understates traditional beliefs and practices.* The Wikipedia puts the animist population at 25-40 percent; others claim that it constitutes the country’s majority. One Ivorian website gives the following break-down: “12% Christian, 25% Muslim, and
63% Traditional Beliefs”— numbers seconded by a Christian missionary organization. Missionaries on the ground also report relatively low figures of Christian adherence among Ivory Coast’s largest ethnic group, the Baoulé, who are often described as Christian. According to the detailed Joshua Project, only 34 percent of the Baoulé follow Christianity, with a solid majority retaining indigenous beliefs. Yet if Wikipedia is to be believed, the main urban settlement of the Baoulé has a Muslim majority.

As intrinsic problem with all such estimates is the prevalence of syncretism, or religious mixing. Many Ivorians are nominally Muslim or Christian yet remain profoundly animist in outlook and practices. It is relatively easy to convert to a universalistic religion such as Islam; following its precepts with fidelity is something else again. A knowledgeable acquaintance once described neighboring Guinea as “ninety percent Muslim and ninety percent animist,” a joke that nonetheless conveys a grain of truth.

Map of Dyula trade networkAcross West Africa, mapping religion is extraordinarily difficult. Not only is basic demographic data spotty, but communities of faith are often spatially interspersed. Ivory Coast in particular has experienced massive migration in recent decades, enhancing local diversity. In several parts of the country, migrants have streamed primarily into towns, heightening the differences between urban places and the countryside. Yet large-scale movements of people resulting in religious and ethnic dispersion is nothing new. Islam spread into much of Ivory Coast through the trading diaspora of the Dyula (Jula), a Mandé-speaking group (historically linked to the great medieval Empire of Mali) who established a network of mercantile centers through much of West Africa. Some of their trading hubs evolved into the core areas of Dyula states that ruled diverse populations. The prime example of such a Dyula state was the Kong Empire (1710-1895) of northeastern Ivory Coast, founded by Seku Wattara (Ouattara) and led by the Ouattara clan, forebears of current Ivorian president, Alassane Ouattara. Other Dyula settlements, such as Bondoukou in eastern Ivory Coast, developed into centers of Islamic scholarship. Bondoukou today is a highly mixed city, noted for its “one thousand” mosques. As described by Wikipedia:

The walled old city (Medina) includes ethnic neighbourhoods from far flung groups who originally came to the area as part of long distance trade networks. These include the Donzoso of the Donzo-Ouattara Dyula (related to the warrior Ouattara clans of the Kong Empire), the Jiminiso/Limamso of the Timité Dyula (which is home to the most prominent Muslim schools), the Hausa merchant town quarter of Malagaso, as well as the mostly Christian Bambaraso quarter.

Bondoukou has been relatively peaceful in recent years, but its surrounding countryside has seen bitter ethnic conflicts between the indigenous Kulango farmers and immigrant Lobi, semi-pastoralists from the north. Both of these groups (spelled “Loba” and “Koulango” on the Wikipedia map posted above) are primarily animist.

Wikipedia map of ethnic groups in Ivory CoastAs a result of such complexities, few cartographers have tried to depict the geography of religion in Ivory Coast. The most commonly employed map is a 1987 effort that shows the extent of Islam throughout Africa, mapping both “predominantly Muslim” areas and areas with “significant Muslim minorities.” Despite its ubiquity on the internet, the map is flawed. It portrays several religiously plural areas as if they had clear Muslim majorities (such as southeastern Nigeria), while ignoring areas with significant Muslim minorities (such as the Cape region of South Africa). But as it is the only widely available map on the topic, it is worthwhile to examine how it represents Islam in Ivory Coast.

As one can see in the detail posted here, only a swath of northwestern Ivory Coast is depicted as primarily Muslim, while a slightly smaller area to the northeast is shown as having a significant Muslim minority. Comparisons with other maps suggest that both areas were likely delimited on the basis of ethnicity. The “predominantly Muslim” area corresponds closely to the territory of the Malinke (Mandinka) people, which is indeed appropriate (although the 1973 Area Handbook for Ivory Coast refers to the Malinke as “semi-Moslem” [p. 73]). Missing from the category, however, is the land of the closely related and strongly Muslim Dyula further to the east (“Diolua” on the map), located in the core of the old Kong Empire. The portrayal of the zone with a significant Muslim minority is also misleading. Here the cartographer apparently traced the outlines of the Senufo (Senoufo) people. Yet the Wikipedia describes the Senufo as “very animistic,” and a number of websites focused on traditional arts similarly depict them as devoted to their old religion. Christian missionary sites generally claim that a quarter of the Senufo have embraced Islam, and that the number is rapidly increasing. Wealthier Senufo, it is sometimes claimed, gravitate to the social norms of the Malinke, and thus convert. All told, mapping “Senufo-land” in Ivory Coast as having a significant Muslim minority is probably fitting. But the many other parts of Ivory Coast with important Muslim minorities have so far escaped cartographic depiction.

As mentioned in the previous post, the mainstream press often sidesteps Ivory Coast’s religious divisions, presumably for fear of reducing a complex problem to a simplistic “clash of faiths” model. An April 14th, 2011 New York Times profile of Alassane Ouattara does not even mention his Muslim faith, although it does allow that “Mr. Ouattara is from the largely Muslim north — which has been a de facto separate country from the Christian south since the 2002 civil war.” As we have seen, only parts of northern Ivory Coast are “largely Muslim.” Nor can one accurately depict the south as “Christian,” as it contains sizable populations of both animists and Muslims. The Le Monde article on African reactions to events in Ivory Coast referenced in the previous post is also misleading on this score. Here the author claims that Ghanaian opposition to French involvement in Ivory Coast “no doubt” stems from Ghana’s own experience with “peaceful, democratically sound elections.” Opposition to Western interference in African affairs, however, runs rather deeper than that. It is also noteworthy that Ghana has a solid Christian majority, and that the people of southeastern Ivory Coast, ethnic kin of the dominant Akan population across the border in Ghana, voted heavily in 2010 for the recently deposed former president, Laurent Gbagbo, as we shall see in tomorrow’s post.

*The CIA’s numbers, moreover, are absurdly precise: Muslim 38.6%, Christian 32.8%, indigenous 11.9%, none 16.7% [2008 est.].

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Disparate Interpretations—and Misinterpretations—of the Conflict in Ivory Coast

Map of the Division of Ivory Coast in 2007

Map of the Division of Ivory Coast in 2007Understandings of the recent conflict in Ivory Coast (officially, Republic of Côte d’Ivoire) vary significantly among different sectors of the news media. Mainstream sources in the United States often mention the Ivorian Civil War of 2002-07 that effectively divided the country in two (see map), but they focus primarily on the presidential election of 2010, which the defeated incumbent Laurent Gbagbo refused to honor. The framework applied is generally one of political obstruction and transformation, with Gbagbo representing the old order of unaccountable African strongmen, and election-winner Alassane Ouattara depicted as upholding democratic rule and responsible governance. In this reading, honoring the verdict of the Ivorian people required the military intervention of France, with the approval of the United Nations. Reports from the African press, however, present a much less sympathetic picture of Western military involvement. As detailed in a recent Le Monde article (translated and reprinted in The Guardian), journalists in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Senegal welcomed the downfall of Gbagbo but not the foreign intervention that ended his rule. Ghanaian and Cameroonian newspapers, on the other hand, more often denounced the regime change as a French neo-imperial power-grab, stressing the atrocities allegedly committed by Ouattara’s forces. Ghanaian reportage can indeed be harsh, as demonstrated in a recent GhanaWeb post—which may set a record for the most lavish use of exclamation marks in an article:

Right now, the elected president according to Ivorian law has been kidnapped by the French and Ouattara’s men and, there is no outrage! No pride! Very few men of integrity who have spoken out!! All of this while in essence a precedent has been set which states that in Africa our laws don’t matter! Our constitutions are toilet paper, and if the west does not back who wins their UN neocolonial army will bomb you out of power!!!!

Despite differing interpretations, the mainstream media, whether in the United States or Africa, tend to frame the conflict as one of national party politics and international geopolitical maneuvering, downplaying ethnic and religious dimensions. Religion, however, is emphasized in certain highly partisan segments of the media, which see the contest as one between Christianity (Gbagbo) and Islam (Ouattara). Here France again gets singled out for censure, though for opposite reasons in different quarters. Muslim reporters have long castigated France for supporting Ivorian Christians while thwarting its Muslim population; today’s anti-Islamic websites denounce France for supporting Ivorian Muslims and thwarting its Christian population.

A 2000 Islam for Today article lays out the former perspective most explicitly. According to its author, Muslims constitute sixty percent of the Ivorian population, yet have been systematically excluded from the government. Instead, up to the turn of the millennium, “power has rotated among the Christian Baoule people of central and eastern Ivory Coast, who account for about 22% of the 16 million citizens…” France, the author contends, was largely to blame: “The Islam-phobic French empowered the mainly Christian Baoule at the cost of the Muslim majority. Today, the country’s Muslims are determined to reclaim their due.”

Anti-Muslim websites dispute the direction of French favoritism, while agreeing about Muslim designs and French perfidy. A recent posting in the hard-right website Atlas Shrugs claims, “We are witnessing an Islamic takeover of the Ivory Coast. And the French (and the UN, US, and Europe) are helping them. Sick.” The post further contends that Ivory Coast is “about to toggle” from being a Christian-majority country to a Muslim-majority country, largely because of unrestrained, illegal immigration from Muslim lands to the north. Such commentators often denounce the close personal ties between the French political elite and both Ouattara and his Algerian-born French wife, Dominique Folloroux-Ouattara—although rumors that Nicolas Sarkozy himself presided over the couple’s wedding are apparently not true.

As the disparate figures used in these articles indicate, the religious demography of Ivory Coast is highly debatable. Overall, the entire conflict is much more complex than is indicated by most recent media reports. Religion does play a role, but so do a number of other factors. GeoCurrents will thus delve into the Ivorian situation over the next week, examining maps of ethnic identity, religious adherence, electoral returns, and migration flows in hopes of bringing some clarity to an intricate, murky, and important situation.

Disparate Interpretations—and Misinterpretations—of the Conflict in Ivory Coast Read More »

Difficulties Calculating Inequality and the Gini Coefficient

Gini Index for Countries around the World in 2009

Gini Index for Countries around the World in 2009

Global and local inequality has been a major topic of debate, leading to many attempts to quantify income disparity. The Gini Coefficient is the best-known measure of inequality, but it has its flaws, as do all inequality measurements.

A popular measurement of economic inequality focuses on variations in income among people in a state. Since no country has perfect equality, the question becomes one of calculating how unequal a particular society is. Various formulas have been devised to measure the difference between the average income and the distribution of earnings. At the end, a single number is used to represent a nation’s level of inequality. A good index should take into account several basic rules. For example, the size of the country should not affect the level of inequality. Moreover, the absolute value of income should not change the calculated level of disparity. Finally, if income is transferred from the rich to the poor, the level of inequality should fall.

Numerous challenges are encountered with all proposed formulas. Perhaps the greatest is that of data collection. Average income may be fairly easy to measure, but for any disparity index a detailed data set on income distribution is also required. Such data is often unavailable, especially for poorer countries in which “off the record” transactions are common. As can be noted in the above map, the Gini coefficients of many countries have not been calculated due to the lack of data. Much of sub-Saharan Africa in particular thus remains blank.

A major problem with any index is that of oversimplification. To begin with, absolute and relative levels of inequality are difficult to measure. For example, in most inequality indexes, a hypothetical country with three people with yearly incomes of $750, $1,000, and $20,000 would be counted as having the same level of inequality as a three-person country with incomes of  $75,000, $100,000, and $2 million. In the first case, however, the individuals with incomes of $750 or $1,000 would have little to spend on anything but basic necessities. In contrast, the proportion of income spent on basic necessities in the second country would be relatively low across the board. Although the income variation is encapsulated by the inequality index, effective variation in spending power can be drastically different.

Other aspects of inequality can be hidden via demographics or government policies. The population distribution by age is not factored into any of the available indexes.  Yet a country with many impecunious college students would show relatively high levels of inequality even though the students can be expected to graduate into higher income brackets. Furthermore, government transfers, such as food stamps and other welfare programs, are usually not taken into account, even though they often have important effects on overall inequality. These are just some examples of the problems with reducing a complex situation to a single number: intricacies are lost and such numbers can be misleading.

Despite such intrinsic problems, there is still a great interest in assessing inequality through the use of a simple index. The global standard for calculating income disparity has become the Gini coefficient. As defined by the CIA Factbook, the Gini coefficient is:

“This index measures the degree of inequality in the distribution of family income in a country. The index is calculated from the Lorenz curve, in which cumulative family income is plotted against the number of families arranged from the poorest to the richest. The index is the ratio of (a) the area between a country’s Lorenz curve and the 45 degree helping line to (b) the entire triangular area under the 45 degree line. The more nearly equal a country’s income distribution, the closer its Lorenz curve to the 45 degree line and the lower its Gini index, e.g., a Scandinavian country with an index of 25. The more unequal a country’s income distribution, the farther its Lorenz curve from the 45 degree line and the higher its Gini index, e.g., a Sub-Saharan country with an index of 50. If income were distributed with perfect equality, the Lorenz curve would coincide with the 45 degree line and the index would be zero; if income were distributed with perfect inequality, the Lorenz curve would coincide with the horizontal axis and the right vertical axis and the index would be 100.”

Despite the flaws of the Gini coefficient, it does provide useful insight into the geography of inequality. For example, Latin America has some of the highest Gini levels of any region, which stems from the large disparities present in many countries, especially those with poorer indigenous populations. This contrasts with much of Europe, which has much lower levels of inequality.  In general, countries that have higher levels of economic development have a lower Gini value, but the United States is an exception to this, signifying the relatively high levels of inequality in the US compared to Europe.

However, comparing countries across disparate regions of the world leads to a realization that the Gini index does not tell the full story. For example, New Zealand and India have similar Gini figures, 36.2 and 36.8 respectively (according to the CIA Factbook), but their circumstances are very different. New Zealand, despite having a significant gap between the indigenous Maoris and the population of European descent, has still managed to create an economy with little pronounced poverty and without the levels of extreme wealth found in the United States. India, with its vast population of malnourished people working in servitude, coupled with its sizable population of servant-dependent elites, certainly appears to vastly higher levels of inequality than New Zealand. One would also expect India’s GINI coefficient to have increased markedly in recent years, given its impressive economic growth rate as well as its persistently high levels of absolute poverty. Yet India has seen a surprisingly steady Gini score, potentially casting doubt either on its economic data or on the index itself. Other countries in the same general Gini range, such as Israel and Ghana, are also marked by different kinds of inequality.  Although the Gini Coefficient –like other inequality measurements—can be used broadly to show varying levels of inequality, it is best used in conjunction with other sources of information to gain a better picture of actual disparities.

Finally, the Gini index is merely one of several indices that measure income inequality. The Theil index provides an extra feature in that it is “decomposable,” meaning the inequality score can be broken down into smaller sections, allowing one to discern regional contributions to the measured inequality. As can be seen on the Theil index map of the United States, counties in red contribute drastically to the level of inequality, whereas counties colored black lower the level of inequality. Although the Theil index will always be positive (a value between 0 and 1), certain areas can contribute negatively to the index, signifying such regions lower the overall level of inequality. Despite the benefit of decomposability, the Theil index is little used, as the Gini index remains the standard.


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Mapping Forms of Government in the 18th Century and Today

Forms of government in 18th century Europe

Forms of government in 18th century EuropeAs we have seen, maps from the 18th century typically subdivide Europe in a different manner from historical maps produced today, focusing much less on sovereignty. Cartographers typically divided the region into a dozen or so “countries,” some of which were independent kingdoms and others dependent lands, and one of which was a supranational organization (the Holy Roman Empire). In atlas after atlas, the same divisions employed by Robert de Vaugondy that we examined last week reappear. Minor discrepancies are encountered; some cartographers separated Norway from Denmark and Ireland from Britain, and a few differentiated the southern Low Countries (modern Belgium, essentially) from Germany. By the end of the century, most mapmakers were portraying Prussia as a separate “country,” but only the Prussian lands in the east, not those within the Empire.

Enlightenment-era cartographers seldom explained their criteria for partitioning Europe. In a 1783 introductory text (Atlas des Infans*), however, the system of division is laid out in some detail. Europe, the anonymous mapmaker proclaims, is divided into sixteen pays, (countries), described as the principal states of the region: Portugal, Spain, France, Germany (Roman Empire), Switzerland, Italy, the Low Countries, Great Britain, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Muscovy, Poland, Hungary, Turkey, and Prussia. He further notes that the Italy is “composed of many sovereign states”; as he earlier deemed Italy itself a “principal state,” the mapmaker obviously did not view the state per se as wrapped up with sovereignty.

Despite the criteria that he used for mapping, the author of the Atlas des Infans was concerned with sovereignty, and elsewhere in the text he outlined the sovereign entities of Europe. His main concern here, however, was not to detail all of the many states that might have been regarded as independent, as he ignored hereditary polities with a status below that of a Grand Duchy. His aim was rather to distinguish the varieties of sovereign authority then existing, as all independent states were not regarded as having equal standing. As a result, he carefully distinguished republics from non-republican polities, and then divided the latter category into five distinct forms based on the titles of their sovereigns. Europe, he informed his readers, had one ecclesiastical sovereign (the Pope, ruling the Papal States), three emperors (those of Russia, Germany, and Turkey), eleven kings, one archduke (ruling Austria), and one grand duke (ruling Tuscany).

Most of the kingdoms listed in the Atlas des Infans were also reckoned as countries (pays), but not all. The eleven “kings” of Europe were described as reigning over the kingdoms of France, Spain, England, Portugal, Poland, Denmark, Sweden, Prussia, Bohemia & Hungary, the Two Sicilies, and Sardinia. Although the emphasis was on the personal nature of the monarchies, no mention was made of the fact that the king of “Bohemia and Hungary”—oddly combined here—was also the Archduke of Austria and the Emperor of Holy Roman Empire; as was typical of the time, the jointly ruled collection of states that we refer to as the Hapsburg or Austrian Empire remained invisible. Note also that the “country” (or “principal state”) of Italy was partitioned among two kingdoms, one grand duchy and one ecclesiastical state (as can be seen in the map that I have created based on the political taxonomy laid out in the Atlas des Infans**). Later in the text, the author notes that northern Italy included nine sovereign states and central Italy three more. Most of these states, however, were excluded from the general discussion of Europe, apparently too insignificant to merit discussion.

When it came to republics, the Atlas des Infans was far more comprehensive, including even exiguous San Marino, a sovereign state that still styles itself the “most serene republic.” Of the republics listed, two others were essentially mere city-states, Ragusa (Dubrovnic) and Geneva, and two others city-states that controlled sizable hinterlands, Venice and Genoa. Of the republics listed, only the Swiss Federation and the United Provinces (the Netherlands) also counted as countries or principal states. The extra level of attention given to republics may simply reflect their rarity, but it might also convey concern about this radical departure from the norm of monarchy.

Wikipedia map of forms of governmentModern-day world political maps rarely specify forms of government. What matters today is whether a given state is sovereign, as all sovereign states are regarded as forming equivalent individuals in the global community of nations. Specifying forms of government, moreover, is a surprisingly difficult exercise. The Wikipedia article on the subject does as well as might be expected, but the map that accompanies it, posted here, is of little use. I have on occasion use this map in an classroom exercise, removing the legend and asking students what it could possibly depict—and no one yet has guessed correctly. The problem, as is admitted in the key, is distinguishing the proclaimed form of government from the actual system of governance; that such democracies such as Costa Rica, South Korea, and Chile are classified alongside such non-democratic states such as Belarus, Uzbekistan, and Zimbabwe as “full presidential republics” is more than a little misleading. Iran too falls into the same cartographic category, although in the article that accompanies the map it is also more appropriately classified as a theocracy, along side only the Vatican City. Other discrepancies are also found between map and text. In the article, for example, Qatar is classified as an absolute monarchy, and Egypt as a “military junta state.” In an amusing and euphemistic understatement, the author deems Somalia as a “transitional state,” one in which “the system of government …, is in transition or turmoil and [is] classified with the current direction of change.”

An accurate mapping of the form of government still forces one to bypass sovereignty, as different subdivisions of composite states sometimes have different governmental forms. On the Wikipedia map, non-sovereign Hong Kong and Macao are depicted separately from China, as their governmental systems are completely diffferent. Note also dependencies are mapped separately from the states that hold their sovereignty. Almost all are put in the grey “other” category, yet Greenland is classified, like Denmark, a constitutional monarchy.

The underlying problem with classifying countries by their forms of government is one of pretense, as governments often pretend to be something that they are not. But as regular readers of GeoCurrents have seen, such charades run rampant through most of our schemes of geopolitical classification. As Stanford political scientist Stephen Krasner puts it, sovereignty is “organized hypocrisy.” Perhaps such a situation is to be expected; in the realm of diplomacy, elaborate facades are necessary. When it comes to educational and academic endeavors, however, it is our duty to strip away pretense and try to reveal what lies beneath. As such, it does us little good to pretend that Somalia is a “state in transition,” rather than the collapsed state barely hanging onto life through international support that it actually is.

*Atlas des enfans; ou, Nouvelle method pour apprendre la geographie. Published in Lyon by J.M. Bruyset., 1783

* *Unfortunately, the map is slightly anachronistic, as I used a base map depicting European states in 1700s, whereas the Atlas des Infans depicts the situation in the mid- or even late 1700s.

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The Linguistic Geography of the Wikipedia

One of the highlights of the Association of American Geographers meeting last week in Seattle was the annual Geography Bowl. Student teams competed to answer all manner of geographical questions, including a few that were devilishly difficult. The most impressive answer may have come in the final round, when the two remaining teams were asked to list the five top languages, after English, used in Wikipedia articles. The Middle Atlantic team buzzed in almost immediately, and one of its members confidently and correctly recited, “German, French, Polish, Italian, and Spanish.”

Both the lack of Chinese and the presence of Polish seemed extraordinary, prompting me to query the team after the contest. The response referenced the well-known cultural pride of the Poles, as well as the fact that Polish has roughly 40 million speakers, a considerable number.

An article in the “meta-wiki” provides detailed information on the use of the 281 languages in which Wikipedia articles have been written. The table posted lists the top fourteen of these languages, with their respective number of articles (in rounded figures). As one can see, Chinese is represented here, coming in twelfth place, between Swedish and Catalan. Such a showing is hardly impressive, however, considering the fact that more than a billion people speak Mandarin Chinese, whereas only around 10 million speak Swedish and 11.5 million Catalan. But neither is the showing of the top Wikipedia language, English. To demonstrate relative Wiki language standings, I calculated the number of articles per 1,000 total* speakers for each of the top fourteen Wikipedia languages. Here English is far surpassed by a number of other languages. Considering the fact that most Swedish, Dutch, and Norwegian Wikipedia users are fully fluent in English, the quantity of articles appearing in their native languages is impressive indeed. (Admittedly, articles in languages other than English are often translated from an English original.)

Overall, European languages dominate the Wikipedia list. A number of major non-European languages rank relatively high (Vietnamese coming in 17th place, Korean 21st, Indonesian 22nd, and Arabic 25th), but they are still surpassed by European languages with far fewer speakers. Several important Asian languages, moreover, rank very low: Bengali, for example, with more than 230 million speakers, is outranked by Luxembourgish, Welsh, and Icelandic, none of which even approaches one million speakers. Sub-Saharan African languages are least represented. Swahili ranks a respectable 75th, with more than 21,000 articles, but Hausa, a major language spoken by 43 million people, ranks 245th, with only 263 articles. By this metric, Hausa is bested by such obscure tongues as Norfolk and Nauruan, and even by long-deceased Gothic.

Another notable feature of the list is the relatively large number of articles written in non-national European languages, many of which are often regarded as mere dialects. In Spain alone, Asturian is used for more than 14,000 articles, Aragonese for more than 25,000, and Galician for more than 70,000. Local linguistic pride along with regionalism and sub-state nationalism are no doubt responsible for such elevated numbers. Such processes are largely but not entirely limited to Europe. In the Philippines, the obscure tongue of Waray-Waray (3.5 million speakers) has an amazingly large Wikipedia presence, its 102,000 articles far over-shadowing the 51,000 written in the national language Tagalog (Filipino).

A final oddity is the relatively high rankings of artificial languages. Almost as many Wikipedia articles are written in Esperanto as Arabic, and the constructed language of Volapük bests Hebrew, Hindi, Thai, and Greek. Ido, with an estimated 100-1200 speakers, boasts more than 21,000 articles, while Interlingua has more than 5,000, Novial more than 2,500, Interlingue (“Occidental”) almost 2,000, and Logban over 1,000. So-called dead languages are also reasonably well represented, with Latin being used for more than 52,000 articles, Old English (Anglo-Saxon) for 2,600, and Pali for 2,300. Artificial languages from fictional societies, however, do not make the list, even though such tongues as Navi and Klingon have plenty of aficionados. The explanation comes in a footnote: “The Klingon language edition of the Wikipedia is no longer hosted by Wikimedia and is now hosted by Wikia as Klingon Wiki.”

* As opposed to native speakers.

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