The Land Question

The history of land in Africa is marked by monumental processes of dispossession and alienation. It bears the imprint of entwined histories of races and nations, of resistance and contest. It provided a foundation for much of the revolutionary thinking of the 60s. In his November 1963 speech Message to the Grass Roots, Malcolm X defined land as “the basis of freedom, justice and equality,” and declared: “A revolutionary wants land so he can set up his own nation, an independent nation.” The question was at the forefront of decolonisation in Africa and the liberation movement in South Africa, where historically white settlers appropriated 90% of the land under the 1913 Natives Land Act.

A century later, on the 100th anniversary of the Act, radical processes of social change – urbanisation, migration and globalisation, have again thrust the land question to the forefront.

This broad focus surveys “the lie of the land” from a multiplicity of angels:

-          land as a geographic space and a source of life;
-          land as commodity and the complex, intertwined relationship between property and value;
-          land as an imagined community or as nation (our land); as well people’s relationships to land;
-          its social and cultural meanings, and its relationship to social identity and belonging, being, and home;
-          and as an ongoing source of anxiety and aspiration in our cultural imagination.

The aim is to open up new critical spaces where land issues can be imagined and discussed from an unusual perspectives – from commercial, urban, religious, ethnical, academic and security standpoints; from radical horizons and new utopian heights, and from the perspective of the margins and of the everyday.

As Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts says, It Begins with a Place .

Land as commodity 
Across the world today, land is being transformed from being the base of communities’ life into a commodity. The policies of market-led land reform promoted by the World Bank and associated bilateral and multilateral agencies have been instrumental in privatising and concentrating land in few hands at an accelerated pace. We explore the unholy trinity of land, property and value, the material effects of which is often displacement, dispossession and conflict. Who is buying and selling, why and at what costs? (see, Parselelo Kantai, Fred Katerere, Kalundi Serumaga (see How African politicians gave away $100bn of land)

The political economy of land alienation in Kenya

Kenyan land issues are now rapidly globalising. A decade of US-sponsored counter-terrorism at the Coast has radicalised the indigenous Muslim population, whose grievances are centred on an older injustice – the alienation of Coastal lands by an upcountry post-independence political and business elite.

Feeding off these historical grievances, it is easy to see how George Bush and Barack Obama’s war on terror, viewed kindly by the Kenyan securocracy as a means to keep the Coastals down, allowed in the Wahabi Salafists.

This multifaceted exploration into the globalisation of land issues in Kenya examines, firstly, the political economy of land alienation at the Coast.

It exposes the growing tension between the international community, Kenya’s political elite and the growing middle class who view the coast as leisure spot and an investment hub and a seething local community (where indeed do Coastals go on holiday?), now openly angry and radicalised on ethnic and religious lines.

Setting new hotels, holiday apartment blocks and time-share gated villas, against a back drop of a deprivation that has existed for a century, with 80 percent of the Mijikenda, Swahili and Arab populations now squatters on their ancestral lands, it points to an explosive situation.

The second site of the story is Maasailand. Another of the losers of the Kenya’s independence era, the community — the poster-children of ‘Brand Kenya’s’ tourist pursuits — was until two decades or so ago, far and away the richest collective landowners in the country. As those lands have come under pressure from expanding urban spaces as well as eco-tourism investment, an epidemic of land selling has gripped the community.

This section of the story goes into Maasailand to discover what effect this has had on the people.

Land grabs -Why is Harvard buying land in Africa?
“Land grabs” are big news in Africa  But its not just multinational corporation that are involved, some of America top universities are amongst those that have acquire hundreds of thousands of hectares of fertile land, some with 99-year leases—acts that may lead to the eviction of thousands of local farmer. We investigate these institutes role in land grabs are ask how these relate to university policy, principals and ethics, as well as knowledge being produced by the university.

Does Africa have a “migration problem”? 
In the wake of the Euro-crisis European Migration to Africa is on the rise. According to NYU’s Development Research Institute, between 2006 and 2009 the number of visas issued for Portuguese entering Angola increased from 156 to 23,000. In 2012, there were nearly 100,000 Portuguese living in Angola, more than triple the number of Angolans living in Portugal. Spaniards, too, have fled high unemployment looking for work in Algeria, where many Spanish companies have relocated. We go behind the figures and give a face to the migrants – their stories, journeys, challenges and hardships etc. What challenges do they face and what risks do they pose? More here.

New cities – Can successful cities be built from scratch? 
New urban development projects such as Nova Cidade de Kilamba , Angola infamous “ghost city” and South Africa’s equally infamous “Zumaville” have captivated the mainstream media. They are not alone – from Eko Atlantic in Lagos to South Sudan’s new capital city new urban development are springing up all over the continent. The concept is not new: Brasilia, Canberra and Islamabad were all purpose-built. In 1991 the Nigerian government moved from Lagos – the country’s largest city and commercial hub – to the brand new city of Abuja. We explore the rise of “new cities”, old and new, the utopian ideas, political, economic and social forces shaping them, and there successes and failures.

Land as Political Rhetoric

Who owns this land? 

Land was one of the defining issues of the liberation struggle, yet almost two decades after liberation the land issue has been largely sidelined by both political parties and civil society. Question around land ownership, repossession and revolution have been replaced by reform and renewal and debates focus on jobs, housing and service delivery. Even nationalisation is no longer viewed as a land question. Why has land restitution slipped off the agenda and out of our discourse? What are the motives behind its sidelining? What is its import to South Africa’s future?

This piece reads the rhetoric around land in contemporary South Africa. Highlighting how the debate is continually deflected towards Zimbabwe as” catastrophe”, it explores and exposes “self-censorship” and illustrates the contradictions between the current political rhetoric and history.   Drawing on the now well known leaked cable from the United States embassy in Abuja <> – which details how Mugabe was convinced to bridle his drive for land reform so that events in Zimbabwe would not scare apartheid supporters and thus throttle reform in South Africa – it reroutes the debate through the lens of the broader pan African context and history, and landredistribution as “justice.”

Land as life (agriculture, food security, place)

Who Makes The Food We Eat? Who Puts The Food On Our Table?
Urban food security is increasingly gaining attention with programmes like the Centre of African Cities’ Food Security programme and African Food Security Urban Network (AFSUN) networks producing in depth studies into food security in urban spaces. But as Ernest Wamba dia Wamba points out, “at times like these it is crucial to hear the thinking of ordinary people, on how they have understood food security…. The food crisis is not just about food, it is about understanding humanity.” With that in mind we explore the people and their practice of acquiring food in cities to reveal the complex networks, knowledge and navigational systems and communities that spring up around the process. From urban farming in cities like Harare and Accra to Spaza shops in Jozi and food borrowing and sharing in Cape Town; an on the ground look at practices of acquiring food and their economic, social and spatial intersections. See PLAAS, ACC’s Food Security programme.

Land in the cultural imagination

 The Agronomist – How can you be a cultivator of the earth with no true land? 
The figure of the agronomist recently re-entered popular imagination in American director Jonathan Demme’s 2003 documentary starring Jean Dominique. We delve deep into the fertile depths of the central metaphor of Demme’s film – that Dominique is a cultivator of the earth with no true land to call his own – to investigate the changing conditions of land, to explore the relationship between soil and society, myth and history and offer a vision of “Third World” culture and knowledge that is at once individual and communal, local and archetypal. Full brief here

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