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Kennedy School Postdoc Discusses Government-Sanctioned Mass Expulsion at Belfer Center Seminar

The Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs is located at the Harvard Kennedy School.
The Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs is located at the Harvard Kennedy School. By Karina G. Gonzalez-Espinoza
By Cam E. Kettles, Jasmine Palma, and Rysa Tahilramani, Contributing Writers

Meghan M. Garrity, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, discussed her research on government-sanctioned mass expulsion events at a virtual Belfer Center seminar Thursday.

Roughly 25 people attended the talk, entitled “Disorderly and Inhumane: Explaining Government-Sponsored Mass Expulsion, 1900–2020.” During the seminar, Garrity discussed factors that contribute to mass population exchanges and presented the case studies of Uganda — which experienced a mass expulsion event — and Kenya, which did not.

Garrity identified three elements that constrain or enable state-sponsored mass expulsion: domestic and transnational alliances, a government’s relationship to the home country of a targeted group, and the involvement of international organizations like the United Nations.

“Now, none of these factors on its own is enough to enable or constrain expulsion, but the more that are in place, the more likely that it becomes,” Garrity said.

Garrity focused on the case studies of Kenya and Uganda, where there were similar conditions that may have led to expulsion events, but different outcomes occurred. Asians arrived to Kenya and Uganda when they were part of the British Empires. Though there were tensions in both countries, only Uganda’s government expelled the country’s Asian population, while Kenya did not adopt an expulsion policy.

Under Garrity’s framework, political and economic relationships with international allies are influential in a government’s decision to expel a population. Kenya’s reliance on other nations including the United Kingdom both financially and militarily may be one reason why its government did not expel its Asian population, Garrity said.

“An Asian expulsion would have harmed Kenya’s transnational alliances by jeopardizing investor confidence, hindering economic growth, and risking key military and intelligence support,” she said.

A key distinction between the countries was the transition from British colonial rule, which was peaceful for Uganda but violent for Kenya.

“Given this experience, one may have expected the Kenyan government to retaliate both against the British colonizers and the privileged Asian minorities, but they didn’t,” Garrity said.

In an interview after the event, Garrity, who worked in humanitarian aid and development for a decade prior to joining HKS’ International Security program, said she uses datasets to guide her research. She previously published a dataset documenting 139 mass expulsion events over the last century.

Garrity said her interests lie in exploring how governments treat ethnic minorities in cases not as extreme as genocide but that “are certainly also atrocities in their own right.”

“That was the impetus behind developing the dataset and then pursuing additional research on mass expulsion,” she said.

Garrity said she hopes her work helps researchers better understand mass expulsion events in order to drive more effective policy responses.

“Something that I’m trying to do with my work is to bring what I’ve been able to glean from having the luxury of time to really get in the weeds on these issues, and try to figure out how to translate that into effective and sustained policy recommendations for the people who are facing these issues,” Garrity said.

According to Garrity, governments should always “back away from” suggesting mass removals or negotiated international exchanges of populations.

“We should abandon that as a policy recommendation in all cases,” she said.

Correction: November 14, 2022

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the period in which Asians migrated to Kenya and Uganda.

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