This essay reviews the book co-edited by Logan Cochrane and Nathan Andrews, The Transnational Land Rush in Africa: A Decade After the Spike. The book has three parts, in addition to the introduction and concluding chapter. The first part, Part I contain four chapters under the theme, The Land-Development Nexus: Grand Discourses, Social Injustice and Contestations. The second part, Part II encompass three chapter under Informality and ‘New’ Customary Land Tenure Landscapes theme. The third part, Part III contain two chapters under the Formalization, Domestic Agency and Legacies of Legal Pluralism theme. This review focuses on the book's third part, which includes studies from Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The handover agreement signed by the University of Aberdeen and the Nigerian stakeholders transferred copyright in images of the Benin bronze to the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments. However, the University of Aberdeen was granted a non-exclusive licence to use the images for any non-commercial purpose. Similarly, the agreement provides that all images and information relating to the Benin bronze held by the University of Aberdeen will be supplied on request by the Nigerian stakeholders at no cost and with no restrictions on their use. In this interview, Dr Titilayo Adebola, Editor, Afronomicslaw.org and Associate Director, Centre for Commercial Law, University of Aberdeen discusses the University’s repatriation of the Benin bronze alongside the role of museums in the co-production of knowledge with Mr Curtis. Mr Curtis initiated and facilitated the negotiations for the repatriation of the Benin bronze with the Nigerian stakeholders (the Oba of Benin’s palace, Edo State Government and the Nigerian Government) on behalf of the University of Aberdeen.
Following the global financial crisis of 2007-08, which overlapped with a global food security crisis, the global land rush emerged as a key phenomenon that has since become the metonymic expression of the global response to these crises. Cochrane’s and Andrews’ The Transnational Land Rush in Africa: A Decade After the Spike provides a timely and necessary update of the land rush “a decade after the 2007/08 commodity price spike.” The book addresses some of the major misconceptions about the land rush on the African continent and, especially, the Eurocentric coverage of the land rush in Africa within the international political economy discourse by attending to local, national, and transnational land grabs and actors that have been largely marginalized in these debates.
Over time, I have collaborated with researchers and practitioners to investigate the global land rush and support responses to it. This action research taught me about the material dimensions of the deals, including their scale, location, crop types, intended markets, varying degrees of implementation, and the way they shook the very foundations of local life, livelihoods and culture. It also highlighted deep-seated tensions between competing visions of agriculture, food systems, territory and society; connections to an evolving global political economy and contested notions of sovereignty and statehood; and the role the law — from land tenure systems to international trade, investment and human rights treaties — has played in facilitating the deals or resistance to them.
The most recent rush for African land was accompanied by a literature rush on contemporary global land grabs comprised of a fast-growing body of reports matrices, articles and books. Responding critically to this literature rush, scholars are increasingly calling for a more robust and grounded methodology to link macro-level insights to more local level analyses. The edited volume The Transnational Land Rush in Africa: A Decade after the Spike answers these calls by taking a decidedly macro-level approach to the global land rush, without sacrificing nuance and country-specific historical, political and legal context. It does this in part, by investigating the impact of large-scale land investments in various African countries over time, considering not only the decade since their spike, but also the varied colonial and post-colonial histories that have shaped them.
This symposium opens up our book to examination, reflections and critical perspectives from experts such as Lorenzo Cotula, Nisrin Elamin, Wegayehu Fitawek and Kariuki Kirigia. As shown in their contributions, these discussants offer a depth of knowledge as well as passion for orienting people before profit.
This is an exciting book that develops a multi-disciplinary perspective on cross-border financial flows, grounded in Marxist political economy. While the book certainly speaks to a diverse set of literatures, in this brief review I’d like to relate this work to broader debates about dependency theory and decolonizing economics.
Based on a careful analysis of historical and contemporary capitalism in Zimbabwe, it has been shown that money and foreign currency management is deeply political. Hence, instead of being applicable to emerging markets only, there is a case for extending Alami’s work to developing countries in general. Alami’s book is highly recommended to anyone interested in understanding the functioning of money, finance, and indeed the logic of foreign exchange policies in sub-Saharan Africa.
Alami’s book is particularly good at the empirics (full disclosure: I was one of the referees of this article by Alami; if my memory is correct I recommended either an immediate acceptance or publication after minor revisions). He describes and explains the ways and lengths walked by governments of these countries to manage a significant conjuncture in their recent history.
Capitalism is a complex mode of production where general trends unfold as a multiplicity of social, political and economic levels that, more often than not, seem to be in contradiction with each other. It is therefore tempting to fall into the ideological trap of just remaining on the surface, describe phenomena at first sight and set aside any theoretical attempt to make sense of complexities and variegations. An apparent example of falling in this temptation are studies that present power as exclusive of the political sphere, thus detached from civil society (what we could nowadays call the economic sphere).