BIEA Seminar: Rain, Power, Sovereignty & The Materiality Of Signs In Southern Zimbabwe, Apr. 16 2014 @ BIEA / IFRA

April 12, 2014 at 2:42 pm Leave a comment

Rain, Power, Sovereignty and The Materiality Of Signs In Southern Zimbabwe

Date: Wednesday 16th April 2014
Venue: British Institute in Eastern Africa, Laikipia Road, Kileleshwa, Nairobi
Time: 11.00 am
Entry: Prior RSVP. For more information please contact seminars@biea.ac.uk or call +254 735 260 004

Seminar by: Joost Fontein, University of Edinburgh
Chair: Sinoxolo Neo Musangi, British Institute in Eastern Africa

Abstract
In 2010 a government meteorologist revealed that for much of the last decade, the Zimbabwean weather forecast had been censored on a daily basis by agents of the President’s Office. ‘This information’ he said ‘was seen as sensitive’. What this ‘sensitivity’ amounts to is the subject of this paper. It is hard to make sense of the government’s impulse to censor the weather forecast in the 2000s without reference to the localized re-configurations of authority over land and ‘re-making’ of the state that fast track land reform provoked. To the extent that fast track offered new opportunities for the realization of a diversity of localised aspirations and imagined futures that turned on access to land and fertile soils in divergent ways, the recurrent droughts and failing harvests of the early 2000s were politically significant because they called into question the legitimacy of land reform, and the broader ‘thirdchimurenga’ project constituted around it. But across Zimbabwe, and the region, rainfall and drought have long been measures of contested political legitimacy in more complex ways not limited to the politics of food, famine and agricultural production. In southern Zimbabwe, this is true not just for spirit mediums, chiefs and other ‘traditionalist’ authorities for whom rainmaking practices are well-established means of demonstrating ‘autochthony’, sovereignty and legitimacy, but also for war veterans, new farmers, government technocrats and others involved in land reform during the 2000s. This is what I examine here. Whilst I focus particularly on rainmaking practices, encounters with njuzu water spirits, and national biras that took place in the 2005-6 when research was carried out, the larger point I pursue is that water acts as an index of power – of the entangled but contested play of legitimacy and sovereignty – across many different registers of meaning and regimes of rule. In making this argument I engage with Keane (2003; 2005) and Engelke’s elaboration of Peirce’s theory of signs (1955), and build upon others (James 1972; Jedrej 1992) who have long argued that rainmaking ‘traditions’ across eastern, central and southern Africa are less a form of applied meteorology and more an idiom of politics and power, in order to argue that they are necessarily both at the same time.

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Out of Town: 2nd Edition of the Hakuna Matata Festival, Apr. 19 2014 @ the Machakos Peoples Recreational Park Exhibition: Mentor & the mentored by Amimo Kala & Tobiko Simon, Apr. 12-30 2014 @ National Museum

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