2018 Field School: Tourism and development in the South Ethiopian Rift Valley
The Field School has as its main goal to study and discuss the ongoing tourism-led transformations in the South Ethiopian Rift Value by means of an intensive fieldwork, with an international and interdisciplinary oriented community of lecturers, researchers and students of the various participating institutions.
As secondary objectives, we intend to:
• Deepen knowledge on territorial and social transformations in the Rift Valley, that could be generalised to other African contexts under pressure by the tourism industry.
• Develop methodologies to access this particular problematic
• Develop a community of researchers and cooperation networks between EU and African lecturers, researchers and students.
The Field School will be organised combining lectures, debates and intensive fieldwork, integrating several disciplines and involving anthropological, social, economic, political, territorial and environmental studies.
Tourism and development
Today tourism has become a major industry which engages billions of people and dollars, has major effects on the physical and natural environment, and influences how people see themselves as individuals and societies. Meanwhile the tourism business claims to contribute to a country’s economic growth, to bridge cultural differences and encourage curiosity and intercultural contact, to generate economic opportunities for various –including isolated- parts of the world, but very often the perception is very different on the local level, among those considered the ‘hosts’ or the tourist-receiving communities. Tourism may lead to (potential) socio-cultural disruptions, environmental disasters, political cleavages and frictions. The relation between tourism and development is therefore a complex one.
Cultural tourism and the circulation of images in the tourist encounter
Nash (1981) argues that a tourist is an individual who voluntarily travels to engage in activities with others, therefore presuming a cross-cultural encounter with the so-called ‘host’ individuals. The development of a touristic chain involves an infrastructural apparatus produced to ensure the existence of travel (mobility) and leisure (attractions), the two main elements that enable tourism. The construction of this apparatus is in itself a driver of change, not to mention the transactions that touristic activities generate and that affect the host and home societies in very diverse ways. This has been a topic of research among anthropologists for many years. As Stronza shows (2001) initial research focused on the connections between leisure, ritual and pilgrimage; the dynamics of host and tourist interactions; the representations of culture, including ethnic stereotypes; the local cultural adaptations on the side of the host to fit tourist expectations; integration of host societies in the global market; and the commodification of culture. While most research starts from the assumption that tourism is often imposed on host societies and that its impact is always negative, there is actually a wider spectrum of interactions that needs to be addressed by anthropological research, ranging from strengthening local communal bounds to increased foreign dependency (Stronza 2001).
The tourism business and the ensuing mobility of people, for example, generates images of various (unknown) parts of the world which circulate, and are reproduced, by (mass)media, global narratives, tourist agencies, tourist guides and magazines, hotels, museums, but also through anthropological narratives (Cassiman 2011). Very often “unknown” people, especially in “remote” places, are represented in exotic, primitive and essentialising ways, to make these far-away places more attractive, as they hold the promise of creating an authentic cultural experience of a frozen past world. These representations are defined by global hegemonic power relations between hosts and guests, and affect how various parts of the world are represented, thereby feeding a nostalgia for the past in the Western world (Salazar 2010).
One particular form of tourism, cultural tourism, whereby the tourists engage with a region’s culture, cultural heritage or local material culture or practices, pushes these representations to their extreme by circulating images of “authentic” cultural locations, “authentic” experiences and exotic beauty (Salazar 2011). Anthropologists have analysed how this type of tourism very often becomes a form of "difference projection" and a ‘vehicle of "othering" par excellence' (Hollinshead 1998:121 in Salazar 2012:34) engendering essentialised and exoticised images of otherness.
In the intercultural touristic encounter and the often personal relations these engender, new identities, new material cultures and new ideas take shape. These are proof of a genuine social history of intercultural interaction. In many parts of Africa, exposure to tourism has led to the increasing touristification, some call it ‘disneyfication’, and commodification of local cultures. In some cases hosts reshape or transform their material cultural objects to cater them to the tourist market and villages, local houses and art products thus become “consumables with an authentic African taste, tokens of an imagined virginal world which the tourist can access and acquire” (Cassiman 2011:202). Tourists expect to return home with trophies that confirm their own, often romanticised, stereotypes about Africa (Philips & Steiner 1999, Salazar 2010), stereotypes which are constantly reiterated in the discourses of cultural tourism used in tourist brochures, travel guides and blogs picturing the villages of destination as untouched ‘living museums’ of an ancestral past. Ideologically, this has often been read as a recolonization, whereby the hosts appear as ignorant and dependent subjects, passive victims of other people’s projections and misrepresentations that are imposed on them from the outside, over and above their heads. However, various authors have shown how this is a conscious mode of action by means of which the hosts ‘turn the gaze’ (Stronza 2001:270) and invert the primitivist and essentialising identity imposed upon them; this they do, not by objecting to it, but by instrumentalising it, as a strategy whereby they mobilise the resources that the touristic encounter brings along. As such, the tourist encounter becomes a means to generate their own objectified identity, which is consciously designed to be put into circulation in the outside world and to actively cater to the reified expectations of the tourist. Hence, despite offering themselves to the tourist gaze and turning themselves into a commodified spectacle of western tourist fantasies (Bandy 1996:555, Salazar 2010:154), the local hosts are often in control of these strategies of the spectacular, and they use them as a conscious mode of self-fashioning that holds the promise of material gain and offers them the possibility of circulating their own self-representations far beyond the horizon of their local world (see also Comaroff & Comaroff 2009 for similar examples elsewhere in Africa). Hence, the touristification of the local worlds can offer local agents the chance to insert themselves in the contemporary global oecumene, and to carve out an inclusive space in which they can act and communicate in concert with the rest of the world, African and Western alike.
Tourism in the South Rift Valley
Tourism is also one of the largest and fastest growing industries in the world. It is also a booming industry in Ethiopia. The country currently knows an unprecedented increase in tourism and has the ambition to become the fifth most visited African tourism destination. Currently tourism in Ethiopia is divided into two circuits: Northern historic tourism, mainly religious, archaeological and pilgrimage tourism to iconic towns as Lalibela (rock hewn churches), Aksum (relics, such as carved obelisks, from the Kingdom of Aksum), and Harar (fourth holiest city in Islam); and Southern ethnological and nature based tourism such as the unique wilderness parks, museums, and ethnic groups. The benefits incurred so far have not been significant (World Bank 2006). More recently, however, interest in, and promotion of, cultural tourism to rural areas is on the rise and tourists find their way to culturally interesting sites in different corners of the country.
Among the 86 ethnic groups of Ethiopia, 16 of them can be found in South Omo Zone, an area that is known for its various indigenous groups and cultural heterogeneity. This region is witnessing a rise of tourists that travel in groups or autonomously, primarily to visit the pastoral communities in the region. The construction of the airport in Jinka, a small town centrally located in the region, will definitely play a significant role in the further development of the tourist sector in this region.
The Hamar are a pastoral community living in the South Omo Zone, near the Kenyan border. Their main livelihood depends on cattle rearing, combined with growing maize and sorghum for daily consumption, and some also do beekeeping (Strecker, Ivo & Jean Lydall, 1979a). They are one of the many Southern Ethiopian pastoral people that attract tourists to the region, and they are also popular research objects of anthropologists and documentary makers. The circulation of images of their pastoral lifestyle, clothing and housing has made them an iconic example of African herdsmen cultures. Representations of the Hamar are often exotic and also erotic, attracting more tourists to flock to the region to see this remnant of an ‘unspoiled past’ with their own eyes and cameras. Since several decades, large pockets of their land have been grabbed for irrigation schemes, commercial farms and the creation of nature parks. While the Ethiopian constitution guarantees their right to consultation, in reality their land has been taken without their consent, and is still under high pressure for mega infrastructural projects. Their pastoral lifestyle is heavily affected by the growing scarcity of land, and this has augmented their dependence on outsiders, such as tourists, NGOs and others. However, their relationship to these outsiders remains ambivalent.
Research among the Mursi, another pastoral ethnic group in the Omo valley that is exposed to an increasing flow of tourists visiting their area, shows how they have developed specific political institutions to organise their daily contacts with the tourists, what Régi (2014:303) calls “a political exterior” which they use to relate to tourists and to Ethiopian government representatives, as well as to deal with the social and political changes the tourism generates. As Régi (2014) describes, for many Mursi tourism is the only available opportunity that has ecological (no need to look for new pasture or fight with neighbours over land), economic (tourism generates more cash than other informal economic activities), material (new materials and objects enter the household sphere), personal (establishing relations with tourists) prospects. For some, these encounters generate positive outcomes, for others the consequences are destructive (alcohol abuse, competition). Moreover, tourism compels the Mursi to negotiate their identity. “Tourism enters into the constant identity negotiation that pastoralist people undertake within their established set of values” (Régi 2014:303).
Objectives of the Field School
The main objective of the Field School is to study, analyse and understand the various relationships between tourism development and the wide range of social, cultural, religious, and political structures and processes that such development sets in motion today, and might or will bring in the nearby future.
Possible research questions of the Field School may include:
What are tourism policies and their effects in the region?
Who are the various actors that have a role in the touristic encounter?
What are the economic opportunities and benefits that tourism brings about in the eyes of the various actors and (groups of) members of the community (women, elders, youth, men, guides, families, traders, actors in the tourist business, etcetera)? What are pitfalls, unexpected effects and concerns?
What kind of socio-cultural change is brought by the increasing number of tourists? How has this impacted on family relations and roles, individual and community relations?
How do the Hamar deal with the challenges of social change?
What are imaginaries that guests and hosts have of one another and how/when/by whom are these negotiated?
What are issues of: authenticity, mobility, leisure, recreation, heritage?
(How) do the Hamar organise themselves to receive tourists?
What are narratives of strangerhood, of self, of identity?
(How) does local politics deal with the increasing tourism, (how) are they affected by it and what are visions for the future?
What images and representations do the Hamar manipulate to their own advantage?
How do these representations meet, interact, or conflict and clash? What are the power relations that feed these imaginaries and how do these affect, shape or unsettle the worlds of those represented, such as the Hamar?
What kind of agency do the Hamar carve out, do they put common exotic imaginaries about their lives to their own use, and if so, how?
What is the role of infrastructural developments or lacks, of (social) media, of mobility?
What is the role, status, meaning of tourist, for hosts and for tourists? What is cultural heritage and how does it impact on tourism?
What are the politics and economics of tourist encounters?
What role can (have) anthropologists play(ed) in the development of the touristic potential of region?
Students should submit the following documents:
latest academic records
a motivation letter
an abstract of your potential contribution to the event at the following link:
Having met so many people working in development - none have done a course that combines anthropology and development. I highly value this unique and important perspective, which penetrates your way of thinking when staying in this field. It would've been a different ballgame without CADES.