ANR-FNS - Appel à projets générique 2018 - FNS

Self-Accomplishment and Local Moralities in Eastern Africa – SALMEA_18

Submission summary

In East Africa, fast-changing social realities informed by structural change have fundamentally affected authority, ownership, inheritance and kinship. This has transformed representations and practices of social roles, moral attitudes, and self-accomplishment, that is, shared ideas about a well-led and successful life and ways to realise it. Among the characteristics that define self-accomplishment and intersect with ethnicity, religion, gender, class, and generation, we mainly find access to wealth, respectability, authority, honour, fame, and posterity. This project aims to study the ways in which people in East Africa shape their lives to access and transmit wealth, obtain authority and power, and gain respectability and social influence using different repertoires of principles and values. In other words, its main objective is to understand the dynamic relations between self-accomplishment and morality.
To do so, we will scrutinize four areas: wealth, violence, religion and kinship; they constitute both repertoires of morality and paths to self-accomplishment. Indeed, narratives on a life well-led link up aspects of wealth and kinship. Ethnicity and religion also offer their specific answers as to how to lead one’s life. What happens when aspirations putting wealth and family at the centre of one’s life are unattainable? Violence and religion translate into new forms of self-accomplishment. Although analytically distinct, the economic, political, social, and symbolic facets of self-accomplishment cannot be studied independently: e.g. wealth commands respect, while respect can facilitate wealth.
Earlier literature on Central Kenya show, for instance, that self-accomplishment for men had long been obtained through access to land for cultivation, and through marriage and children; yet, men who failed in these dominant trajectories of self-accomplishment could turn to other paths, for example relocating to new territories where ‘virgin’ land could be cleared, or raiding neighbouring communities for cattle, women, and children. In today’s East Africa, achieving self-accomplishment through the acquisition and cultivation of land is increasingly out of reach for both men and women, so that people test or even invent alternative ways to access wealth, obtain social influence, and gain respect; these alternative ways combine historical models with new representations and practices, drawing from religious, ethnic, national or globalized repertoires of references; and men, women, and youth create and use different ways to reach a life well-led.
For centuries, the East African the region was shaped through trade and migration flows, before being integrated into Indian ocean trade networks in the 18th and 19th c., and experiencing imperial and colonial domination in the 20th c. Each country followed a unique historical trajectory that defined a territory, established sovereignty, and cultivated national identity. Even though as nation states, they have taken divergent development paths, they all followed infrastructure-based developmental capitalism, while supporting regional integration. At the same time, the Eastern African region includes margins that fluctuate depending on regional reconfiguration.
Renewing the scholarly literature on morality and self-accomplishment specific to East Africa, opening it to international scholarly debates in the social sciences about the link between values and action, this project will capture, through research in the field and theoretical insights, changes in morality and self-accomplishment in East Africa today, notably by breaking down in refined ways how social categories within which people are located intersect in the conception and construction of a self-accomplished life. It has wide-ranging implications for the ability of governments, civil society actors and development organizations to facilitate interventions that benefit people and help them live better lives.

Project coordinator

Monsieur Henri MEDARD (Institut des mondes africains)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


IMAf Institut des mondes africains
IHEID Institut de Hautes Etudes Internationales et du Développement
IFRA Institut Français de Recherche en Afrique

Help of the ANR 411,804 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: March 2019 - 42 Months

Useful links