P150 – Peasant Movements and Resistance in the Age of Neo-liberal Enclosure: New Challenges and New Strategies
8 July, 17:30 – 19:00

Grasian Mkodzongi / University of Cape Town
Wilbert Sadomba / University of Zimbabwe


In many countries across Sub Saharan Africa, peasants played a key role in the struggles against colonial occupation through their alliance with guerrilla movements. However, in the aftermath of independence, peasants have continued to face poverty and marginalization. Nationalist governments which took over power after the end of colonialism have often failed to honor their promise to redistribute land and address rural poverty as a post-colonial agenda. In the more recent period, new forms of peasant dispossession and enclosure of public lands are taking place across Africa through the large scale acquisition of land by foreign governments and multinational companies in a phenomenon that is popularly known as land grabbing. In response to the above, peasants across sub Saharan Africa are engaged in ongoing struggles against landlessness and rural poverty. These struggles have manifested themselves in a wide variety of ways depending on local and regional political contexts; from low key protests against enclosure to the sometimes violent occupation of both private and state owned lands. This panel seeks to broaden debates about peasant movements and resistance in post-colonial Africa; it explores peasant struggles in their broader theoretical sense; from approaches which provides new ways of conceptualizing the peasantry, to investigating peasant struggles as they unfold across diverse settings and contexts.

Mouvements paysans et résistance en temps d’inclusion néo-liberale : nouveaux défis et nouvelles stratégies
Dans beaucoup de pays d’Afrique, les paysans ont joué un rôle décisif dans les luttes contre l’occupation coloniale par leur alliance avec les mouvements de guérilla. Cependant, après l’indépendance, les paysans ont continué à être confrontés à la pauvreté et à la marginalisation. Les gouvernements nationalistes qui ont pris le pouvoir après la fin du colonialisme n’ont souvent pas su tenir leur promesse de redistribuer les terres et de s’attaquer à la pauvreté rurale dans un agenda politique postcolonial. Plus récemment, l’Afrique a connu de nouvelles formes d’expropriation paysanne et de fermeture de terres publiques à travers l’acquisition à grande échelle de terres par des gouvernements étrangers et des compagnies multinationales – un phénomène communément désigné comme « vol de terres ». En réponse à ces nouveaux défis, les paysans dans toute l’Afrique se sont engagés dans de nouvelles luttes contre les privations de terres et la pauvreté rurale. Ces luttes se manifestent de manières différentes en fonction des contextes politiques locaux et régionaux, allant de manifestations pacifiques jusqu’à l’occupation parfois violente de terres privées ou étatiques. Ce panel vise à élargir les discussions sur les mouvements paysans et la résistance en Afrique postcoloniale, en explorant les luttes paysannes dans leur sens théorique plus large, d’approches offrant des nouvelles conceptualisation de la paysannerie, à la variété des luttes paysannes dans des milieux et contextes différents.

Paper 1

Grasian Mkodzongi / University of Cape Town

Blood, Sweat and Gold: artisanal mining and peasant agency in a changing agrarian situation in Zimbabwe

This paper explores the dynamics of artisanal mining activities which have increased across Zimbabwe’s countryside in the aftermath of the radical fast track land reforms implemented in 2000. The paper pays particular attention to way peasants have taken advantage of a change in agrarian structure occasioned by the land reform to diversify livelihoods through engaging in ‘illegal’ off farm activities such as chikorokoza (gold panning). The paper argues that rather than view chikorokoza as environmentally destructive, such activities demonstrate agency among resettled farmers, in terms of their ability to take advantage of the change in agrarian structure to diversify livelihood activities beyond the farm. The paper is based on ethnographic data gathered in the Mhondoro Ngezi District of Zimbabwe.

Paper 2

Kezia Batisai / University of Johanesburg

Settled and unsettled land battles – experiences from South Africa

Grounded in the reality that the politics of settled/unsettled land have been central to colonial and post-colonial contestations in Africa, this paper captures peasant revolts and resistance that have dominated the process of building a democratic South Africa. The post-apartheid state – through legislations and policy reforms – undeniably locates women in a hierarchal power structure which often undermines their sense of ownership and belonging. State sanctioned traditional authorities control rural land structures which place emphasis on communal ownership at the expense of individual rights, let alone women’s rights. As the state reinforces these gendered identities, women find themselves constantly having to navigate ideological and physical barriers to opportunities and key resources such as land. Furthermore, land grabs in South Africa often entail the financialisation of dominant actors in the agrarian sector, a situation which marginalises smallholder agriculture and severely impacts on rural women who hardly have access to assets to use as collateral security. Faced with deepening poverty, some rural women have migrated to urban cities such as Johannesburg where the fights for settled and unsettled land continue to manifest as housing and service delivery protests. Empirical evidence illuminates the volatile relationship between the popular and the state; and the historical notions of dispossession and forced removals core to contestations over land in South Africa.

Paper 3

Atta Noah Echa / Joseph Ayo Babalola University

White Zimbabwean Farmers and Land Grab in Shonga District, Nigeria: A Study in Peasant Resistance

The new wave of global land grabbing is developing with transnational companies and other investors scrambling for arable land in Nigeria for agro-fuels and food production, which are ultimately exported. The current large scale land acquisition in Nigeria was pioneered in 2004 when a five-man delegation from the displaced white commercial farmers under Zimbabwe’s fast-track land reform programme was invited by the government to establish commercial farms in Shonga District of Kwara State. The white Zimbabwean commercial farms led to the acquisition of initial 13000 hectares of land, which caused some 400 families and 1289 local farmers to be evicted from their ancestral farm lands. The acquired lands, which were not paid for by the Zimbabwean farmers are veritable sources of the livelihoods of poor and vulnerable rural groups. Threats posed by land grab, especially of forceful dispossession of land and displacement of traditional communities such as in Shonga, has led to diverse forms of resistance and protests from the affected peasants. While the spectacular success stories of the white Zimbabwe farmers have dominated discourses both in the academic and media reports, resistance and protests against the massive dispossession and displacement have not been given adequate attention. Indeed, while these salient features have largely been neglected or ignored in the land grab discourses, the centrality of land in peasants’ lives and their resistance to dispossessions could be

Paper 4

Lesutis Gediminas / University of Manchester

Spatial justice and resistance to land grabbing

In my paper that conceptualises land grabbing in Africa as a form of planetary urbanization, I rethink peasant resistance to neo-liberal enclosures by conceptualising their struggles as linked with struggles of the urban poor in both the Global South and North.
In the recent urban political ecology scholarship, critical theorists such as Brenner and Schmid have suggested that, in order to understand the current urban condition – the unprecedented capitalist expansion and subsequent urbanisation of rural environments, – we need to reconceptualise the zones of agro-industrial enclosures, traditionally understood as ‘rural’/‘natural’ locations, as extreme territories of urbanization.
Drawing upon my own fieldwork on land grabbing in Mozambique, I suggest that, as these territories of urbanisation play strategic role in supporting the growth of the city – they supply raw materials, energy, water, food and labour, – resistance against land grabbing needs to be understood as an integral part of the urban struggle for spatial justice that with the event of planetary urbanization extends beyond the city. Therefore, I conclude that notions of ‘politics of encounter’ (Merrifield), the ‘right to the city’ (Lefebvre and Harvey) and ‘spatial justice’ (Soja), usually associated with urban resistance against social, economic and political marginalization ought to be extended to peasant struggles thus providing progressive political imaginaries of resistance to the neo-liberal enclosure.

Paper 5

Gagné Marie / University of Toronto

Mobilization against large-scale land acquisitions in Senegal

This presentation analyzes the role of peasant associations, civil society organizations and think tanks in the mobilization against large-scale land acquisitions in Senegal. In the 1980s, peasant organizations gained ascendancy and progressively became a recognized interlocutor by the Senegalese state in the design of agricultural programs. With the coming into power of Abdoulaye Wade in 2000, the Senegalese peasant movement encountered several setbacks. Wade, who strongly promoted agribusiness, was not inclined to collaborate with existing peasant organizations and employed various means to circumvent their influence. While less openly hostile, Macky Sall, the current president, also displays a clear commitment to fostering private investment in agriculture. In opposition to state projects, the peasant movement has coalesced with civil society organizations and think tanks to generate a wide public debate on the future of agriculture in Senegal and question the desirability of large-scale land deals. Despite significant popular opposition, the two successive presidents have been adamant in the pursuit of several agribusiness projects. This presentation will explain why this coalition of groups was successful in halting certain projects, but unable in other cases. I argue that three main factors are at play: the coherence of actions undertaken by local populations, the capacity of NGOs to harness the support of political elites, and the legal status of the land under dispute

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