Cosmopolitics, Neoliberalism, and the State:
The Indigenous Rights Movement in Africa1
Dorothy L. Hodgson
Indigenous rights, which derive from international human rights legislation, are premised on cosmopolitan values of equality, shared rights and responsibilities as citizens, and the recognition and respect of cultural diversity (cf. Appiah 1997, 2005; Breckenridge et al. 2002; Cheah and Robbins 1998). Indigenous activists from across the globe have been extraordinarily successful at having their economic, political and cultural rights recognised and affirmed by the United Nations, transnational advocacy groups and donors. But some, especially African activists, have been far less successful at leveraging the international recognition of indigenous rights in their national struggles for recognition, resources and rights. Tensions between indigenous activists and their governments have intensified as African states have been radically transformed by neoliberal political, economic and social policies, further undermining the precarious livelihoods of historically marginalised citizens.
In this chapter, I argue that cosmopolitics, of which indigenous activism is one form, must therefore take seriously the mediating role of the state and the pressures of neoliberalism in shaping political positionings2 and possibilities for civil society to engage with transnational advocacy networks and movements. The chapter uses an ethnohistorical case study of Maasai activists in Tanzania to explore the centrality of the state to both indigenous rights and neoliberalism, and the consequent challenges to their political struggles. It traces and explains three phases of the relationship between Maasai and the Tanzanian state: 1) a deeply modernist, paternalist postcolonial state that treated Maasai as 'subjects' rather than 'citizens', and left little space for Maasai political engagement; 2) the emergence and embrace of indigenous rights and transnational advocacy by Maasai activists in the 1990s; and 3) a recent shift by Maasai activists from discourses of indigeneity to discourses of livelihoods, from international to national advocacy, and from calling themselves non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to civil society organisations (CSOs). These shifting political positionings within international and national debates inform, challenge, and complicate ongoing theoretical and political debates about the struggles of transnational social