Yesterdays slaves: politics of belonging and struggles for citizenship amongst the Gando of Benin

224, Arts building, Danford Room
Tuesday 27 November 2012 (17:00-19:00)

Speaker: Eric-Komlavi Hahonou

This talk focuses on the recent political emancipation of the Gando, a group of slave descendants related to the Fulbe of Northern Benin (West Africa). Following the screening of a thirty-minute documentary, I discuss Gando discourses of citizenship and ethnicity as forms of belonging in the context of globalization. Since pre-colonial times servile status ascribed by birth placed Gando at the margins of society and excluded them from political participation. In the context of the decentralization reform implemented in 2002-2003, the Gando conquered municipal power in the 2003 and 2008 local elections. In doing so they began to acquire full citizenship. While asserting a national Beninoise identity, Gando activists refashioned themselves in ethnic terms (rather than by reference to slave origins), and retained their relation to Fulbe culture. Contrary to recent literature that emphasizes the connection between a political discourse of (ethnic) belonging and rising violence, I suggest that a politics of belonging does not necessarily imply violent conflicts and exclusion.