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Border PoliticsSocial Movements, Collective Identities, and Globalization$

Nancy A. Naples and Jennifer Bickham Mendez

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9781479898992

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479898992.001.0001

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Frames, Boomerangs, and Global Assemblages

Frames, Boomerangs, and Global Assemblages

Border Distortions in the Global Resistance to Dam Building in Lesotho

(p.261) 10 Frames, Boomerangs, and Global Assemblages
Border Politics

Yvonne A. Braun

Michael C. Dreiling

NYU Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter explores the limits, tensions, and possibilities of cross-border organizing using the case of International Rivers and the local struggle of activists in Lesotho challenging a mega-dam water scheme, the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP). It privileges the perspective of one local NGO, the Highlands Church Action Group (HCAG), constituted by Basotho activists who see themselves as working on behalf of communities affected by the LHWP and not necessarily as global or antidam activists. It uncovers often-overlooked internal dynamics of the boomerang effect, a political strategy in which organizations form transnational advocacy networks to leverage pressure against targeted institutions to implement reforms or enforce laws or policies. As activists pursue this boomerang pattern, however, there is a risk of privileging the interpretations and identities of transnational allies, potentially leading to “border distortions”—rooted in failures to bridge social movement frames across structural chasms, from local to transnational advocacy networks—which can erode the resonance and strategic communication needed for the boomerang's full force to be effectively implemented.

Keywords:   cross-border organizing, International Rivers, activism, Lesotho Highlands Water Project, mega-dam projects, Highlands Church Action Group, Basotho activists, boomerang effect

We, the people from 20 countries gathered in Curitiba, Brazil, representing organizations of dam-affected people and of opponents of destructive dams, have shared our experiences of the losses we have suffered and the threats we face because of dams. Although our experiences reflect our diverse cultural, social, political and environmental realities, our struggles are one … Water for life, not for death!

—Declaration of Curitiba, Affirming the Right to Life and Livelihood of People Affected by Dams, the First International Meeting of People Affected By Dams, 1997

The history of large dams and affected communities in Southern Africa has been one of broken promises and incalculable losses … We have been forced to move against our will without knowing when or where we would be going, and without a way for our concerns or objections to be heard. We have not been treated with dignity, nor with respect, for our customs, our ancestors or our children. We have shouldered the burden of large dams, but we have enjoyed very few of the benefits. In short, large dams have been devastating to many of our communities.

—Voices of Affected Communities, Southern African Hearings’ Final Declaration, 1999

(p.262) Introduction

National strategies for economic development commonly employ infrastructure projects that include mega-dams, hydroelectric power, and, as our case captures, international trade in water or “white gold,” as it is known in Lesotho.1 Water development, however, is not without contention or consequence. Once erected, large dams conceal the modernist policies, violent practices, and local sacrifices that make these projects possible. Time and resources are dedicated to ensure that the narrative justifications for these projects ultimately erase the messy complications of lived social engineering that takes place in the communities of those who are displaced, dispossessed, and disrupted—individually and collectively—by large-scale dams.

As the significant social and environmental consequences of dams are justified through national development, these communities become part of the myth of “local pain for national gain” (Roy 2002). Large-scale dam projects are almost without exception sited in poor, rural, and politically, ethnically, or socially marginalized communities, ironically structuring the “local pain” to disproportionately affect already disempowered populations.

In recent decades, threats of environmental injustice by mega-dam projects have moved communities to organize politically and strategically align with transnational environmental and human rights organizations, constituting a global antidam movement and a site for global counternarratives to large dam building. Communities affected by large dams constitute part of a “global assemblage” (Ong and Collier 2005), drawn together across vast physical and social distances in an identity of shared experience that elevates their seemingly local experiences to global concerns. Transnational advocacy networks (Keck and Sikkink 1998) prove critical to making connections among these communities, linking their shared concerns and experiences via issue-based campaigns. The uniquely long-term nature of mega-dam projects, and the development of infrastructure associated with them, creates opportunities for sustained contention and networking against those projects. Specific organizations within these networks, such as International Rivers (IR), mobilize constituents from China and Brazil to India and Lesotho who engage in multiyear struggles.

(p.263) The experiences and discourses of activists globally, however, may not resonate similarly in their home nations. The participants in these new global assemblages remain embedded in nation-states and historical contexts that exert considerable influence on political framing and strategies. Following Bickham Mendez’s call for the “analysis of the power relations that occur within transnational organizing initiatives” (2002, 139), our case highlights how power differentials shape access to and control over information and framing efforts, critical resources within “transnationalism from below” (Smith and Guarnizo 1998). Even as these new global forms and the resistance they symbolize and embody are celebrated, we caution that it remains important to consider how activists negotiate the power differences that contour global, regional, and local political landscapes.

This chapter explores the limits, tensions, and possibilities of cross-border organizing using the case of International Rivers and the local struggle of activists in Lesotho challenging a mega-dam water scheme, the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP).2 This is not a comprehensive examination of the global movement, but rather a locally-focused analysis in which we privilege the perspective of one local NGO, the Highlands Church Action Group (HCAG), constituted by Basotho activists who see themselves as working on behalf of communities affected by the LHWP and not necessarily as global or antidam activists. Like the women garment assembly (maquilas) workers organizing transnationally in Central America (Bickham Mendez 2002), Basotho activists employ a type of “self-limiting radicalism” (Cohen and Arato 1992) that seeks to work with the institutions implementing the mega-scheme (the World Bank, the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority, the state) to improve conditions for people directly affected, in contrast to the more radical, ideological opposition to large dams espoused by International Rivers. Despite these differences, they do cross borders and actively collaborate with, receive material support from, and attend sponsored conferences in Brazil, Washington, DC, and elsewhere as part of a larger movement. These local activists acknowledge the power of their global encounters and their own transformations in the process. We problematize these encounters, juxtaposing the actions and claims of one local advocacy organization with those of their international ally advocating an end to large dam projects around the world.

(p.264) This case study illustrates how local activists, in the process of forging alliances, are compelled to work with the expectations of their transnational allies with the hope of amplifying their local concerns. Yet this privileging of transnational allies in the uneasy fusion of a global assemblage of advocates for “rivers and rights” left key concerns and understandings at the local level unaddressed and unheard. Our analysis addresses the intersections of local and global identities in a social movement context, where a “boomerang pattern” potentially helps transnational allies boost local demands. As activists pursue this boomerang pattern, however, there is a risk of privileging the interpretations and identities of transnational allies, potentially leading to “border distortions”—rooted in failures to bridge social movement frames across structural chasms, from local to transnational advocacy networks—which can erode the resonance and strategic communication needed for the boomerang’s full force to be effectively implemented.

Before turning to our case study, we provide context for our analysis by describing transnational initiatives to resist mega-dam construction and the frames that they have used to advocate their cause. We then go on to present a theoretical framework for analyzing our case, drawing from social movement theory as well as scholarship on global assemblages and transnational advocacy networks. After providing background information about the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, the target of HCAG’s and IR’s actions, we present the case of transnational advocacy efforts to oppose mega-dam projects in Lesotho.

Theoretical Background: Global Assemblages, Boomerang Strategies, and Frame-Bridging in Oppositions to Mega-Dam Projects

Local struggles against large-scale water and dam development projects have multiplied as World Bank and national development agencies incorporate neoliberal prescriptions to generate hydroelectric infrastructures and commodify water for domestic and international trade. Local struggles against the social displacements and ecological havoc of these massive dams, once isolated within nations—as witnessed in the numerous early and mid-twentieth-century conflicts over several dam projects—are increasingly linked via transnational advocacy networks (p.265) as Khagram documents in the case of the Narmada Dam in India (2004). Organizations like International Rivers “helped build an international movement of dam-affected people, social movements, NGOs and academics who work to stop destructive dams and protect rivers and rights” (International Rivers 2011a).

Hosting conferences that link activists, ecologists, and donors, groups like International Rivers forge the spaces and networks for discursively constructing communities that transcend the local-global dichotomy, making it possible to frame rivers and rights as global. The collective of rivers and rights advocates comprise organizations from every continent and sponsor spaces for assembly at conferences, on the web, in reports, and at public demonstrations. Together, identities and networks in this global assemblage give a transnational or global context to struggles within national borders, constructing a global form set in interactive space with, for example, the World Commission on Dams, national governments, and active publics.

Global assemblages are “domains in which the forms and values of individual and collective existence are problematized or at stake, in the sense that they are subject to technological, political, and ethical reflection and intervention” (Ong and Collier 2005, 4). Extending the concept of global assemblages to the oppositional, knowledge-framing work of rivers and rights advocacy turns our attention to the symbolic and discursive, as well as “material, collective and discursive relationships” that transform the multiplicity of local movements against dams into a global form (Ong and Collier 2005, 4). In our analysis, activists and transnational advocacy networks (TANs) and their work are constituent parts of the global assemblage. Yet the assemblage also captures the social and cultural consequences of overlapping networks and an emergent collective identity across and between networks that ultimately produce a sum greater than its parts. The assemblage reflects not just a single advocacy campaign or issue network, but overlapping campaigns and actors; it is not limited to direct relationships within transnational advocacy networks but rather constitutes the cumulative expressions and actions of advocates; the interstitial spaces between networks, organizations, and experts; and challenges the ethics of dam-building at particular sites and as development solutions globally.

(p.266) The global assemblage is a bounded space within which conversations and contestations can occur as nonhegemonic actors work to shape a discussion on global affairs, such as water and development, and to give global form and voice to these actors who must engage at local and transnational levels with global development agencies and divergent normative frameworks. Khagram demonstrates how transnationally allied opposition to big dams “had to challenge the taken-for-granted equivalence between big dams and development partly by critiquing the vision of development that legitimated these projects” (2004, 211). TANs, such as the one in our case, participate in that space by engaging and problematizing hegemonic discourses on dams as development, bringing in a discourse of rivers and rights from multiple geographies and melding environmental and human rights concerns in a new global form. Specific organizations within a TAN may also take part in the assemblage, as the configuration of an assemblage allows a multiplicity of organizational forms. These may include movement organizations as well as less politicized nongovernment organizations.

This global form is rife with shifts, mutations, and enduring patterns reflecting both conflict and continuity across spaces of the assemblage (Collier 2006). Actors participating in and constituting an assemblage struggle to bring voice and legitimacy to their specific concerns, and the “various actors involved in these novel forms of transnational action are themselves altered over time” (Khagram 2004, 212). While Khagram does not use the term “global assemblage,” his work depicts the novel form of transnational action in the struggle over big dams and debates over development as one “in which agents and structures (re)shape dynamics of development across multiple contexts and levels” (212), and this is consistent with our conceptualization of rivers and rights advocacy within the global assemblage. Khagram found that the relationships within and across these contexts and levels were still shaped by privilege and scale, as well as material, collective, and discursive influences:

While much of the moral authority of transnationally allied contestation was based on representing dam-affected peoples, positions and tactics were often articulated by nongovernmental organizations and individuals that were not linked directly or clearly accountable to dam-affected (p.267) peoples. More resource-endowed nongovernmental organizations tended to be much more influential in shaping campaign strategies and gaining access to decision makers. This asymmetry was exacerbated because procedures for ensuring that the perspectives of allied groups were given equal weight and mechanisms for resolving differences between different groups remained underdeveloped. (2004, 209–10)

Local actors face tensions as they work with resource-rich organizations rooted in the global North and with the larger assemblage, including other local campaigns against dam-development in the global South. To explore these tensions, we build on Khagram’s work and borrow the concept of global assemblage to analyze the complex, asymmetrical relationships as they unfold in the border-crossings by advocates for rivers and rights who specifically unearth contradictory visions around dams, water, and development. We argue that in doing the work of penetrating the space of this global form, shaping it, and positioning within it, distortions occur that reflect the privileging of the interests or frames of more powerful transnational social movement organization (TSMO) over those of their local allies. Local actors may not have the same ability to access directly the range or depth of resources of the assemblage at the global level, or they may be more directly responsible or responsive to national contexts than transnational allies.

We term the disjunctures and failed attempts at successfully enacting the boomerang strategy “border distortions,” as the concept draws attention to both scale and privilege within transnational advocacy work across the spaces of the assemblage. Semiporous national borders allow for the mediation of identity and practices, however constrained, but hold uneven opportunities and risks for differentially located communities within the assemblage. Those territorialized within the confines of political borders experience greater risks than activists from transnational organizations who are removed from the on-the-ground experiences and local consequences of their political engagements.

For example, individual TSMOs and larger TANs may contribute to border distortions by neglecting the authenticity of claims at the local level in order to provide greater congruity with their transnational movement identity and their positioning across the global assemblage, thereby distorting the framing of local issues in favor of interpretations (p.268) issued by more powerful and privileged members of the TAN. In addition to border distortion, the concept of frame-bridging, taken from social movement theory, further illuminates the tensions across the bordered spaces of this assemblage.

Frame-Bridging and Border Distortions

Widely used in social movement theory to make sense of the discursive and symbolic practices of social movements, the concept of frames refers to “an interpretive schema that simplifies and condenses the ‘world out there’ by selectively punctuating and encoding objects, situations, events, experiences, and sequences of actions within one’s present or past environment.” Frames thus function “as modes of attribution and articulation” (Snow and Benford 1992, 137). For successful framing to occur in which public support is garnered for the movement’s cause, activists and social movement organizations must discursively construct a “diagnostic frame,” which attribute causes to the threat that they describe (e.g., dams, forced relocations). “Prognostic frames” articulate a course of change that will remedy their grievances (e.g., stop the dams, just compensation for land). As our case illustrates, both local and international activists approached the LHWP with differing interpretive schemas rooted in very different social contexts. For local activists, constructing a diagnostic frame relied on narratives from displaced peoples, the experiences of working with corrupt national and international agencies involved in the dam project,3 failures on the part of officials to honor compensation commitments, and more. Their transnational social movement allies, particularly the group International Rivers, work within an interpretive schema rooted in a preservationist, environmental identity forged within transnational legal, symbolic, and alliance-building networks that mobilized to oppose large dam projects. As a result, the framing practices of the two groups required frame-bridging activity—the work of linking ideologically similar but structurally distinct frames to a single, common issue (Snow, Rochford, Worden, and Benford 1986).

Frame-bridging work within the rivers and rights assemblage unfolds as people cross borders, attend conferences, meet other activists at the site of struggle, and communicate via faxes, phones, and e-mails. (p.269) These emergent networks—sometimes involving years of building connections and sharing perspectives—set the stage for the dynamic and, at times, tense character of the global assemblage. Indeed, rivers and rights advocacy takes shape through discursive practices forged in a multiplicity of struggles, creating and at times resolving tensions in distinct conflicts associated with the wide array of bordered spaces within the assemblage. Born out of interactive dialogues across the assemblage, frame-bridging was successful in some instances and at other times fell short of resulting in alignment. Failure to bridge frames across borders within the assemblage diminished the potential for frame alignment and the ability to cultivate shared identities, hindering forms of resistance available to a global assemblage.4 The tensions revealed in our case demonstrate that framing practices and local activists’ concerns are not always aligned with the mission of their primary transnational ally, and in one case activists faced real risk as a result. We suggest that these border distortions occur when efforts at frame-bridging encounter practices that privilege transnational identities and priorities. At the transnational scale, as opposed to the local or national level, actions can easily boost or diminish local concerns. For this reason, actors operating transnationally enjoy the privilege of voice across the assemblage, which may constrain or empower local actors. Attention to privilege and scale is necessary to grasp the potential for border distortions. In our case, this dynamic is visibly apparent as activists attempted to activate what Keck and Sikkink (1998) term the “boomerang effect.”

Boomerang Patterns and Transnational Environmentalism

Keck and Sikkink’s widely applied concept of the boomerang effect provides a useful framework for understanding how local activists target intransigent state elite via alliances with transnational advocacy networks. Transnational organizations and activists then amplify or leverage the demands of local actors in a transnational context, contributing to social change initiatives. As Keck and Sikkink point out, “Where governments are unresponsive to groups whose claims may none the less resonate elsewhere, international contacts can ‘amplify’ the demands of domestic groups, pry open space for new issues, and then echo these demands back into the domestic arena” (1999, 93). (p.270) Where domestic political opportunities are closed, activists and advocates can enlist this boomerang pattern to achieve outside pressure on their national government or international agency (both, in our case). Demands to enforce laws and policies or implement reforms are, theoretically, channeled through the local to the “transnational advocacy network” (TAN) and then back to states or other agencies (Keck and Sikkink 1998). TANs can help local actors achieve the goals by engaging in four interrelated types of politics (information, symbolic, leverage, and accountability) that can be combined in overlapping manners during the course of a campaign (ibid.).

Building on this conceptual framework, our study problematizes and explains the unequal linkages and framing priorities between local activists in the Highlands Church Action Group (HCAG) and International Rivers (IR), specifically outlining a case where the boomerang initiated by local activists did not return in the form imagined. Using this concept we examine rural Lesotho, in a space where global development authorities, working with national elite, restructure, usurp, and flood agricultural lands and villages while creating few means for grievances and justice to be expressed and heard.

As our case and others (Smith 2008; Tarrow 2005) demonstrate, the selective coupling of local activist groups to transnational social movement organizations (TSMOs) and advocacy networks involves a fusion of both organizational and discursive practices. Material support from TSMOs helps establish communication and organizational networks while the participation of TSMOs in local struggles affirms the identity of the organization, bringing symbolic resources that the TSMO uses to expand its own work, augmenting legitimacy, and supporting appeals for financial contributions from constituents and donors. This dynamic of alliance building and identity transformation was clearly visible in the struggle for justice in Lesotho, even amid a failure to amplify local concerns when there is limited frame-bridging.

While conceptual ties between the boomerang and global assemblage are not made elsewhere, we invoke both concepts to establish the role of strategic action on the part of actual and potential members of an assemblage. We prefer this conceptual association over the transnational advocacy network concept because the actual work of linking local and global advocates for rivers and rights generates a cultural (p.271) and organizational network that transcends the dualistic terms of local and global, creating a collective greater than the sum of its parts. The assemblage concept captures the sense of an emergent whole, a form that possesses both local and global features in a dynamic though bordered whole, in which nonhegemonic actors work to shape the conversation and contestation over global affairs—in our case, large dams as development.

Transnational activists generally occupy structural and symbolic positions, relative to local, nation-state bound activists who are privileged in terms of resources and centrality in the networks that give the assemblage form. We argue that this is in part due to unequal conditions across zones of the assemblage, inequalities that arise from two dynamics within the assemblage: a privileging of environmental preservationism from the global North over a variant of environmental justice in the global South, and a structural imbalance arising from financial differences and power disparities across North and South, differences that both reflect and define the strategic privileging of the boomerang pattern.

Unequal Discourses in the Assemblage

Two similar but structurally distinct frames are illustrated in this study: one located in a local environmental justice struggle, and one constructed as a global strategy to preserve the world’s rivers. Both are structured with familiar environmentalist themes, one with parallels to an environmental justice frame (see Capek 1993 and Taylor 2000) and the other squarely within global environmental preservationism. The historical characteristics of both frames and suggested correspondence with the two organizations are discussed more fully in the following sections.

Our case illustrates how the Highlands Church Action Group’s (HCAG) challenge to the LHWP within Lesotho expressed deep concern about fair compensation for people dispossessed of land as well as for very local principles of ecology associated with food, water access, and more (see Braun 2008). These concerns have striking parallels with what Dorceta Taylor defines as the “environmental justice paradigm” (2000). Alternatively, the HCAG’s global ally International (p.272) Rivers diagnostically framed dams as environmentally harmful to rivers and riverine systems, rooted in preservationist ideals and Western conceptions of “the wild” (see Nash 1982), usually devoid of concern for human needs and communities. Like many other international preservationist groups, their environmental frames fit within a larger “new environmental paradigm” (NEP) constructed in opposition to the “exploitive capitalist paradigm” (Taylor 2000). Elements of HCAG’s framing speak to principles of fair and responsible access to shared resources, to autonomy for local villages and communities, and to other social and environmental principles that correspond to the environmental justice paradigm. This environmental justice paradigm, Taylor argues, builds from the prevailing models of environmentalism found in the new environmental paradigm and has challenged the dominance of the NEP within environmentalism in recent decades. These framing challenges over dam-development in Lesotho thus correspond to larger frame conflicts and transformations in environmentalism over the last several decades.

During the 1980s, several large American and European environmental groups expanded their politics to include the emerging issues of rainforest deforestation, climate change, and species extinction. Their strategy, while based in moral and symbolic appeals to constituents in the global North, sought to influence not only governments in the global North, but United Nations’ institutions and governments in the global South, especially evident in the first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 (UN Conference on Environment and Development). The preservationist ideology of many of these groups was initially devoid of a discourse on human justice or the rights of human communities who inhabited the forests, riverine systems, or coastal areas impacted by major development projects. It took the confluence of environmental justice movements in the global north and the expansion of indigenous struggles for both environmental and human rights to transform the terms and discourse of global environmental advocacy (see Davidson 1993; Niezen 2003). Indeed, unlike preservationist efforts to maintain distance between social issues and nonhuman nature (Gottlieb 1993), the environmental justice movement “does not treat the problem of oppression and social exploitation as separable from the rape and exploitation of the natural world” (Taylor 1993, 57). By the late 1990s, (p.273) many of the international environmental organizations, such as Rain-forest Action, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and the organization in our case, International Rivers, began framing their work not only in terms of environmental preservation or antitoxics, but also in terms of human rights and environmental justice (Doherty and Doyle 2008).

Environmental movement organizations whose focus was on the new global environmental politics aimed to bridge these concerns and to forge transnational advocacy networks based on an international or global identity. Credibility for this identity-claim thus required legitimate connections to local struggles across regions of the world. Like many other environmental groups during the 1990s, International Rivers developed connections with local activists involved in development conflicts over dams and rivers. The networks forged in these struggles established the basis for a global assemblage identity with connections, even if transient, to people along the Narmada (“Save the Narmada” campaign), the Mekong, and other major river systems. These connections provided legitimacy and evidence of organizational efficacy to major donors and granting agencies that support the environmental claims of a new global mission and, no doubt, reflected some level of activist reflexivity in reshaping the IR’s mission around a new politics of environmentalism and human rights. The struggles in Lesotho entered the historical stage in this context of environmentalism and the politics of development.

Forging a global assemblage across borders and cultures, environmental groups like International Rivers pursued a strategy to foster “grassroots organizations in more than 60 countries and promote the leadership of … regional partners by providing technical and strategic advice, and bringing them together at international meetings” (International Rivers 2011a). Relying on the strategic leverage of linked communities across the globe, IR reproduces an international identity that both provides critical connectivity to disparate contexts and, as a hub in the network, claims a privileged voice concerning rivers and the people who live near them. Yet the new environmental advocacy networks remain rooted in Northern environmentalism, with discourses shaped by a century of preservationism within the new environmental paradigm. These framing practices played a role in activist understandings and the political strategies used by HCAG and International Rivers in the fight over the LHWP.

(p.274) Transnational social movement organizations are most often embedded in established networks that include funding relationships, framing and identity appeals, and activists committed to existing aims of the organization. While building alliances with local groups is often consistent with the mission of transnational organizations, guarantees of parity in concerns and claims between the local and transnational organizations are not. As Bickham Mendez (2002, 139) points out, knowing who controls information in these transnational political initiatives is imperative to understanding the power differentials that shape these efforts. As our case illustrates, activists in Lesotho who challenged the thirty-year project to sell “white gold” to South Africa faced very different risks than the quasi-borderless organizers and personnel affiliated with their transnational allies. Together, the varied context of social movement organization and identity resulted in framing challenges for activists that negatively affected the potential impacts of the boomerang strategy.

The Lesotho Highlands Water Project

Lesotho is a small, mountainous, landlocked country surrounded by South Africa on all borders. With a population of two million people, over 80 percent of the Basotho population lives in rural areas using gendered livelihood strategies that rely on agriculture, livestock farming, wage labor, and informal economic activities (Epprecht 2000). Historically, Lesotho conforms to a classic model of a dual economy, with a primary subsistence sector in the rural regions of the country and a secondary migratory labor reserve economy dependent on South Africa’s mining and industrial sector. The villages in the very remote and rural highlands areas are some of the poorest in Lesotho, which is one of the poorest countries in the world. While conditions within specific villages vary, generally speaking, remote highlands communities affected by the LHWP share in common extreme poverty—the absence of modern infrastructure such as electricity, running water, and plumbing, and limited paved roads. Over 50 percent of the total population currently lives below the international poverty line of less than US$1.25 a day.

Lesotho’s categorization as perpetually poor within international development circles in the early to mid-1980s (Ferguson 1994) no doubt (p.275) allowed the development priorities of international agencies, particularly the World Bank, to overshadow the government of Lesotho. At the time, the rise of neoliberal models of markets and development initiated a wave of structural adjustment policies by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and national and regional development agendas that stressed export-oriented paths to development. In Lesotho, this neoliberal, export-oriented vision was articulated as marketing “white gold,” or water, to South Africa through the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP).

The LHWP is a water delivery scheme between the governments of South Africa and Lesotho that will eventually include five dams linked to cross-national tunnels constructed in four phases over a period of thirty years (1987–2017). Based on a 1986 agreement called the Treaty on the LHWP between the Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho and the Government of the Republic of South Africa, the primary objective of this $8 billion World Bank project is to sell, transfer, and deliver water from rural Lesotho to urban South Africa (Lesotho Highlands Development Authority [LHDA] 1986).

The LHWP mega-project became the symbol of Lesotho’s long-term national development plans for economic growth and human development and, according to the economistic visions of World Bank consultants, the best path to the much-needed promise of neoliberal development in Lesotho (Braun 2011a). Because neoliberalism promotes an extension of markets, the valorization of property rights, and a privatization of public resources, political rights are diminished while market rights are elevated. With an emphasis on GDP growth and large-scale infrastructure development to export water to South Africa, the military government of Lesotho fused nationalistic and traditional patriarchal idioms with neoliberalism. For local people affected by the LHWP, their lived experience of development often entailed displacement and dispossession of their homes and livelihoods (Braun 2011b). Development authorities mitigated these losses using a system of compensation fraught with complications and challenges, resulting in grievances filed by people directly affected and local organizations working on their behalf.

Despite environmental and social justice critiques of neoliberal development that helped expose the rift between the promises of (p.276) market-led development and the retrenching of state social policies, critiques of this mega-dam project were treated as an affront to the principles of development by national authorities. Local activists challenged the disjunctures in Lesotho while seeking strategies to amplify their concerns about justice beyond an intransigent state. Our case study that follows illustrates the tensions and opportunities involved in working within and across global and national political landscapes.

Border Distortions: Dam-Affected Communities, Transnational Alliances, and the Global Assemblage

HCAG Meets IR: Becoming Part of the Assemblage

In the early years of LHWP construction, church ministers in the proposed Katse Dam area were overwhelmed with project-related grievances from local people in communities directly affected. They organized the Highlands Church Action Group (HCAG) in 1988 to deal with rising concerns about the unfolding social and environmental consequences, particularly problems related to losses and compensation. HCAG quickly became the primary grassroots advocacy group for people affected by the LHWP, particularly in its early years. Their work was largely defined by local needs and, consistent with environmental justice frames, they sought justice through advocacy for the poor who were absorbing the disproportionate costs of LHWP national development.

By the mid-1990s, HCAG had a full-time coordinator located in the capital city, Maseru, and three community-based fieldworkers, one assigned to each of three remote dam areas involved in Phase I of the LHWP. HCAG’s fieldworkers, who were from families directly affected by the LHWP, collected information and advocated grievances for those unable to write for themselves or for those who simply did not understand the complex process of challenging the development authority. In challenging the LHDA, and by extension the state, HCAG was viewed as being a “thorn in their side,” as “troublemakers” for “teaching the people how to complain” (interview, executive LHDA officer, 1997). Despite the staff resources, HCAG was largely known to be working on a shoestring budget, and their dedicated fieldworkers were often (p.277) working without pay for long periods of time. Facing an intransigent state and consistent financial struggles, there were always questions of whether and for how long the small organization would be viable.5

Consistent with expectations from social movement scholarship, one of the strategies HCAG used to stay viable and to leverage their message against an intransigent state was to engage in border-crossing politics, creating alliances with transnational social movement organizations (TSMOs) who might support and amplify their concerns (Braun and Dreiling 2010). HCAG was successful in making international allies who provided them with financial and technical resources, such as a fax machine and computer in 1997. These resources supported HCAG’s advocacy capabilities locally and globally and facilitated more efficient communication with transnational allies. The Coordinator of HCAG remarked that these resources lent them greater credibility in their dealings with the development authority and government, and they remained hopeful that continued transnational alliances would eventually translate more directly to advancing their concerns about grievances and justice.

One of their primary transnational allies was the International Rivers (IR) based in Berkeley, California, and Washington, DC. As a preservationist environmental organization located in the global North, IR works globally to protect riverine systems and to support people affected by what it labels “destructive large-scale river development.” IR’s advocacy for rivers and rights cuts across borders, requiring legitimate connections with organizations in bordered local struggles in different regions of the world. To do so, IR organizes multiyear campaigns that discourage investment in large dams, foster mobilization of local communities in opposition to the dams, and challenge the institutions and industries that promote and benefit from these development strategies, such as the World Bank and the dam-building industry. Working with local organizations such as HCAG, IR claims to have formed a coalition of “environment, development, human rights, and grassroots groups around the world” that is attempting to organize “cooperative campaigns for community-based development” (International Rivers Network 1996).

Ideologically IR’s mission can be understood as preservationist, and their mission is largely supported by major liberal-leaning foundations (p.278) and funds for the environment and human rights. Unlike the Highlands Church Action Group, IR opposed all large dams due to the environmental and social consequences of their construction. Its work has effectively publicized the terms and effects of large dam projects to wider, global audiences, making the organization a central actor in the emerging global antidam movement (McCully 2001). IR’s global networking has garnered it “power of voice” (Johnston 1994) with international development institutions, even if dam builders perceive its opposition to large dams critically as ideological and radical.

In Lesotho, IR supported HCAG’s local advocacy efforts with financial, technical, and information resources, and HCAG supported IR with a local campaign that gave credibility and support to IR’s mission. However, the disjuncture between HCAG’s local emphasis on environmental justice for affected communities and IR’s global opposition to large dam projects created an uneasy alliance at times. HCAG privileged concerns about justice related to the LHWP, while IR viewed its work in Lesotho through the lens of a global movement’s diagnostic frame. Despite the allied activists’ shared concerns about the LHWP, differences in framing and uneven abilities in claims-making in the international arena posed certain risks and opportunities. When HCAG metaphorically threw the boomerang to leverage its claims with the support of international allies, members encountered some risk that their concerns would be marginalized under the privileged frame of transnational actors in the global antidam movement. Our case demonstrates how the boomerang does not always come back in the way that local organization may imagine. And the case suggests the difficulties—and necessities—of frame-bridging between local, bordered, environmental justice struggles and transnational, preservationist organizations working across borders.

From the Mountains of Lesotho to a Global Assemblage: Tensions in Framing and Identity

Despite overlapping, though distinct, diagnostic and prognostic frames, HCAG and IR created an alliance to advance their shared and individual concerns in the face of a constellation of intransigent national authorities and global development institutions. Global networking was (p.279) one aspect of this alliance, whereby IR facilitated HCAG’s connections with other allied organizations and communities around the world that have been affected by large dam projects. Such global networking functioned not only as a frame-bridging strategy but also as an effort to foster a new collective identity among HCAG staff, one consistent with rivers and rights advocacy within the global assemblage.

One example of this networking involved IR’s arranging for and providing funding for one HCAG fieldworker to travel internationally for political organizing and participation in the rivers and rights advocacy network. The first trip was to Washington, DC, where the HCAG fieldworker, Peter, was asked to speak about local people’s experiences with the LHWP on a panel with other organizations working in the anti-dam and environmental movements. In my interviews months afterward with Peter and the HCAG coordinator, ‘Mathebiso, they discussed their ongoing ambivalence regarding going to Washington. They were grateful for the opportunity to voice the experiences of Basotho affected by the LHWP to a wider audience of sympathetic activists, and they saw this as an amplification of the advocacy work they were doing. However, they also felt uncertain about the implications of their participation, seeing themselves primarily as a local advocacy organization fighting environmental justice and not part of a larger social movement against dams.

The second IR-funded trip was to Curitiba, Brazil, for the First International Meeting of People Affected by Dams (1997). Delegates from 20 countries authored and signed the Declaration of Curitiba: Affirming the Right to Life and Livelihood of People Affected by Dams (hereafter Declaration of Curitiba). This declaration acknowledged the patterns of social and environmental injustice on affected communities, critiqued the dam-building industry, listed the demands of affected communities, and proposed a vision for more just and sustainable development strategies. The statement was also pointedly against dams:

We are strong, diverse and united and our cause is just. We have stopped destructive dams and have forced dam builders to respect our rights. We have stopped dams in the past, and we will stop more in the future.

We commit ourselves to intensifying the fight against destructive dams. From the villages of India, Brazil and Lesotho to the boardrooms (p.280) of Washington, Tokyo and London, we will force dam builders to accept our demands.

To reinforce our movement we will build and strengthen regional and international networks. To symbolise our growing unity, we declare that 14 March, the Brazilian Day of Struggles Against Dams, will from now on become the International Day of Action Against Dams and for Rivers, Water, and Life.

Water for life, not for death!

—Declaration of Curitiba, 14 March 1997

The delegate from HCAG signed the Declaration, putting Lesotho and the LHWP on the map in terms of the global antidam movement.

According to IR, the Declaration of Curitiba was a significant milestone that forged the solidarity of people around the world affected by dam projects and the dam industry (IRN 1997). In facilitating the connection of HCAG’s self-described advocacy work on behalf of villagers affected by the LHWP dams to the experiences of dam-affected communities globally, IR helped shape the construction of a collective identity among HCAG and, by extension, the communities they represented. This mobilizing work can also be understood as frame-bridging, whereby IR sought to foster the politicization and universalization of HCAG’s concerns about the LHWP away from a local, environmental justice advocacy frame to a diagnostic frame in line with a broader campaign against large dams and the global antidam movement.

Two months after Curitiba, HCAG faxed this message to IR:

The experiences shared during the conference about the efforts of Large Dams [sic] on the affected communities, their conditions, damages to their social life, livelihoods, oppression of workers, and intimidations on workers actually confirms issues and fears HCAG has been crying about for the past 8 years in Lesotho. … In this end HCAG will continue to support its International Allies [sic] in defending the plight of the common people in the highlands of Lesotho (5 June 1997).

Through global networking, IR and HCAG were able to coproduce new meanings and a sense of collective identity of being dam-affected people in a larger, global struggle of power, development, and (p.281) democracy as constituted in the global assemblage. But the costs and benefits of this alliance and its meanings are shaped in part by the political landscapes in which they are embedded. For IR, mobilizing a local grassroots organization to align and participate in the global assemblage offers them opportunities for credibility and legitimacy in their global campaign against dams—credibility drawn from on-the-ground connections in local affected communities and legitimacy in campaign materials and dealings with institutions such as the World Bank.

Returning to Lesotho: Bordered Risks and Contradictions across the Assemblage

For HCAG, the political landscape of the global assemblage had different contours. ‘Mathebiso described delegates’ participation in Curitiba as both “empowering and devastating.” She stated that HCAG’s participation in these global events helped shape a broadened understanding of its advocacy work, resulting in a new collective identity of shared experience as dam-affected communities despite vast differences in culture, region, ethnicity, and so on. It also importantly validated the legitimacy of their work to themselves, confirming their experiences with the LHWP as part of a global pattern and within a global community that understood and valued their advocacy.

She noted their concerns were also political—the Declaration of Curitiba was a stronger, more oppositional statement to large dams than they had ever endorsed. Despite HCAG activists’ longstanding skepticism about the long-term benefits of the LHWP and their increasing resonance with the collective identity of being dam-affected communities, their diagnostic frame remained focused on environmental justice and HCAG members always stopped short of opposing large dams or the LHWP. Returning to Lesotho amidst the global news of their ratification of the Declaration of Curitiba, HCAG participants worried about how this global networking would affect their work in Lesotho, and they had concerns for members’ personal safety.

Both of these concerns can be understood through a closer look at the political history and climate in Lesotho that has shaped the tactics and strategies of local organizations working on LHWP-related issues. The transnational water scheme was approved and implemented in 1986 (p.282) by a repressive military regime in Lesotho in collaboration with the apartheid regime of South Africa. Both countries elected democratic administrations in the early 1990s, but the LHWP was unequivocally supported by both new governments. In Lesotho, the mega-project was truly framed as a national project that would fix the country’s persistent development ills.

The government and the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) discredited anyone seen as against the LHWP as a traitor, as anti-Lesotho. While HCAG maintained its support for the project publicly, it was targeted as being against the project because of advocacy efforts and legal actions challenging the LHDA on compensation issues. In 1991–1992, HCAG staff members received death threats, and the government accused and temporarily jailed HCAG organizers for treason.

Within this context, HCAG’s participation in global political organizing in Washington, DC, and Brazil was potentially very dangerous, particularly the signing of the Declaration of Curitiba in solidarity against all dams. The government successfully used this information to dampen HCAG’s efforts at the local level, publicly suggesting in the newspapers that the Brazil conference was politically motivated to overthrow the government. HCAG’s ties to the leftist political party in Lesotho made it vulnerable to accusations regarding members’ political motivations, and it had to continually challenge delegitimization by the government and LHDA after Curitiba.

In Curitiba, HCAG felt swept up in the power of shared experiences with other dam-affected communities but, returning home, the staff voiced regrets that they had formally signed the Declaration. Yet their daily work was clearly shaped by these shared experiences as evidenced by their consistent empirical challenges, both local and global, to the development authority and government regarding the implementation of the LHWP. HCAG voiced sharp criticism that the costs of large dams outweighed the benefits, but whether because of politics, fear, or difference of opinion, it ultimately never wavered in supporting the LHWP as a project.

These political tensions were especially challenging as activists in TSMOs, like IR, were seemingly unaware or negligent in their understanding of the highly political local context of HCAG and the LHWP (p.283) within Lesotho. Peter, who attended the meetings in Washington, DC, felt “so much pressure” to denounce the project, but refused to go as far as transnational movement activists wanted. He explained his actions in this way:

I knew they were upset with me after having had me fly all the way to Washington. But I could not. It sounded right to [denounce the LHWP] as they told me all these things, and knowing all the problems of the project, but I had to come back [to Lesotho] and face whatever I said in Washington. I could be killed for saying that! [laughs] Those people from IRN don’t have to come back to Lesotho with me and feel the consequences of that. I would have been killed.

(personal interview, 1997)

While it is not certain that Peter would have faced violence in Lesotho for such an action, his feelings are intelligible within a political climate where the state had reacted violently and unilaterally against perceived traitors and specifically HCAG staff in the past. Questioning the ethical or national development promises of LHWP was unacceptable to political leaders in Lesotho. Authorities actively discredited the specific transnational advocacy network and the broader global assemblage using nationalist rhetoric, emphasizing HCAG’s participation in Curitiba as constituting a collective identity associated with the diagnostic and prognostic frame of the global antidam movement; one that state and development authorities could cast as ideologically anti-Lesotho.

Analytically, HCAG’s ongoing participation reveals a more complicated sense of transnational advocacy work and the global assemblage. It is seductive to see the latter as a unified entity whose shared identity and experience constitute new, solidaristic political spaces. But, as Bandy (2004, 420) argues, “coalition building is very hard work and it frequently fails, especially as it stretches across national borders.” This case demonstrates how cross-border organizing within the global assemblage is not uniform, is constituted by uneven linkages, and contains tensions and contours shaped by differences in power, engagement, and scale “that are emblematic of historic divisions in our world-system” (ibid., 420). After Washington and Curitiba, HCAG continued to define itself as an advocacy organization representing the affected communities. The HCAG staff prided themselves not only on providing (p.284) information and raising awareness, but on listening to people’s concerns and staying true to their membership. Their participation in the global critique of dams as development remained influential in shaping their sense of collective identity and their work, but, in the context of their bordered local struggle, tension between the global and local frames created political vulnerability that was successfully leveraged by authorities against the HCAG. Uneven political risks were also associated with a failed boomerang strategy that serves as our second illustration.

Framing Tensions, Failed Boomerang: Uneven Risks in Bordered Political Landscapes

Transnational organizations working across borders with local organizations inevitably engage allies within bordered, political contexts. However, the risks associated with exposure in local political landscapes are experienced unevenly by transnational and local actors. In our second example, the earthquake at Katse Dam and the aftermath, we illustrate how transnational actors may affect the local political landscape but not necessarily in the way that allied organizations imagine. When coupled with an opportunistic development authority or intransigent state, transnational advocacy networks (TANs) might not amplify local concerns; rather, they may effectively create obstacles, damage, or exposure to greater risks for local organizations within their national political sphere.

In 1996, an earthquake rocked the Katse Dam area in the middle of the night. Terrified, people ran from their homes as dishes crashed to the floor, mud walls cracked, and thatched roofs collapsed. Filling Katse Dam, the first of the LHWP and the largest dam in Africa at the time, induced the seismic activity. The weight of the newly forming, massive reservoir created enormous pressure on the earth, shifting its plates and creating deep cracks that ran for miles through this highlands area.

Although reservoir-induced seismicity is not uncommon when catchments begin to fill, the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) did not anticipate, monitor, or communicate this as a possibility to local communities. Villagers claimed that it was wholly unexpected and, as can be imagined, it created tremendous panic and fear. Residents of one village particularly affected by the earthquake, (p.285) Ha Mapeleng, were outraged, and most of the community eventually demanded to be resettled further back from the reservoir. According to HCAG, the post-earthquake demands of villagers emphasized concerns regarding safety, shelter, and communication. Compensation for earthquake damages became a necessary aspect of mitigation negotiations.

The earthquake and the failure of the development authority received considerable attention within global networks of antidam activists. IR immediately integrated these events into its Lesotho and global campaign, posting information on the seismic activity on its website and within its networks. International Rivers placed considerable pressure on both the LHDA and the World Bank in the immediate weeks and months afterward, emphasizing that potential seismic activity should have been anticipated, a system of monitoring in place, and communities prepared for such an event.

Consistent with their diagnostic frame, IR focused on this event to demonstrate the failing of the World Bank and the self-serving nature of the dam-development industry. The seismic activity at Katse Dam was framed as an illustration of the dangers of dams, exposing the flawed logic that supports them as safe, long-term development strategies. Unlike HCAG who focused on the rectification of compensation claims specific to local people, IR framed the issue in broad terms emphasizing larger issues of conflicts of interest, scientific neutrality, and mismanagement at the World Bank—framings consistent with IR’s identity within the global assemblage, one who opposes large dams as development solutions. Ultimately IR argued for the LHWP to be halted.

However, IR made some significant factual errors in their reporting of the event and the immediate aftermath, creating challenges for HCAG in carrying out its advocacy work locally. IR released reports that inflated the effects of the earthquake and were used to increase their pressure on the World Bank and LHDA.6 The World Bank, embarrassed by the events and by IR, pressured the LHDA to manage the situation. LHDA responded by constricting communication with local NGOs, particularly HCAG, whom it saw as responsible for feeding misinformation to the IR. The development authority justified placing a moratorium on information sharing with local advocacy groups as it claimed that the misinformation given to international NGOs was causing harm and disrupting their ability to manage the LHWP.

(p.286) The imperative of IR to get maximum publicity for events that heighten the potency of its frame, coupled with nondemocratic responses from opportunistic development authorities, generated justification for those in power to shut down communications locally. Within the bordered political struggle around the LHWP, HCAG was suddenly very limited in its ability to gather information from the development authority in regard to the earthquake aftermath, resettlement, or grievances filed on behalf of affected people.

HCAG fieldworkers reported frustration with the apparent zealousness of their international allies who seemed not to understand or care enough about the political climate in Lesotho. The political ramifications of their actions locally seemed not to be a concern, creating a real disjuncture between the agenda of transnational and local organizations. Local grassroots organizations, such as HCAG, can cast the boomerang with hopes of having their contextualized concerns amplified; however, the boomerang may not always come back, and their voices and issues become repositioned to support the privileged frame of more powerful global NGOS instead. Even as they collaborated with HCAG on many shared objectives, IR privileged the diagnostic frame that drives its global agenda, seeing events and information through that prism even at the expense of local voices and interests. The example of reservoir-induced seismicity not only illustrates how the boomerang may not come back, but also how uneven relationships within global alliances may result in adverse effects from border distortions—in this case, confining a local organization’s sphere of influence and access to its own national borders.

Border distortions represent the misalignment of and failure to bridge frames, revealing the uneven power relations that shape decisions within cross-border coalitions and organizing, and, perhaps, the unreflexive distancing, underestimating or misunderstanding of local concerns and experiences by more privileged members of transnational advocacy networks within the global assemblage. These border distortions complicate transnational organizing and, importantly, they might also create opportunities for state repression or countermovements. Despite initiatives to build coalitions, countermovements—such as government efforts to protect their investments in large-scale (p.287) development—can use their considerable resources to fracture and demobilize international solidarity (Bandy 2004), escalating potential conflicts between local and transnational allies. Border distortions demonstrate a tragic irony embedded in the boomerang strategy, particularly amplified when the boomerang fails: unequal power relations structure the utility, indeed the hopefulness, of the boomerang strategy, creating the possibility of reaching beyond a repressive, closed system to gain the aid of privileged, cross-border allies and the power they wield. Yet the unevenness of these transnational relations pose risks as well, as the least powerful members of these cross-border coalitions can lose control of information or suffer the sometimes adverse local consequences of transnational advocacy work on their behalf (Bickham Mendez 2002).

Discussion and Conclusion

Facing closed or repressive political systems within national or local political systems, activists increasingly seek allies across borders, reaching outside of countries or nations to burgeoning transnational advocacy networks. From the rural, mountainous regions of Lesotho in Southern Africa, activists alarmed by the intransigence of local and national governments, as well as the international agencies working on the development of the mega-dam LHWP, sought alliances and support from a transnational ally, the IR.

Social movement challenges to state-initiated dam projects sprinkle the histories of national development and environmental politics and have until recently been confined to local or national politics. This chapter has illuminated the contested dynamics of large-scale dam projects that cross borders, forging the cultural and networked spaces of rivers and rights advocacy within a global assemblage challenging hegemonic discourses regarding large dams as development solutions. Our case has explored the intersections of a local struggle in the mountains of Lesotho and a transnational social movement organization, International Rivers, with roots in the global North that spans borders as an advocate for rivers and dam-affected people. The interactive struggle, from local to transnational, produces tensions and transformations, we (p.288) argue, in the manner that activists and organizations construct oppositional, social movement frames within a larger strategic effort to leverage what Keck and Sikkink (1998) refer to as a boomerang effect.

This chapter has unraveled a puzzling disjuncture between the actions and identities of the two groups working in Lesotho, Southern Africa. Facing a constellation of intransigent national authorities and global development institutions, the two groups allied to advance concerns—some overlapping and some distinct to each group—related to one of the largest water development and dam projects in the world. Over the course of several years, these IR and HCAG activists participated in and expanded relations among local activists from several regions of the world, forging an assemblage committed to challenging hegemonic narratives about large dams and development. Several elements of the case suggest that the claims and identities of activists working across borders are not a straightforward process. Forging the discursive communities of a global, oppositional assemblage involves frame-bridging practices by social movement actors who occupy very different and unequal positions. This puzzle reveals an otherwise-unexamined contradiction within the boomerang strategy, one that can have the unintended effect of privileging transnational identities and claims, making the work of frame-bridging between local and global identities difficult, while stifling the critical border crossings that are needed to amplify and boost local demands via the leverage of transnational linkages. The failure to bridge social movement frames and align movement identities can contribute to failure of the boomerang pattern and further marginalize the claims of local activists, something we term “border distortions.”

On the whole, the boomerang strategy is structured on unequal relationships, which include tensions and conflicts, and often reflects the realities of Southern activists working in closed, repressive systems. The very hope of using the boomerang strategy and finding transnational allies exposes the closed political systems in which local activists are working and that are not likely to be shared by transnational actors. This provides opportunities for amplification, as demonstrated by Keck and Sikkink, and the growing body of work on boomerang and transnational alliances. But within the boomerang pattern, there are also (p.289) contradictory potentials for failure, not just amplification, as privilege and scale shape relationships and practices within and across advocacy networks and the global assemblage.

What Keck and Sikkink do not capture are the possibilities that transnational advocates are not likely to have full clarity or full resonance with the realities of the circumscribed political activities at the local level, creating potential for tensions and conflicts in frame-bridging and claim-forming processes among global, transnational, and local activists working within national, bordered struggles in the Global South. In our case, IR provided HCAG with important technical and material resources and expertise. Moreover, the network linked local activists to a global social movement for social and environmental justice. The extant diagnostic and prognostic frames, with a larger preservationist environmental identity associated with the global North, limited approaches to frame innovation and transformation that would effectively link and amplify local concerns and instead reproduced uneven relationships within the transnational advocacy network. As the TSMO worked to shape the conversation about dams and development within the global assemblage, transnational actors privileged the frames consistent with their transnational identity as antidam activists and, in the process, risked producing border distortions that usurped local concerns of human rights and environmental justice.

In these illustrations, we are sympathetic to both ends of this complex alliance. We are not saying we should expect infinite malleability from transnational actors in global political spaces, nor are we suggesting that local activists should bend to the priorities of transnational actors. Rather, if there is a normative lesson, we suggest that transnational allies need to exercise a deepening sensitivity toward the constraints local activists face. Power differentials within the axes of these relations create inequalities despite good or noble intentions, and the nuances of these differences may not always be clear or readily visible to those largely working outside the bordered political landscape. It is imperative that transnational activists interrogate their own privilege as they seek local alliances across borders, making extensive efforts to actively understand and negotiate the embedded risks, vulnerabilities, and opportunities across and within different political landscapes.


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(p.290) (1.) Authors are listed alphabetically and not by order of contribution. Each author contributed equally.

(2.) International Rivers is the current name of the organization rebranded from its former name, International Rivers Network, in 2007. We use their contemporary title throughout the chapter for consistency except when used in quotes or documents.

(3.) In 2002, a public exposé revealed widespread corruption in the Lesotho Highlands Water Project; the CEO was prosecuted and two European firms barred from future work with the World Bank (International Rivers 2011b).

(4.) Frame alignment includes a subset of practices that are intended to align, including frame-bridging. Generally, our discussion is focused on the latter, and we refer to alignment, or the lack thereof, in relation to frame-bridging.

(5.) In 1997 Yvonne volunteered with HCAG while conducting research for her master’s thesis on the social consequences of the LHWP in Lesotho. She worked with fieldworkers at all three dam sites and in Maseru, doing anything from administrative tasks to meeting about grievances with development officials. In return, they provided her with invaluable assistance and translation during her field research.

(6.) We do not mean to suggest that this inflation was intentional on IR’s part. We recognize that accurate information was likely difficult to come by, particularly in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. We also recognize that development authorities were likely ready to take advantage of an opportunity to justify reducing communication with those critical of the LHWP, such as IR and HCAG.