Sub-theme 6. The drama of the grabbed commons
Shrinking Land Commons: Processes of Land Alienation and Reconfiguration in Rural Africa
African land commons are rapidly shrinking, with effects that will reverberate far into the future. This story is often narrated through tales of rogue actors grabbing customary land; corrupt African elites and weak land governance; or the “natural” evolutionary trajectory towards private, individualized property rights. These stories obscure more than they reveal, such as the position of the continent as a “last frontier” of arable farmland globally; the intentionality of discourses, development cooperation/lending and policies that grease the wheels for the commodification and financialization of descent-based landholdings; the missionary zeal with which exogenous conservation, ecosystem restoration and formalization agendas have been approached; and the economic and political benefits that flow to outside interest groups through these processes.
As a contribution to wider debates surrounding “the drama of the grabbed commons,” this panel will explore the more formal, often mundane processes (discursive, legal or material) through which land in Africa as a common resource for the livelihoods of farmers and pastoralists is subdivided and alienated. We welcome the submission of papers providing related theoretical contributions to the debate, as well as detailed case studies or broader comparative analyses that explore the processes involved (e.g., intentional policy choices, the role of international donors and NGOs, the legitimating role of discursive and symbolic dynamics) and their effects (e.g., tenure and livelihood security, social relations, resilience). We also welcome papers dealing with the likely future consequences of current land dynamics, such as the impact of climate change on the need and the availability of common land; or pressures on common lands arising from the livelihood exigencies of future generations.
1. The “Drama of the Grabbed Commons”? Interrogating the culprits of commons alienation and reconfiguration in the global South
University of Georgia, USA
As a contribution to wider debates surrounding “commons grabbing,” this paper interrogates some core ideas surrounding this narrative – such as rogue actors operating outside of the law, and failed governance. Such discourses make good land governance the antidote to commons grabbing. Yet is it? This paper explores this question by bringing critical legal theory and the politics of knowledge into dialogue with formalized responses to land grabbing – such as individualized and collective titling, prior consultations/FPIC, and the hardening of boundaries around both land and identities. Through case studies from Mozambique and Peru, I show how these responses are often compatible with and/or enabling of ongoing dispossession, while serving to further erode rather than safeguard collective tenures. I conclude by theorizing how discursive practices and legal reforms work in tandem as instruments of dispossession and the demise of the commons, and affirming the importance of counter-hegemonic scholarship and practice in the land sector.
2. Cancelled agro-investments and Shrinking Land Commons: Conceptualizing Future Land Access and use in Rural Tanzania and Uganda
1University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA, 2Makerere University, Uganda, 3Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden
The literature on land acquisition for large investments in rural Africa has exploded in recent years. Such investments have proven key in land commodification and in (re)-shaping land control in rural settings. Land for investments has often been alienated from common purposes such as acreage set aside in villages for common grazing or for young people. Few studies have explored the implications for future land access and use for smallholder farmers and herders. This paper outlines a comparative appraisal of such land acquisition processes in rural Tanzania and Uganda, with a particular focus on acquisitions for large-scale agro-investments that have not progressed as planned: Despite differences in land tenure regimes, Tanzania and Uganda both display large numbers of agro-investments that have been scaled back, stalled or cancelled. This high degree of “failure” stands in stark contrast to development narratives of grand opportunities brought by these investments that can purportedly help compensate for the loss of the commons. However, all investments cancelled or not, appear to have long-lasting, sometimes irreversible, implications to accessing common lands, in an environment of growing land scarcity. The paper builds on two interrelated strands; i) the diverse investment processes and practices and their implications for, for instance, land use patterns, land concentration and social relations and ii) a mapping of national and global power configurations and legal and political frameworks related to land use. The paper discusses how these two strands are profound in shaping future pathways of land access and use in rural East Africa.
3. Considering the effects of Land Grabbing on the lives and livelihood security of women farmers in Ghana
Univeristy of Wisconsin-Platteville, USA
As more Third-wave democracies embrace democratic constitutionalism, they adopt not only more liberal political institutions, but also more neoliberal (capitalist) economic policies. Pressured to demonstrate financial success, these countries often seek to increase foreign direct investments, including large-scale land investments in agricultural production and biofuels. The land grabbing of formerly communal lands affects who has access to the land, often disrupting long-held gendered practices and economic activities. This paper examines the impact of land grabbing on the traditional uses of communal lands by women engaged in shea butter processing and charcoal production in northern Ghana. Research suggests that not only are women engaged in these economic activities likely to face communal land dispossession and disruptions to their economic livelihood, but they are also less likely to be hired by large-sale agribusiness in newly developed jobs (Agbley, 2019). Such outcomes, I argue, can alter gender relations, further entrenching patriarchal norms and tendencies as women become more reliant on the men in their households and communities as primary breadwinners. Furthermore, squeezing women out of the formal economy and excluding them from the various stages of investment negotiation is largely antithetical to the ideals of democracy and political liberalism. As pollical scientists note, economically marginalized groups tend to feel more alienated and less involved in national dialogues and decision-making processes. Examining how women engaged in gendered economic activities view these policies can shed light on the impact of land-grabbing trends on the lives of those directly affected and help inform future policy initiatives.
4. Climate change mitigation and adaptation as a means of territory appropriation – Case studies of forest protection initiatives in Côte d’Ivoire
Given the growing interest in climate change issues and the political objectives of ending deforestation in Africa, territorial control of forest areas is increasingly visible today. In the case of Côte d’Ivoire, the increasing control over forest-related resources by State authorities is particularly visible in attempts to regain control over gazetted forests that had been illegally occupied by farmers. The 2018 Ivorian forest policy aims to transform the more than 75% well-conserved gazetted forests into protected areas, where people are evicted ; and the more than 75% degraded gazetted forests into agroforests, where agriculture is authorized in the form of agroforestry. Drawing on the theoretical territorialisation framework (Vandergeest, 1996) *, this paper studies processes of ‘reterritorialisation’ of gazetted forests in Côte d’Ivoire which transform them into protected areas and agroforests. It analyses how under the guise of climate change mitigation and adaptation, environmental issues/justifications are used as instruments for the appropriation or reappropriation of territory by various actors. Based on a case study of the Mabi-Yaya reserve created in 2019 on a former gazetted forest and the implementation process of the agroforest policy, this paper shows how the State and non-state actors (private companies, local environmental organisations) extend their power through territory appropriation or reappropriation. Finally, it explores how the increasing interest in climate change issues and ending deforestation could give new life to the politics of autochthony, migration control and green extractivism through grabbed commons.
*Vandergeest, P. (1996). Mapping nature: Territorialization of forest rights in Thailand. Society and Natural Resources, 9(2), 159–17
5. Expansion of Conservation Areas and the Commons in Tanzania: Examples from Manyara and Mbeya Regions
1St Joh’s University of Tanzania, Tanzania, 2Danish Institute for International Studies (retired), Denmark, 3University of Michigan, USA
Increased pressure from international donors, conservation NGOs and the government’s interest to increase income from tourism has led to an ever-increasing process of converting a big chunk of land in Tanzania into conservation. By 2007 about 36 percent of the total area was protected. However, new areas are being protected under various forms. Recent studies show that by 2012, at least 40 percent of Tanzania’s total land area was conserved in one way or the other, and it is estimated that 50% of Tanzania’s land area may now be conserved under conservation Expansion of conservation areas is going hand in hand with increased leasing of land to foreign and local investors; demarcation of mining areas; establishment of private as well as state-run ranches, marine parks.Also, the population has been increasing rapidly – from 34.4 million people in 2002, to 44.9 million in 2012 and to 61.7 in 2022. This of course has implied a steady increase in demand for land to sustain local livelihoods. Based on case studies from Manyara and Mbeya regions this paper shows, firstly that people most hard hit by this development are those who rely on the commons, i.e. pastoralists and hunter-gatherers. The paper shows how these groups have been directly dispossessed of their land. Secondly, the process of conservation has implied that these groups have to move to other areas, implying an increase in conflicts between different land users and types of land use in these areas.