Villagisation for our Time: Neoliberal governmentality and the experiences of villagised Burundian returnees
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Since 1972, genocidal violence and conflict in Burundi has generated over nearly one million refugees. With the signing of peace accords in 2000, and shifts in asylum policies, an unprecedented number of former refugees had returned, prior to increased political violence in 2015. The Burundian government and its humanitarian partners have constructed Villages Ruraux Intégrés (VRIs, or Rural Integrated Villages) to resettle those not able to reclaim their former land, or who are otherwise landless. Framed as a pragmatic solution for resettling landless returnees’ in a predominantly agrarian setting, it aims also for a transformation from a subsistence economy to a market economy, transforming residents from supposedly aid-dependent former refugees, to self-sufficient, peaceful citizens, responsible for their own wellbeing. This thesis highlights the challenges of regained citizenship for these displaced people in a neoliberalizing landscape of peace and reconstruction. The first manuscript examines the logic behind the creation of these villages, and how this logic took form in their actual construction. While past villagisations’ have been characterised as ‘authoritarian high modernist grand schemes’ and are thus different from today’s more subtle modes of governing populations, I argue that the two are not mutually exclusive. The VRI program draws on both modes of governance, constructing ordered landscapes and seeking to shape citizen conduct. In doing so, it exemplifies what many geographers have identified as a contradictory shift in neoliberalism towards a more interventionist shaping of society. The second manuscript examines the experiences of regained citizenship and resettlement among former Burundian refugees in newly created VRIs. Here I aim to understand how living in these socio-spatially ordered landscapes has affected returnees’ experiences of citizenship and belonging. I argue that VRIs are problematic as a post-conflict reconstruction spatial strategy because they rely upon contradictory forms of neoliberal governance that require residents to behave both as passive, compliant, apolitical humanitarian aid recipients when rare aid is delivered, and as enterprising and self-sufficient neoliberal subjects in environments that offer limited livelihood opportunities. Addressing the challenges of return requires attention to the processes shaping their experiences, beyond the common-sense scales of the village and the state.