Disaster authoritarianism: an ethnography of state and NGO responses in the aftermath of tropical cyclone Idai in Chimanimani district, Zimbabwe

Kudejira, Denboy (2023) Disaster authoritarianism: an ethnography of state and NGO responses in the aftermath of tropical cyclone Idai in Chimanimani district, Zimbabwe. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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This thesis examines how state and non-governmental organization (NGO) responses to the March 2019 tropical cyclone Idai in the Chimanimani district of Zimbabwe inform our understanding of the processes and practices through which disasters create opportunities for the state to extend and reinforce its structures and systems of authoritarian power. I offer “disaster authoritarianism” as a concept to describe the inner workings of state authoritarianism and the ways in which state authoritarian power is produced and reproduced in the daily practices of NGOs and disaster survivors. Disaster authoritarianism describes the processes and practices through which state authoritarianism produces disaster vulnerability and how authoritarian power is reproduced during emergency relief, recovery, and reconstitution operations. The concept reveals the nature of collaborations, conflicts, and contestations that emerge when external agencies become entangled in the daily lives of survivors. The tropical cyclone Idai disaster became an entry point for the state to reassert its structures and systems of authoritarianism, and this had major implications on its overall response to the disaster, including interactions with NGOs, and survivors. Although NGOs played a critical role as “brokers” through which aid could be channeled to survivors, their depoliticization strategies and factors such as the lack of coordination, and lack of transparency and accountability, created conducive conditions for the production and reproduction of state authoritarianism. Diminished survivor agency, compounded by the inequitable access to disaster relief aid, triggered individualized complaints, resentment, and non-compliance among some survivors, and opportunism among others. These individualized survivor responses reduced the possibility of survivors mobilizing and challenging the state and NGO actions they perceived as not complying with locally constructed interpretations of the disaster. These results are based on ethnographic fieldwork that I carried out in Chimanimani from November 2020 to December 2021. During this period, I volunteered as a Program Management Advisor for a local NGO (which I call NJIVA Trust) implementing post-Idai response initiatives in the district. I participated in meetings and events involving the state and NGOs and I held interviews with senior state officials, NGO employees, and the survivors. The thesis concludes that long-term disaster response can be achieved through adopting a holistic approach that addresses vulnerability factors that predispose vulnerable communities to disasters as well as incorporating local systems of meaning-making rather than imposing interventions based on superficial assumptions and political interests.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/15926
Item ID: 15926
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 353-379)
Keywords: disaster authoritarianism, cyclone Idai, Chimamimani, Zimbabwe, disasters
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Anthropology
Date: January 2023
Date Type: Submission
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): https://doi.org/10.48336/T2M2-S708
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Authoritarianism -- Zimbabwe -- Chimanimani district; Natural disasters -- Zimbabwe -- Chimanimani district; Nonprofit organizations -- Zimbabwe -- Chimanimani district; Idai storm, 2019; Disaster relief -- Zimbabwe -- Chimanimani district

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