Editorial from ROAPE Volume 39 Number 128
Accumulation of dispossession
Eleven years ago, this journal published a special issue on ‘The Struggle for Land’ in Africa (volume 27, issue 84, June 2000). Its focus was on struggles over access to land and land rights, probing the relationship between town and country and how land and agricultural strategies are shaped by political power. It also looked at how different struggles over land helped shape the ways in which African states were unevenly incorporated into a world economy shaped by imperialist intervention.
At first glance it seems that the processes of underdevelopment identified in that issue are being repeated in the contemporary period: the World Bank and other international financial institutions remain heavily fixated on promoting individual and privatised land tenure. People's rights to access and the more general rights that rural Africans seek to promote remain central issues of contested politics and class struggle, whilst recurrent food insecurity propels a rationale for liberalised markets to promote entrepreneurial initiative, in the vain hope that this will produce improved well-being. Yet contemporary debate about land in Africa and about land ‘grabbing’ suggests that all these processes have recently intensified. Driven by dispossession, rural protest and urban food riots, the centrality of land and struggles over access to it and how it is to be worked and owned are once again at the fore of political debate and policy-making interventions. The issues of 10 years ago are not simply being repeated, albeit this time on a greater scale. There is now a qualitative difference in the ways in which land and land transformation are shaping Africa's political economy.