The 1980s Geopolitical Transformation of California

California Presidential Election 1960 map from Dave Leip's Atlas

California Presidential Election 1960 map from Dave Leip's AtlasRecent GeoCurrents posts have examined the political allegiances of various parts of California, focusing on Mendocino County. Mendocino today votes strongly for Democratic Party candidates, although not overwhelmingly so, like San Francisco. Voting history places Mendocino squarely in the Democratic camp for many decades, as the county has turned to Republican candidates only in landslide years, such 1972, 1980, and 1984. But although Mendocino voted for Democratic presidential candidates in both the 1960s and today, it has done so for different reasons. In the 1980s, the political geography of California experienced a wholesale transformation, one in which most rural counties switched from Democratic to Republican voting behavior. Rural Mendocino and neighboring Humboldt and Lake counties, however, stayed in the Democratic camp. They did so largely because they had experienced their own demographic transformation in the same period. That change will be the subject of a later post; today’s examines the larger geographical transformation of California voting patterns during the 1980s.

To examine California’s electoral shift, let us begin in the hotly contested election of 1960, when Democrat John F. Kennedy edged out Republican Richard M. Nixon to become President of the United States. As the election map here shows—in Dave Leip’s* reverse color scheme—Kennedy’s support was concentrated in traditional Democratic strongholds: urban, industrial counties (San Francisco, Alameda, and Los Angeles); agricultural counties of the San Joaquin Valley; and rural counties in the north dominated by mining and forestry. Nixon took many of the state’s farming counties as well—the Sacramento Valley in particular tended to support Republican candidates—but his real strength was in prosperous suburban counties, such as Orange in the south and Marin and San Mateo in the San Francisco Bay Area. In this election, Mendocino’s returns indicate its rural, working-class nature, as its economy was then dominated by logging, fishing, and small-scale farming.

After the Kennedy-Nixon contest, the U.S. experienced several aberrant elections: in particular, the Democratic landslide of 1964 and the Republican tidal wave of 1972. Both contests reveal hitherto hidden patterns. In the Johnson-Goldwater election of 1964, the only Republican-voting counties in the northern half of the state were Sutter in the agricultural Sacramento Valley and sparsely populated Inyo and Mono on the east side of the Sierra Nevada. In the Republican triumph of 1972, when the Democrats leaned further left than they ever had, only San Francisco, Alameda (which includes Oakland and Berkeley), Yolo (which includes the University of California at Davis), and three mostly rural counties in the north voted for George McGovern rather than Richard Nixon.

California Presidential Election 1976 Map from Dave Leip's AtlasIn 1976, voting patterns in California returned to roughly the same position that they had occupied in 1960. Democrat James Carter, an evangelical Christian from Georgia, was able to reestablish the aging New-Deal alliance, triumphing in urban cores, in roughly half of the agricultural counties, and in most of the mining, logging, and ranching areas of the north. Such a return to the older pattern, however, was temporary. In the next two elections, 1980 and 1984, Ronald Reagan almost swept the state. Reagan lost only three counties in 1980, and in 1984 he lost only five. One of the counties straying from the Republican camp in 1984, however, was significant: affluent Marin, just north of San Francisco. Marin had long been a Republican stronghold, but in 1984 it turned to the Democrats and has never looked back. In 1988, when Republican George H. W. Bush defeated Democrat Michael Dukakis, other suburban counties in northern California followed Marin, as a new political geography of California appeared. Almost all the rural counties have stayed Republican ever since, with the prominent exceptions of Mendocino, Humboldt, and Lake.

California Presidential Election 1988 Map from Dave Leip's AtlasCalifornia’s geopolitical transformation was linked to local cultural evolution and the changes in the social orientations of the two parties, both related to the upheavals of the late 1960s and early 1970s. As the Democratic Party increasingly turned to environmentalism and feminism, its support in the interior portion of the state withered. As the Republican Party embraced religiously infused social conservatism, it lost the affluent and relatively secular suburban counties of the Bay Area.

The county-level political reversal of California is strikingly evident in a comparison of California’s wealthiest county, Marin, with relatively poor, mostly rural Plumas County in the northern Sierra Nevada Mountains. In 1960, Marin gave Democrat John Kennedy only 42 percent of its vote, whereas Plumas delivered 62 percent. In 1972, when Nixon overwhelmed George McGovern, Marin gave Nixon a seven percent edge, while Plumas favored McGovern by two percent. Yet by 2008, when Barack Obama enjoyed a whopping 57 percent margin over John McCain in Marin, Plumas went for McCain by a twelve percent margin. In neighboring Lassen County, once a Democratic stronghold, McCain’s margin of victory was thirty-four percent.

Mendocino county’s exception to the general rules of California’s recent political transformation will be the topic of a forthcoming GeoCurrents post.

*The colors are reversed because Leip began his remarkable atlas before the New York Times published its famous “Red America/Blue America” map, in which Republican-voting states and counties are depicted in red, and Democratic-voting ones in blue.


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Political Complexities and Contradictions in California’s Mendocino County

California 2008 Election Map from Dave Leip's Atlas

California 2008 Election Map from Dave Leip's AtlasA GeoCurrents post last week highlighted the left-wing orientation of Anderson Valley in California’s Mendocino County, while noting that not all residents lean to the left. The same observation holds for Mendocino County as a whole. Recent election returns show roughly one-third of Mendocino voters selecting Republican candidates, including John McCain in the 2008 U.S. presidential election. As the election map posted here shows—in Dave Leip’s reverse color scheme*—Barack Obama’s 69 percent of the local vote was lower than what he received in counties to the south. Marin County gave 78 percent of its votes to Obama, and San Francisco 84 percent.

But as recent posts in the GeoNotes section of this blog have emphasized, maps that depict only most important patterns can miss significant secondary configurations. Unnoted in the first map is the fact that the county’s Democratic-voting block skews farther leftward than those elsewhere in the state. This tendency can be seen in the returns of the 2000 presidential election, although again it is not evident in the map. The second image posted here makes it seem as if Democratic candidate Al Gore barely won the county. Hidden are the votes gathered by far-left challenger Ralph Nader—which I have therefore added for Mendocino and several nearby counties. As can be seen, Nader’s fifteen percent take in Mendocino was double what he gathered in Marin and San Francisco, and five-times what he received in the Silicon Valley counties of Santa Clara and San Mateo.

The strongly left-leaning orientation of the Mendocino electorate has been evident in other recent elections. The county was the first in the United States to ban genetically modified crops, which it did by a popular vote of 57 percent in 2004. Subsequently, three other California counties, Marin, Santa Cruz, and Trinity, followed suit. But in both Sonoma County to the south of Mendocino and Humboldt County to the north, similar ballot measures failed. Note also that a number of counties in California’s Central Valley have passed resolutions expressly endorsing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

But as is often the case, local political coloration turns out to be more complex the more carefully it is examined. Mendocino’s anti-GMO resolution received strong backing from the wine industry, which wanted to maintain its environmentally responsible reputation, especially in export markets. Environmental proposals that would harm or inconvenience local vintners often have a different outcome. On one issue in particular, Mendocino County maintains a starkly anti-environmental stance: it is the only county in the state without a grading ordinance. In Mendocino, landowners can do almost anything they want with bulldozers, leveling their properties as they see fit. Grading has long been a hot topic, as environmentalists, concerned about erosion and endangered salmon-runs, push for regulation, while wine producers, ranchers, and others tend to lobby against it.

The lack of a grading ordinance shows that Mendocino’s leftist proclivities bend in a libertarian direction. Not surprisingly, marijuana-growers tend to advocate a “government hands-off” approach to issues that affect their own operations. But there has also been a broader libertarian left-right convergence on several local issues. Outsiders are often astounded at how rural property owners in Mendocino flout building-permit requirement. The county government largely ignores such violations in rural areas. To compensate for the resulting revenue loss, it has come to assess property taxes by aerial surveys, which reveal unregistered recent construction.

Beyond grading issues, Mendocino County’s environmental record leaves much to be desired. Both wine and marijuana have a sizable water demand, and although total precipitation is heavy, summers are bone-dry. As a result of expanding cultivation, the summer flow of the Navarro River and other local streams is diminishing. The biggest environmental failing, however, is the electricity consumption of the marijuana industry. Although most growing in the county occurs outdoors, indoor cultivation is increasingly common, as prices are higher, seclusion is easier, and harvests occur year-round.  The carbon-footprint of the practice, however, is extraordinarily large, as the necessary high-intensity lighting, ventilation, and de-humidification all have a major power draw. According to the New York Times, for California as a whole, “indoor [cannabis] cultivation is responsible for a whopping 8 percent of household electricity usage, costing about $3 billion yearly and producing the annual carbon emission of a million average cars.”

*The colors are reversed because Leip began his superb atlas before the New York Times published its famous “Red America/Blue America” map in which Republican-voting states and counties are depicted in red, and Democratic-voting ones in blue.


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Regionalizing California

With thirty-eight million people spread over an area of 163,696 square miles (423,970 km2) and an economy that would rank between the eighth and eleventh largest in the world if it were an independent country, California makes an unwieldy state. Its different regions are so distinctive culturally, economically, and politically that numerous attempts have been made to divide California into two or more states. As a previous GeoCurrents post noted, earlier divisional movements wanted to split northern from southern California, whereas current-day campaigns want to hive off the more conservative interior from the coastal counties. “Coastal California,” however, is far from unified, as its north/south divide, focused on the metropolitan rivalry between Los Angeles and San Francisco, remains profound.

Northern California Map from Wikipedia Despite the political gap between the coast and the interior, the binary north/south scheme remains the most popular way to divide the state. “Central California” appears on many corporate and governmental maps, but it barely exists in the public consciousness. Hardly anyone would describe himself or herself as being from “Central California,” although many would specify the “Central Valley” or the “Central Coast.” Yet as fundamental as it is, the dividing line between the north and the south remains uncertain. The older scheme, which I learned in Elementary School, splits the state at the Tehachapi Mountains, giving northern California the entire Central Valley, including the culturally southern* city of Bakersfield at the far end of the San Joaquin Valley. The Wikipedia’s map of “Conventional Northern California,” which splits along county lines, gives only the southern extremity of the Central Valley to southern California. Many observers, however, put the boundary further to the north.

One intriguing way to assess such regional affiliation is through “fansheds,” areas in which most people cheer for a certain professional sports team, and hence identify with the city in which it is located. Major League Baseball has produced a map that approximates such cheering zones, based on “blackout zones” in which the television coverage of home teams is limited. Here the state’s north/south divide is approximately halfway down the San Joaquin Valley. Note here the northward extension of southern California to the east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, placing sparsely populated Inyo and Mono counties in the south.

Yet the terms “northern California” and “southern California” do not always refer to these primary divisions of the state. When California is divided into multiple regions, the same names can be attached to much smaller areas. As the collection of maps posted here shows, “northern California” sometimes means far northern California, in one form or another. One semi-official scheme delineates nine economic regions, one of which is called “northern California.” This particular region, however, is poorly conceived.  Mendocino County, its economy based on marijuana, wine, and high-end tourism, has precious little in common with Modoc County in the far northeast. Economically, culturally, and politically, Modoc is more closely linked to northern Nevada and eastern Oregon than it is to the rest of California, let alone Mendocino County. (The fitting motto of conservative Modoc County is, “Where the West Still Lives.”)

One way to more rigorously regionalize the state is through voting behavior. Although California is now considered hopeless for Republican presidential candidates, large areas of the state remain Republican strongholds. While the division here is sometimes depicted as one of the Democratic coast versus the Republican interior, the actual pattern is rather more complicated. The 2000 and 2004 presidential elections make particularly good examples, as that of 2008 skewed unusually far to the Democratic side. As these maps show, southern California still trends Republican at the county level, with the notable exceptions of highly Hispanic Imperial County, populous and multi-ethnic Los Angeles County, and up-scale Santa Barbara County. In Northern California, on the other hand, the coast/interior divide is stark; all coastal and Bay Area counties voted for the Democratic candidates in these elections except Del Norte in the extreme north, and almost all interior counties voted for Republican candidates, many by substantial margins. The only two Central Valley counties to lean left were Sacramento, site of the state capital, and Yolo, home of the University of California at Davis. (The city of Davis has been evocatively called “Berkeley in Ohio,” referencing the flat topography, hot summers, and the relatively conservative attitudes found in neighboring communities.)

Similar patterns are found on other electoral maps. Consider, for example, the returns from Proposition 8, which rejected same-sex marriage in 2008 (the results of which were recently overturned in court). Here a few northwestern counties drop from the liberal camp, including heavily Hispanic San Benito and Solano, the latter noted for a recent anti-gay backlash movement in the working-class city of Vallejo. Proposition 215, which legalized medicinal marijuana in 1996, had much broader support, virtually sweeping the coastal counties, north and south. The defeated initiative that would have fully legalized marijuana in 2009, on the other hand, gained the majority of votes only in the Bay Area and the Central Coast, along with sparsely populated Alpine (population 1,175) and Mono (population 14,202) counties in the east. Note that even Mendocino County rejected this initiative. But it did so, many argue, not from opposition to marijuana, but rather from fear that cannabis legalization would generate too much competition and thus undermine the local economy. San Luis Obispo County on the Central Coast is the real oddity here, as this usually conservative-voting county rejected medical marijuana in 1996 but supported full legalization in 2009.

*Bakersfield’s, and, more generally, Kern County’s, “southern” affiliation links the region not so much to southern California as to the American South (which is actually the southeastern quadrant of the country). Oil-rich Kern County was settled heavily by migrants from Oklahoma and Arkansas in the 1930s, it has some Southern linguistic markers (such as pronouncing pen the same as pin, see map), and its popular musical tradition—“the Bakersfield sound”—is Southern as well.


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Conflict in the Comoros

Map of the Comoros Including MayotteAlthough Mayotte is a troubled island, its difficulties are minor compared to those of the other islands in the Comoro Archipelago, which collectively form an independent state. By some accounts, the Comoros is the most coup-wracked country in the world, having suffered twenty military assaults on its government since independence in 1975. Its instability is almost matched by its poverty; as listed by the IMF, the Comoros ranks 166th out of 183 countries in per capita GDP (in PPP). Food insecurity is widespread, and according to a recent report, the Comoros has experienced an increase in hunger since 1990. Private enterprise is weak and discouraged; according the World Bank’s most recent “ease of doing business report,” the Comoros is one of a handful of countries that would tax a hypothetical small ceramics firm at a rate “exceeding 100% of its profit.” It is thus hardly surprising that many residents of this densely populated state have fled to French-controlled Mayotte in recent years.

As mentioned in the previous post, the Comorian island of Mayotte voted to remain under French sovereignty in a 1974 plebiscite. Supposedly, in the same election the residents of the other islands in the archipelago—Anjouan (Ndzuwani), Grande Comore (Ngazidja), and Mohéli (Mwali)—voted by more than 99.9 percent for independence. Many evidently came to regret that decision. In 1997, both Anjouan, and Mohéli first declared their independence and then sought the reinstitution of French rule. France declined the offer, and federal Comorian troops brought the recalcitrant islands back under central control. Resistance to centralization persisted, however, leading to mediation by the African Union. As a result, in 1999 each island was granted substantial autonomy, and the country itself was rechristened the Union of the Comoros.

Wikipedia Map of the Invasion of Anjouan in the ComorosDespite decentralization, inter-island tensions and general political instability persisted. Problems came to a head in 2007 and 2008 on the island of Anjouan. Anjouan’s president, Colonel Mohammad Bacar, refused to step down after federal authorities accused him of rigging the most recent election, which he had ostensible won with over ninety percent of the vote. The central government appealed to the African Union, which responded with a 2000-troop invasion force. Soldiers from Sudan, Tanzania, and Senegal—with logistical backing from France and Libya (!)—soon restored the island to federal authority. Bacar fled to French-controlled Mayotte, prompting a sizable anti-French demonstration in the capital city, Moroni. Eventually he found sanctuary in Benin.

Tension between the Comoros and France has not kept the island country from joining French-led international associations, such as the International Organization of the Francophonie and the Indian Ocean Commission. But then again, the Comoros has joined a wide array of international groups, including the Arab League. Membership in the Arab League is somewhat unusual, as the Comoros is not an Arabic-speaking country.* Evidently, its leaders are hoping to address that situation, at least as far as the government itself is concerned. On October 4, 2011, a press release from Kuwait noted that the “Foundation of Abdulaziz Saud Al-Babtain’s Prize for Poetic Creativity announced on Tuesday that Prime Minister of the Republic of Comoros issued a decree stipulating that all his ministers would be attending the Arab language courses held by the Foundation.”

The indigenous inhabitants of the various islands of the Comoro Archipelago are culturally similar. Uninhabited before the sixth century CE, the islands were settled, like Madagascar, by peoples from both Indonesia and East Africa. The Comoro islands, unlike Madagascar, were subsequently tightly entwined in East African and Arabian trade networks, eventually forming an insular extension of the Swahili Coast. Arab merchants settled, and the common version of Swahili gained a particularly heavy Arabic influence. The resulting Comorian (or Shikomor) language is the common tongue of the archipelago, although each island has its own local dialect.

The religious demography of the Comoros not entirely clear. Wikipedia and the CIA Factbook state that 98 percent of the islanders are Sunni Muslims, with the rest following Roman Catholicism.** Other sources cite a Shia presence, varying from slightly less than one percent to as much as five percent of the population. Freedom House, moreover, claims that “Tensions have sometimes arisen between Sunni and Shiite Muslims,” which would indicate a non-trivial Shia*** presence. Intriguingly, the former president of the Comoros (until May 2011), Ahmad Abdullah Sambi, was so fond of Iran that he was dubbed “The Ayatollah of Comoros.” Ostensibly a Sunni Muslim, Sambi was lauded in the Iranian media as a convert to Shia Islam and for proselytizing on its behalf (2008).  At the same time, the Comoros Sunni religious establishment angrily accused the entire government of “favouring the spread of Shiism.”

Regardless of Shia numbers, I have not found any evidence suggesting that religious practices differentiate one island in the Comoros from another. Linguistic differences are minor, and history is shared. Why then are relations among the islands so fraught? Global comparison suggests that insularity itself may play a role; the individual islands in small, politically bound archipelagos sometimes develop deep rivalries. A prime example would be the ABC islands of the former Dutch Antilles: Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao. Their cultural differences may be minor, but their political relations have generally been tense.

* The other non-Arab members of the Arab League are Somalia and Djibouti.

** The Christian proselytizing Joshua Project pegs the Christian population of the Comoros at 0.01 percent. It also claims that among the Muslim community, “mosque attendance is very low. Mixed with their Islamic practices is a strong involvement in occultism and spirit possession.”

** Presumably most Shiites in the Comoros are Twelvers (Ithnā‘ashariyyah), followers of the largest branch of the faith, dominant in Iran and southern Iraq. Evidence gleaned from on-line matrimonial advertisements, however, suggests a Dawoodi Bohra (an offshoot of Ismaili Shiism) presence, linked to the Gujarati diaspora. The Bohras are noted for their high rates of educational and professional achievement, for women as well as men. I have not provided a link, however, as it seems rude to link to such personal sources of information.

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Red Tripura and the Geopolitics of Greater Bengal

Map of Indian states by party of government, 2011

Map of Indian states by party of government, 2011India’s regional elections in early May 2011 saw the devastating defeat of the far left. After having ruled the 91-million-strong state of West Bengal for thirty-four years, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [abbreviated as CPI(M)] lost 146 seats in the Legislative Assembly, retaining only 42. In what could be an epochal loss, the larger Left Alliance coalition did not win a single West Bengal district. The communists were also defeated in Kerala in the southwest—a long-time stronghold sometimes called Red Kerala. Only one Indian state, tiny Tripura in the northeast, currently has a communist government. In Tripura’s most recent legislative election (2008), the CPI(M) took forty-six of sixty seats, giving it its fourth consecutive term in power.

Soon after the routing of their fellows in West Bengal, Tripura’s Marxist authorities found themselves in hot water. On May 24, leaders of the opposition Congress Party vowed to undergo a hunger strike to protest “the replacement of Mahatma Gandhi’s name with Communist icon Vladimir Lenin in a Class 5 textbook.” Communist leaders countered that the discussion of Gandhi was simply moved to a different chapter. Congress Party activists were not mollified, arguing that the state’s textbooks more generally suffer from a “huge distortion of facts,” and are aimed at “brainwashing school students in line with Marxism.”


Tripura is a distinctive state. We have already noted its near engulfment by Bangladesh, giving it an unusually long andtroubled international border. Like its neighboring Indian states to the north and east, Tripura has long been plagued by ethnic tension and insurgency, although at present rebel activity is minimal. Disruptive protests commonly occur, however, and are sometimes violent. In late May 2011, authorities aimed water cannons at representatives of the Tripura Pradesh Youth Congress gathered in front of a police station. The demonstrators, affiliated with the mainstream Congress Party, were protesting the recent assault on one of their leaders by members of a rival student organization, the communist-linked Student’s Federation of India. According to the Times of India, the resulting imbroglio brought “rain-soaked Tripura to a complete standstill.”

West Bengal and the Original GerrymanderUnrest in Tripura is linked to the partition of British South Asia in 1947 and the subsequent independence of Bangladesh. Partition broke up the Bengali-speaking region, one of the world’s largest cultural areas; with some 250 million speakers, Bengali is usually counted as the sixth mostly widely spoken language on earth, surpassing Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, and German. In 1947, the Hindu-majority Bengali districts of the west and north went to India, forming West Bengal, while the eastern zone went to East Pakistan, later Bangladesh. (The oddly shaped West Bengal evokes the original “Gerrymander,” as illustrated by the image to the right.) Several million Hindus eventually fled East Pakistan, most settling in West Bengal. Hundreds of thousand, however, headed east into what had been the princely state of Tripura, a minor kingdom under British dominion. As a result, Tripura’s demographic balance underwent a tectonic shift; Bengalis, previously forming around twenty percent of the population, were catapulted to majority status with roughly seventy percent. If effect, Tripura became a third political unit of divided Bengal.

The flow of Hindu Bengali refugees into Tripura was not welcomed by the culturally distinctive indigenous inhabitants. Most local ethnic groups, including the once-dominant Tripuri, speak Tibeto-Burman languages and are historically linked to the peoples of what is now south-central China. Resentment against the newcomers led many indigenes to join one of the twenty-plus insurgent groups that made Tripura a bloody mess in the late twentieth century, as we shall see in a later post.

The “Bengalization” of Tripura also brought about a political transformation of the state, placing it firmly within the communist camp. In the early 20th century, educated Hindu Bengalis—who often styled themselves as the intellectual elite of India—generally embraced Marxism as a cerebral yet potent anti-colonial philosophy. Bengali Muslims, in contrast, generally espoused much more conservative beliefs. The migration of Hindu Bengalis into Tripura thus brought the local branch of the Communist party to power. West Bengal, as we have seen, witnessed the collapse of the communist vote in 2011; it remains to be seen whether Tripura will follow suit.

Map of Great Bengal and Greater SylhetAlthough conventional depictions of the Bengali region divide it east from west, Bangladesh from India, in actuality the Indian parts of greater “Bangla-land” almost surround Bangladesh. The eastern Bengali-speaking zone includes not only Tripura, but also Cachar district of southern Assam, site of the state’s second city, Silchar. In the north are the often over-looked districts of West Bengal’s “beak,” including Cooch Behar and its enclave-ridden border.

The internal coherence of this greater Bengali region, however, is itself suspect. The historical Sylhet region, including India’s Cachar and adjoining districts and Bangladesh’s Sylhet Division, is often excluded from the realm. The Sylheti tongue is not fully inter-intelligible with standard Bengali, and is thus often considered to be a separate language. Heavily influenced by Assamese, Sylheti was formerly written in its own script. Under the British, the entire Sylhet region was administered as part of Assam; it too was spit with partition, with the Muslim-majority west going to East Pakistan (hence Bangladesh), and the Hindi-majority east staying with Assam in India.

Also of interest is the fact that the substantial Bangladesh immigrant community in Britain is mostly Sylheti—ninety-five percent according to some sources. Relations between Sylhetis and other Bangladeshis in London are strained, as demonstrated in a fascinating 2008 internet discussion thread entitled “Why Do Dhakaiyas Hate Sylhetis So?” (“Dhakaiyas” are people from Dhaka, or more generally non-Sylheti Bangladeshis.) Muslim Sylhetis have a reputation for being much more devoted to fundamentalist interpretations of their faith than other Bangladeshis, a trait that has been linked to religious tensions in London’s Muslim-majority neighborhoods.

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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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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.)

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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.

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Extremism and Voting Behavior in South Punjab, Pakistan

The culturally and linguistically distinctive southern half of Pakistani Punjab is, as noted yesterday, a hotbed of Islamist radicalism. According to Bill Roggio, “South Punjab teems with radical mosques and madrassas, which are used to indoctrinate Pakistani youths to join the jihad. Tens of thousands of members of these terror groups who have gone through training camps are said to be active in South Punjab.” Why south Punjab would be so much more inclined to extremism than North Punjab – or any other part of Pakistan outside of the Tribal Areas – is an interesting matter. North Punjab is a more agriculturally productive and prosperous area than South Punjab, but correlations between poverty Islamic radicalism are generally weak. Deeper issues are almost certainly at play.

The most convincing explanation that I have found comes from P.K. Upadhyay, writing for the Indian Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis. According to Upadhyay, the key factors are institutional and political. As he explains:

Compared to the rest of Punjab, this area has remained backward and cocooned in a time warp. The government and its agencies have exercised lesser control over South Punjab and have left its tribal oriented feudal structure intact. … The hold of local chiefs was, however, getting eroded for many years due to the expansion in influence and activities of officially supported religious hard line groups. These groups have been setting up their base in the area to recruit cadres and train them in connivance with the state for carrying out pogroms against Shias and other religious minorities within as well as for the jehad in Kashmir. Over a period of time, the traditional [chiefs] were pushed to the background and jehadist groups came to dominate the area completely.

South Punjab, in other words, has long been a politically marginalized area, lacking the administrative structures of the modern state. Until recently, the region was even denied its own linguistic and cultural standing, treated merely as peripheral variant of the Punjabi norm. When the Pakistani state under the presidency of Zia began to push politicized Islam in the 1980s, the region’s antiquated political structures were unable to resist to the hard-core Islamist political networks. Dissatisfaction with the northern-dominated Punjabi provincial government and the Pakistani national government has no doubt aided the militants’ cause.

Although radical Islamists have established a firm base of power in South Punjab, their violent program is rejected by many of the area’s inhabitants. Such attitudes are indirectly revealed through voting behavior. As the ElectoralGeography.com map posted above shows, almost all of southern South Punjab voted in 2008 for the quasi-socialist Pakistani Peoples Party of the late Benazir Bhutto, an organization detested by radical Islamists. In contrast, northern South Punjab, like North Punjab, generally supported the moderately Islamist Muslim League parties. Pakistan’s one hard-core Islamist party, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, failed to take a single district in Punjab.

Some observers, however, expect that support for extreme Islamist organizations will soon increase in South Punjab, as well as in other parts of the country. Much of Pakistan has been devastated this summer by heavy monsoonal rainfall, and the flood crest is currently passing through South Punjab. Hard-line Islamic charities have proved more effective in delivering relief supplies than the government, enhancing their appeal. Due to the same dynamic, support for extremist groups increased in Kashmir following the 2005 earthquake.

Unfortunately, reliable information about South Punjab is difficult to obtain. As Bill Roggio reported in 2009:

“The Pakistani government has denied that terror groups are based in South Punjab. Just last week, the government barred foreign reporters from South Punjab, insisting they can only report from the area after obtaining a permit. ‘All foreign journalists are required to get permission from foreign affairs as well as from interior ministries for visiting any specific place especially in South Punjab,’ a senior officer of the Punjab government told the Press Trust of India. The official claimed that journalists published ‘twisted and unfounded’ facts about terror groups operating there.”

In general, finding any geographically specific information about Pakistan is a challenge, as we shall see in tomorrow’s post, the final one in this series.

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Election Controversies and Ethnic Complexities on the Not-So-Tiny Island of Bougainville

In June 2010, the Autonomous Region of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea (PNG) voted out three quarters of its parliamentary representatives along with its president. Whereas the outgoing leader was a former revolutionary committed to independence, the newly elected chief executive favors continuing ties with PNG. Most sources, however, do not see a loss of interest in sovereignty. The election focused on governmental competence, which the voters of Bougainville evidently found wanting in the former administration. Another divisive issue was the future of the shuttered Panguna mine. While most candidates supported reopening, they disagreed over who should carry it out. Some favored returning control to the former operator, a subsidiary of global mining giant Rio Tinto; others argued for turning to Chinese investors.

Security formed another electoral concern. Interethnic strife remains deadly, although the body count has diminished in recent years. Violence is concentrated in southern Bougainville where, according to The Economist (June 10, 2010, page 47), “some 14 armed militia groups still openly carry arms.” During the election campaign, the successful challenger accused the incumbent of condoning the warlords who hold sway over much of the south.

Ethnic tension in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville is linked to pronounced cultural fragmentation. Roughly two dozen languages in three families are spoken by the region’s 175,000 inhabitants. Two of these families, North Bougainville and South Bougainville, may be unique to the island. They were formerly classified within the Papuan family, but linguists no longer think that the “Papuan languages” constitute a genuine group, descended from a common ancestral tongue. Other forms of cultural distinctiveness further divide the peoples of Bougainville. According to the delightfully discursive Wikipedia article, among the northern peoples of Bougainville, “Cheerful friendliness is the prevalent norm. Austronesian Bougainvilleans and especially Bukas value outgoing openness, chattiness, a generally friendly mien.” South Bougainvilleans, in contrast, are said to “value privacy, discretion, quiet. Just listen to the silence of their markets and religious and political gatherings. When they are contemptuous of ‘redskins’ and ‘mastas’ (i.e. white people) it’s not that they are vulgar racists as to the colour of your skin. It’s that they find noisiness and intemperate speech shocking and impolite.”

On an unrelated issue, Bougainville also offers a lesson on human perceptions of spatial scale. The otherwise excellent article on the island’s problems in The Economist magazine begins as follows: “The tiny troubled island of Bougainville has a new president …” Tiny? Bougainville is the 79th largest of the world’s roughly 100,000 inhabited islands. It covers more territory than such substantial islands as Cyprus, Crete, or Corsica. Bougainville is almost as large as Hawaii, which is called “the big island” in reference to the fact that it is seven times the size of Oahu, the state of Hawaii’s demographic, economic, and political center. Yet even Oahu, which covers almost 600 square miles, is almost never described as “tiny,” a term best reserved for islands like Australia’s Norfolk (13.3 square miles).

My point is not so much to chide the normally astute Economist for an uncharacteristic slip as to illustrate a common problem in geographical perception. Unfamiliar places far from one’s homeland tend to diminish in apparent size, as illustrated by Saul Steinberg’s famous “view of the world” New Yorker cover. A tendency to mentally shrink exotic places seems to be a natural human disposition. We should be vigilant against it if we want to remain geographically accurate.

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The Geography of the Chilean Election

As last Friday’s post noted, recent elections in Chile and Bolivia produced markedly different results. In Bolivia, socialist president Evo Morales was reelected in a landslide, whereas in Chile the center-left coalition that had run the country for more than two decades lost power to the center-right. Although Chile’s out-going president Michelle Bachelet remained extremely popular, her coalition’s candidate, Eduardo Frei, was widely viewed as uninspiring. The center-right’s candidate, Sebastián Piñera, gained votes by promising to return to the rapid economic growth rates that had characterized Chile in the 1980s and 1990s while retaining the social measures put in place by his immediate predecessors.

As the electoral map shows, Frei did well in the major mining regions of the north (Antofagasta and Atacama) and in the agricultural heartland to the south of Santiago (O’Higgins and Maule). Frei also did well in some urban areas, including Concepcion, Valdivia, and parts of Santiago (although not in Valparaiso). Piñera, however, won the metropolitan areas overall, as well as the entire south. He did particularly well in the extreme north, in the Mapuche Indian heartland of Araucanía, and in Aisén, where governmental hydroelectric plans are unpopular. The center-right’s victory in Araucanía is noteworthy, as conservative political parties rarely do well in heavily indigenous areas. The Mapuche, however, have been struggling with non-Mapuche residents of their region over forestry and land-rights issues, leading to high levels of political polarization.

What is most striking about the recent Chilean election is not which candidate won in which region, but rather the fact that the vote was so evenly balanced. In the map on the left, I designated darker shades to indicate regions in which one of the candidates received more than 55 and more than 60 percent of the vote. Just three regions fell into the former category, and only one in the latter. In most of Chile, the margin of victory was relatively slight.

Democratic countries in which national unity is challenged by regional or ethnic identity typically show geographically distinctive voting patterns. Bolivia with its southwest-east divide is one such country: Ukraine, divided east to west, is another. We have also seen how the Hungarian-populated districts in Romania overwhelmingly vote for Hungarian political parties. In more firmly united countries, regional voting differences are much less pronounced. By this criterion, Chile shows high levels of national coherence. Such cohesion was also demonstrated in 2006, when Bachelet bested Piñera in every region except Araucanía, but exceeded 6o percent only in Atacama and Antofogasta.

The United States has exhibited larger geographical voting variation than has Chile in recent elections. In 2008, one candidate or the other received more than 60 percent of the vote in fifteen states. In 2004, George Bush received more than 60 percent of the vote in ten states, and more than 70 percent in one (Utah).

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The Geography of the Bolivian Election

Latin American electoral politics have been trending to the left in recent years. Although Chile just confounded that tendency by voting in a center-right president, Bolivia overwhelmingly reelected its socialist president, Evo Morales, in December 2009. Morales, the champion of Bolivia’s indigenous majority, received 64 percent of the national vote, while his main challenger, Manfred Reyes Villa, received only 36 percent.

As the map shows, Morales trounced Reyes Villa in the southwestern highlands, Bolivia’s traditional center of population and political power, and the main seat of its indigenous population. An Aymara Indian, Morales won more than 90 percent of the vote in most of the Aymara speaking region (marked with a yellow “A” on the map), and did almost as well in the Quechua-speaking zone (marked with a green “Q”). The only highland province to vote for Reyes Villa was Oropeza, home to the country’s constitutional capital of Sucre, a largely Spanish-speaking city. Reyes Villa did reasonable well in Tomás Frías province, where the city of Potosí is located, and in his hometown of Cochabama (marked with a white triangle), although he lost in both places (for the voting base maps, see http://www.electoralgeography.com/new/en/; linguistic divisions based on the Ethnologue map of Bolivia).

As expected, Reyes Villa won a much higher percentage of the vote in the lowlands of eastern Bolivia, where most people are of mestizo rather than indigenous background, and where agriculture is oriented toward commerce more than subsistence. Yet as the map shows, here too many provinces went for Morales, if narrowly. Reyes Villa did win a convincing victory in the city of Santa Cruz (outlined in black on the map), the lowland’s commercial center and major metropolis. He did even better along the eastern border, where economic interests look more to Brazil than to the rest on Bolivia. The city of Tarija in the south, center of Bolivia’s recently nationalized natural gas industry, also gave Reyes Villa the majority of its votes.

Bolivia has undergone a major political transformation in recent decades as democracy has become more fully entrenched and as power has shifted from the traditional elite to the indigenous majority. Such a transformation has generated substantial geographical divisions in Bolivian politics. Several years ago, as Morales rose to power, a major movement for autonomy gained strength in the eastern lowlands. But as the 2005 election map shows, the regional division in voting behavior was far more pronounced then than it was four years later in 2009. Calls for eastern separation are less pronounced now, as Morales’s popularity has grown in the east. In the urban highlands outside the Aymara zone, meanwhile, Morales has lost some of his support. As the regional political divide has lessened, the urban-rural divide seems to have grown.

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Language and Voting In Romania

As the previous post indicated, many Hungarian-populated areas lie outside of Hungary’s national borders. More than half of Hungary’s territory was stripped away in the post-WWI settlement, although most of the areas lost had non-Hungarian majorities. Hard-core Magyar (or Hungarian) nationalists who dream of reclaiming these lands often advertise their views by displaying maps of pre-Trianon Hungary (the 1920 Treaty of Trianon having reduced Hungary to its current rump status). Extreme nationalist candidates, however, typically receive fewer than 10 percent of the vote in Hungarian national elections.

In neighboring countries, ethnic Hungarians usually support their own political parties that call for language and cultural rights as well as local autonomy for Magyar-populated areas. In the Romanian presidential election of 2009, the correlation between ethnicity and voting was exceptionally strong; the map on the upper left shows Magyar populated areas in green, while the map on the right shows districts that voted for the Magyar-based political party in green as well. Political integration in Romania obviously has some way to go.

The map on the right was taken from an invaluable website called Electoral Geography 2.0 (http://www.electoralgeography.com/new/en/). Visit it to find a treasure trove of electoral maps.

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