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Science and Social Conflicts in Climate Planning: The View from Ethiopia

This week’s show brings our listeners more than an hour of in-depth analysis and lively conversation on the challenges of climate change planning, both in Ethiopia and across the diverse governance landscape of East and North Africa. Tying in closely with a case study newly developed by a team of SNRE students for the pilot project “Michigan Sustainability Cases,” the broadcast explores the complexity of crafting effective and equitable adaptation policy. Specifically, we ask how national adaptation plans are made? By and for whom? What are the decision-making criteria? And what could these criteria fail to account for? Bringing together legal, anthropological, and environmental expertise, the broadcast takes adaptation policy as the starting point for a broad-ranging dialogue on climate change impacts, social conflict across ethno-linguistic groups, and national planning as a tool of marginalization.


Our IHIH hosts Rebecca Hardin and Katie Browne, and guest host Arman Golrokhian are joined by three delightful and distinguished guests: Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and current SNRE student Benjamin Morse, Dr. Kelly Askew of the Department of Anthropology and the Department of African and Afroamerican Studies (DAAS), and Professor Laura Beny of the Law School.

In the first half of the broadcast, we dive into Benjamin’s experience working in Northern Ethiopia, and especially the climate change impacts he witnessed firsthand in rural communities. Guided by Arman, we then delve more deeply into the nitty-gritty of adaptation planning, specifically the criteria employed by the UN Development Program (UNDP) in selecting and prioritizing specific projects. In a pre-recorded interview with Benjamin Larroquette, a regional technical advisor for the UNDP, we learn about the decision-making process, how environmental and development priorities are balanced, and what assumptions are built into the analysis.

“Let’s Plant a Tree,” one of a series of collaborative PSAs produced by Ben during his years with Peace Corps in Ethiopia

In the second half of the broadcast we move into a broader discussion of adaptation planning in East and North Africa, drawing upon the expertise of Professor Laura Beny, who has written extensively on the challenges of governance in Sudan and South Sudan, and Dr. Kelly Askew, whose research has increasingly focused on land rights and economic rights of Maa-speaking peoples in Tanzania. Dr. Beny highlights many of the challenges faced by the world’s youngest country, South Sudan, particularly along its borders where migration, conflict over resources, and questions of citizenship have contributed to chronic instability. Emphasizing that national plans often fail to take the interests of marginalized groups into sufficient consideration, Dr. Beny warns that current climate plans and projects can play into broader challenges of resource access.

“Kudung Dance” by Bilpam Akech – a traditional Atuot Dinka dance song recommended by Professor Laura Beny

Dr. Askew reinforces these points, drawing attention to the ways in which the needs of pastoralist and hunter-gatherer groups are routinely disregarded in national planning, often leading to displacement, persecution, and ethnic-based violence, as has unfortunately been the recent case with the Masaai in Tanzania. Climate change, Dr. Askew asserts, poses a particular threat to such marginalized groups as changing weather and precipitation patterns drive governments to expand agriculture in the name of food security, increasingly compromising access these groups’ access to rangelands and water. Both Professor Beny and Dr. Askew also call for greater scrutiny of the role of international institutions, who underwrite and sponsor many of the development projects which drive displacement and marginalization. These institutions, they argue, should be held as accountable as national governments for project outcomes.

“Ahled Ale” by Ethiopian artist Tewodros Kassahun, aka “Teddy Afro” – recommendation from Julie Jarvey, who recently returned from fieldwork in the Simien Mountains in northern Ethiopia

Further readings on the controversial “villagization” process currently underway in the Omo Valley in Southern Ethiopia, which has been linked to widespread displacement:

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Benjamin Morse

Benjamin is a Behavior, Education and Communication Master of Science Candidate in the School of Natural Resource and Environment and a Master of Public Policy Candidate at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. While attending school, Benjamin works as a Campus Recruiter for the Peace Corps on University of Michigan’s campus and as the Social Media Director for Detroit Digital Advertising; an automotive digital advertising rep firm located in Detroit. He’s also a returned Peace Corps volunteer, world-traveler, environmentalist, gregarious optimist, educator, mentor and adventurist.

Benjamin is originally from Colorado and has lived in Australia, Costa Rica and Ethiopia and currently lives in the Republic of Korea. He is completing research for his Master’s Thesis focusing on behavior-change in ecotourism. Benjamin has over three years of international experience with an emphasis on ecotourism development, behavior-change programming, permaculture design, cross-cultural communication, leadership and ingenuity.


Arman GolrokhianPicture

Arman Golrokhian is a second year dual degree master’s student at the University of Michigan in the School of Natural Resources and Environment and the Ford School of Public Policy. He has participated in numerous international climate change meetings, including the 2014 and 2015 Bonn Climate Change conferences and the 2015 20th Conference of Parties of the United Nations Convention Framework on Climate Change.

Arman is passionate about creating more sustainable societies by applying his understanding of the natural resources system and working with decision makers to come up with innovative decision-making processes. Besides his master’s programs, Arman is also a student researcher in life cycle assessment (LCA) at the Center of Sustainable Systems and a member of the Ross Energy Club.


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Kelly Askew
Kelly Askew is the Director of the African Studies Center and Professor of Anthropology and the Department of African and Afroamerican Studies (DAAS). She has worked for over two decades in Tanzania and Kenya. In addition to her research in East Africa on performance, nationalism, media, postsocialism, and the privatization of property rights, Dr. Askew has pursued various film and video projects. Her writings and film projects span two primary research areas: poetic arts as vehicles for populist engagement with politics, and the formalization of property rights.Dr. Askew is Co-Principal Investigator on a $1.5 million grant from USAID to strengthen engineering education in Liberia, part of an $18.5 million effort titled Excellence in Higher Education for Liberian Development (EHELD), which constitutes a collaboration between the University of Michigan, Rutgers, North Carolina State, Kwame Nkrumah University for Science and Technology and RTI International.

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Laura Beny
Laura Beny is a professor at University of Michigan Law School, teaching in Corporate Finance, Enterprise Organization, International Finance, the Public Corporation, Law and Development, and Law and Finance. Her research interests include a wide range of subjects in law and economics, finance, political economy, and international development. Her research has been published in the American Economic Review, American Law and Economics Review, Journal of Corporation Law, and Harvard Business Law Review, among others. Dr. Beny is co-editor with Sondra Hale of the forthcoming critical volumeSudan’s Killing Fields: Political Violence and Fragmentation (Red Sea Press).In addition to her scholarly work, Dr. Beny has published numerous opinion pieces on Sudan and South Sudan in various international media, such as Newsweek International, Africa.com, and Al Jazeera, among others. She also has served as a legal consultant on numerous projects in the United States and Africa. Before coming to Michigan, she practiced private and pro bono law at Debevoise & Plimpton, an international law firm based in New York City.

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Benjamin Larroquette
Benjamin Larroquette is the Regional Technical Advisor of United Nations Development Programme – Global Environment Facility (UNDP-GEF). He provides oversight and technical support to 15 African countries on implementing Climate Information and Early Warning Systems Strengthening Livelihoods and Disaster Risk Reduction and adaptation to Climate Change.In our show, we played a prerecorded interview that Arman did with Mr. Larroquette about National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA).

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This week’s guests and hosts in Studio: (from L to R) Dr. Rebecca Hardin, Dr. Kelly Askew, Professor Laura Beny, Benjamin Morse, and Katie Browne.
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This week’s full production team: (from L to R) Katie Browne, Dr. Kelly Askew, Benjamin Morse, Dr. Rebecca Hardin, Professor Laura Beny, Cameron Bothner, and Arman Golrokhian.

And finally, please enjoy this music proposed by It’s Hot in Here founder and previous cohost Jennifer Johnson — “Eyekesekesenge Fekerhe” by Bezunesh Bekele, the “Aretha Franklin of Ethiopia”:

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