Accumulation by Dispossession

The Implications of Expropriatory Land and Natural Resources Commodification for Governance and Local Democracy in Africa

Colonial land and natural resources expropriations in Africa are well documented. The first wholesale expropriations in Africa were launched in response to the first crisis of industrial capitalism at the end of the 19thcentury - the great depression from 1873 onwards  – which set the stage for the concentration and globalized expansion of capital, expressed in the first wave of accumulation by dispossession in Africa through the carving up of the continent (The Berlin Conference of 1884) in a process designed to create new markets and provide cheap land and labour for the colonizing powers.

Today, the second systemic crisis of capitalist accumulation, starting in 1971 and leading to the financial meltdown of 2008  has stimulated responses similar to those of 1873 – ‘a double movement of concentration and globalization’ of capital. Many investors see increasing scarcity in a number of natural resources as an opportunity to reap large profits and have begun to take over food, energy and metal markets.

This has resulted in an unprecedented wave of investments in land across the African continent. Sometimes referred to as a second ‘scramble for Africa’, the ‘land grabs’ are implemented through alliances and collaborations between transnational capital (including hedge funds), reconstituted African states and International Finance Institutions.

Nature is also increasingly commoditized through payment for ecosystems services (PES) schemes for water, land, carbon, species, habitats and biodiversity. These PES markets are being created, not so much to protect natural resources, but to provide new ways for the financial sector to profit from it.

The mechanisms and dynamics of these land and resource expropriations are well understood and documented. What is less well understood, however, are the impacts of these processes on local institutions, local democracy and food security. This Brown Bag will discuss the Implications of Expropriatory Land and Natural Resources Commodification for Governance and Local Democracy in Africa. 

Date: 4 August 2014
Time: 11h00 – 13h00
Venue: OSISA Boardroom, Ground Floor, President Place, 1 Hood Street, Rosebank
RSVP: Tsitsi Mukamba on or on 011 587 5000 before 1 August 2014 

Join Open Society Foundation fellows James Murombedzi and Tim Wise for a discussion on the above topic. The session will be chaired by Masego Madzwamuse.

James Murombedzi is a rural political economist working on land and natural resources governance in Africa. He is currently the coordinator of the Responsive Forest Governance Initiative (RFGI). Based at the Council for the Development of Social Sciences Research in Africa (CODESRIA), the RFGI is a joint programme of CODESRIA, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (UIUC).

The RFGI is an Africa-wide environmental-governance research and training program focusing on enabling responsive and accountable decentralization to strengthen the representation of forest-based rural people in local-government decision making.  From June 2014 to May 2015, Dr. Murombedzi is a Fellow of the Open Society Foundation. During this time, he will be researching and writing on the land and natural resources grabs currently taking place across the African continent, focusing on the implications of these processes for local democracy and food security. 

Timothy A. Wise is Director of the Research and Policy Program at the Global Development and Environment Institute, Tufts University, and leads its Globalization and Sustainable Development Program. He is currently an . With a background in international development, he specializes in agricultural policy and rural development. He is involved in ongoing research in the areas of: , , , . He is the co-author of the book (in English and Spanish), , and . He is the former executive director of Grassroots International, a Boston-based international aid organization. He holds a Masters in Public Policy from Tufts' Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning Department.

Masego Madzwamuse is the Programme Manager for the Economic Justice Programme at the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa (OSISA). She has over 15 years of experience as a policy analyst focusing on environment, land tenure, development and community rights. Prior to joining OSISA she held various jobs including an independent researcher; Programme Manager for the UNDP TerrAfrica initiative which was aimed at mobilizing civil society engagement in processes aimed at up-scaling sustainable land management in Sub-Saharan Africa; Country Director for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Botswana and later Regional Programmes Development Officer for the IUCN Regional Office of Southern Africa in Pretoria. She is a Member of the IUCN Commission of Environmental Economics and Social Policy where she serves as Theme Co-Chair for Theme on Sustainable Livelihoods. She has published widely on the political economy of sustainable development, climate change adaptation, natural resources management, rural development and the rights of indigenous peoples in Southern Africa.


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