Deferred reciprocity: ransoming and the ethics of compensatory justice

Monday, 3 March, 2014 - 15:00

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Non-state transnational actors have always played a central role in Sahelian economic structures and geopolitical arrangements not least because of their capacity to constitute sources of authority and sustenance outside and across state structures. Recently, subversive battalions (qatiba) have resorted to kidnapping, raiding and ransoming as a means to a social justice with a redistributive dimension. One can draw a parallel with authority structures associated with 19 th Century privateers and buccaneers, and more recently with pirates operating in the Indian Ocean. The parallel economy of ransoming emerges in a context of critical disruptions of traditional economic and mobility frameworks in the Sahel, the aggressive scramble for resources, and the displacement of the global war on terror in the Sahel. On the one hand, the Sahel has been subjected to different forms of intervention, ranging from attempts by national governments and non-governmental organisations and institutions to regulate, 'develop' and extend governance to the outlying peripheries of urban centres, to touristic ventures, various programmes and initiatives seeking to stabilise the region against a threat of 'somalisation' (TransSahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP), AFRICOM). On the other hand, the enlargement of extractive enclaves such as French mining giant Areva, in collusion with Sahelian governments, has further expanded zones of exclusion against traditional forms of exchange and interaction. In this context, old forms of resistance to systematic attempts at governance, control and ordering re-emerge in non-conventional forms including smuggling, raids and kidnappings. In a post-9/11 order, external interventions under the disguise of development, governance and securitisation have but exacerbated precarious economic and political conditions in the Sahelian-Saharan region. This paper draws on discussions on high sea piracy and international law in an attempt to articulate an understanding of ransoming practices in the Sahel through a theory of social justice. Its objective is three-pronged. First, it examines the legitimation processes used by subversive groups, both ideological and religious. Secondly, it is concerned with the ethics of ransoming as a form of prosperity endeavour without morality. Thirdly, the parallel economy of smuggling in its recent history denotes an oscillating process between cooperation and subversion as two aspects of the same strategy of engagement between formal authorities and insubordinate groups in a context of scarcity. The paper argues that non-conventional forms of ransoming and criminal predation in the Sahel are not dissimilar to state practices and those of multinational corporations in so far as these divest ordinary citizens of their ability to become subjects outside the colluding forces of capital, state power and external interventions.


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