10 Slices
Medium 9780253000811

6. Children of Exile

Bruce Whitehouse Indiana University Press ePub

6

CHILDREN OF EXILE

Although some of the circumstances surrounding the incident are uncertain, this much is clear: on a Sunday afternoon in mid-December 2005 Papa Doucouré was shot. He was driving a friend’s car in a northern district of Brazzaville and allegedly failed to stop at an intersection when a policeman signaled him to do so. A pickup truck full of heavily armed paramilitary police sped after him and made him pull over a few hundred meters down the road. After he had stopped, sitting behind the wheel of the motionless car, he was hit by three bullets from a policeman’s Kalashnikov rifle—once in the arm, once in the leg, and once in the stomach. The police put him into the bed of their truck and brought him to the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire, the city’s largest public hospital. That is where Papa Doucouré, lying on a hospital gurney, was pronounced dead a short time later. He was one day short of his nineteenth birthday.

This young man’s killing symbolized different things to different people in Brazzaville. To most ordinary Congolese, if they knew of the incident at all, it was yet another tragic display of heavy-handed police tactics, further proof of their government’s failure to respect basic human rights, and evidence that the forces de l’ordre (the security forces) were in fact the greatest local threat to public safety. “Recurring incidents of blunders and holdups [braquages] by elements of the security forces are becoming more and more troubling,” one online magazine commented a few weeks later, “yet it is they who ought to be assuring the safety of people and their property” (Afriqu’Echos 2005).

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253000811

3. Among the Unbelievers

Bruce Whitehouse Indiana University Press ePub

3

AMONG THE UNBELIEVERS

“Hold fast to prayer,” Vieux Diallo counseled me as we walked back into the market from the nearby zawiya, the modest Sufi mosque, after the midday prayer. “All the other things, family, wealth, will abandon you at the grave,” he said, “but the rewards from prayer, and fasting, and zakat [sacrifice] are the only things you can take with you after you die.”

Diallo was more than devout in his Muslim faith. Not only did he perform all five daily prayers, but he did so in mosques near his work or home. Despite being in his seventies, he had recently made the decision to begin studying Arabic, the language of the holy Qur'an. Among West African men in Brazzaville, Diallo was by no means unusual in his devotion to Islam.

Mali's population is overwhelmingly Muslim, and signs of Islamic influence are omnipresent there: most Malians bear Muslim names, and many Bamanan nouns—from the names of the days of the week to the words for book, luck, obligation, and blessing—are derived from Arabic. I recognized all this during my initial years in Mali, and yet I was influenced by those who, following the lead of French colonial administrators, characterized West African societies as superficially Islamized. Islam, according to their logic, was only a veneer covering a more substantial African identity based on local “traditional beliefs.” I held to the notion sometimes expressed by Western expatriates that “Mali is 90 percent Muslim and 100 percent animist.”

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253000811

4. The Stranger's Code

Bruce Whitehouse Indiana University Press ePub

4

THE STRANGER'S CODE

On the morning of Christmas eve, in 2005, I was conversing with a friend in his shop when three Congolese men in civilian clothes suddenly entered. One rapped loudly on the counter and bellowed, “Séjours et recensements, s'il vous plait.” They were apparently policemen who had come to conduct a contrôle, a spot-check of individuals’ official documents, in this case residence permits (permis de séjour) and recensements de police, forms showing that the bearer had registered with the local police station. There was no formal requirement in Congo to have a recensement, but many of my West African friends had had to pay modest fees to obtain the document after policemen had discovered them without one. As always, I was carrying my passport with a valid one-year Congolese visa, but I had never gotten a recensement, and though the men had taken no notice of me up to that point, given their brusque entry and aggressive demeanor I thought they might choose to make an issue of this. In any case my friend behind the counter, a Malian in his forties named Balla, quickly launched into a verbal counteroffensive at maximum volume, matching bluster with bluster. Balla's cousin, who also worked in the shop and had good relations with the local police chief, hurriedly came in from the street upon hearing the commotion. He took one of the three visitors aside and began speaking to him in a low voice. Concerned that my presence might be attracting unwanted attention for Balla and his business, I sneaked out the door and went home while Balla and one of the Congolese continued talking loudly past each other.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253000811

Appendix 1. Notes on Methods

Bruce Whitehouse Indiana University Press ePub

Appendix 1. Notes on Methods

If the methodological challenges facing James Ferguson (1999) in the Copperbelt seemed unusual at the close of the twentieth century, they have become more familiar today to anthropologists studying contemporary patterns of social change, cultural flux, and human mobility—commonly understood as components of globalization. Since the 1990s social scientists have sought to adapt ethnography to the study of global processes (Stoller 1997; Hannerz 1998; Burawoy et al. 2000). We have applied ethnographic approaches which, while necessarily local in their scope, illuminate macro-level social processes by examining their micro-level manifestations.

One technique for applying ethnographic methods to global processes is multi-sited fieldwork (Marcus 1998). This type of research is especially useful for studying migration flows, since, by their definition, they concern more than one geographic location. Unfortunately multi-sited fieldwork also demands more time, preparation, and money than single-sited fieldwork, and the challenges of learning about a community and gaining acceptance in it are multiplied with each additional research site. In planning my fieldwork, I chose to concentrate on Brazzaville and rely mainly on my previous experience in Mali for insights into the culture of the sending region. My fieldwork began in Bamako, Mali, where I renewed contacts from previous research and gathered information about flows of people, goods, and information between Bamako and Brazzaville. After a month in Mali, my family and I took the route most Malians use to travel to Central Africa, flying on Air Mauritania from Bamako to Brazzaville, via Abidjan and Cotonou. We returned to Bamako (again on Air Mauritania) the following year for a final stage of research lasting another month. Te two Bamako legs of the fieldwork enabled me to identify and pursue transnational connections between Mali and Congo.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253000811

Epilogue: Displaced Dreams

Bruce Whitehouse Indiana University Press ePub

EPILOGUE

DISPLACED DREAMS

In the second decade of the twenty-first century Brazzaville faces uncertain prospects. The city cannot offer the economic opportunities it once did, as Kinshasa has largely supplanted it as a regional commercial hub. In an ironic reversal of its former situation, by the time of my fieldwork Brazzaville was dependent on imports from Kinshasa, even for essential commodities like gasoline and aviation fuel. Moreover, countries such as the Central African Republic and Chad, which once exported their raw materials down the Congo River through the Congolese capital, today use alternative outlets. Deforestation and climate change have made the river un-navigable throughout much of the year, and Brazzaville’s port facilities have suffered years of neglect. Even most of the timber harvested in Congo’s northern forests no longer passes through the capital city on its way to the coast but transits overland via Cameroon. As regional commercial flows have progressively bypassed Brazzaville, the city has lost its primary economic raison d’être, and Congo’s national economy has grown ever more reliant on exports of offshore oil, accounting for 90 percent of government revenues.1 Congo’s role in the twenty-first-century global economy is essentially what it was during the colonial era—a source of raw materials, with little value added and few jobs generated at home. Despite double-digit economic growth and an expanding state budget, most Congolese still lived in poverty in 2011, and rates of malnutrition remained high.2 Living conditions continued to stagnate, and even in Brazzaville electricity had become a scarce commodity: “It seems like the more years go by, the more the number of Congolese with access to electricity diminishes,” wrote one Congolese journalist (La Semaine Africaine 2010a). To underscore the country’s state of abjection, in late 2010 a polio outbreak killed two hundred Congolese (IRIN 2010b). Immigrants in Congo increasingly looked elsewhere to pursue their dreams.

See All Chapters

See All Slices