We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Rural Society and Cotton in Colonial Zaire

Osumaka Likaka

Publication Year: 1997

     This masterful social and economic history of rural Zaire examines the complex and lasting effects of forced cotton cultivation in central Africa from 1917 to 1960. Osumaka Likaka recreates daily life inside the colonial cotton regime. He shows that, to ensure widespread cotton production and to overcome continued peasant resistance, the colonial state and the cotton companies found it necessary to augment their use of threats and force with efforts to win the cooperation of the peasant farmers, through structural reforms, economic incentives, and propaganda exploiting African popular culture.
     As local plots of food crops grown by individual households gave way to commercial fields of cotton, a whole host of social, economic, and environmental changes followed. Likaka reveals how food shortages and competition for labor were endemic, forests were cleared, social stratification increased, married women lost their traditional control of agricultural production, and communities became impoverished while local chiefs enlarged their power and prosperity.
     Likaka documents how the cotton regime promoted its cause through agricultural exhibits, cotton festivals, films, and plays, as well as by raising producer prices and decreasing tax rates. He also shows how the peasant laborers in turn resisted regimented agricultural production by migrating, fleeing the farms for the bush, or sabotaging plantings by surreptitiously boiling cotton seeds. Small farmers who had received appallingly low prices from the cotton companies resisted by stealing back their cotton by night from the warehouses, to resell it in the morning. Likaka draws on interviews with more than fifty informants in Zaire and Belgium and reviews an impressive array of archival materials, from court records to comic books. In uncovering the tumultuous economic and social consequences of the cotton regime and by emphasizing its effects on social institutions, Likaka enriches historical understanding of African agriculture and development.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


pdf iconDownload PDF (13.2 KB)
pp. ix

Illustrations and Map

pdf iconDownload PDF (11.6 KB)
pp. xi


pdf iconDownload PDF (13.2 KB)
pp. xiii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (48.8 KB)
pp. xv-xvi

Many institutions and individuals have helped to bring this book to completion. I am indebted to the Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies for a fellowship which allowed me to collect data in Belgium and Zaire. The Graduate School of the University of Minnesota provided support during the writing of the dissertation which led to this book. The Frederick...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (425.7 KB)
pp. 3-11

In the past two decades, researchers have increasingly focused on the poverty and distorted rural economics of African nations. The recognition that African nations are unable to feed themselves has led social scientists to examine the historical roots of this crippled peasant social existence. Some scholars attribute the contemporary African food crises to the destruction of "natural economies," which...

read more

Chapter 1 The Organization of Production: The Cotton Labor Process

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.4 MB)
pp. 12-44

Cotton cultivation in colonial Zaire depended on control over producers and regulation of their access to land and technology, particularly at the household level. Land was abundant in colonial Zaire but producers were not. Although between 1891 and 1908 the state and different capitalist sectors had appropriated much of the native land through the grant of concessions and a ban on productive activity...

read more

Chapter 2 Forced Cotton Production and Social Control

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.1 MB)
pp. 45-70

In the past two decades, researchers have demonstrated the extent to which growing crops under colonialism was based on policies and practices that resulted in extreme brutalization of local populations.1 Whatever role the African police, state-appointed chiefs, and colonial armies had in forcing peasants to follow agricultural instructions, they were...

read more

Chapter 3 Sharing the Social Product: Peasants and the Market

pdf iconDownload PDF (869.6 KB)
pp. 71-89

Fighting nudity and staving off the poverty of African peasants were, in colonial rhetoric, the two major moral claims for the imposition of cotton production in the Belgian Congo beginning as early as 1917. However, African producers to this day still say that cultivating cotton did not generate a flow of resources into their households. In reality, peasants...

read more

Chapter 4 Cotton and Social Inequality

pdf iconDownload PDF (826.3 KB)
pp. 90-107

In the past two decades, researchers have moved away from the conception of the peasantry as a homogeneous and undifferentiated group. Most researchers agree that African peasants included both exploiters and exploited. From Mozambican data, Isaacman has demonstrated that social differentiation took place between chiefs and cotton producers as well as among peasants themselves. Concerning...

read more

Chapter 5 The Infrapolitics of the Cotton Cultivators

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.2 MB)
pp. 108-134

The African initiative literature of the 1960s and 1970s paid attention to large-scale social movements, including open rebellions, social banditry, and religious movements, which negated the reality of colonialism as well as the connection of these movements to nationalism.1 These forms of struggles, however, were only one facet of peasant political behavior. Because these forms of rural struggle were...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (228.2 KB)
pp. 135-139

The foregoing chapters have examined the cotton labor process, the effect of commodity production on rural life, and the ways in which men and women coped with and struggled against forced cotton cultivation. The imposition of cotton cultivation in 1917 constituted a landmark in the history of Zairian rural communities because the expansion of cotton cultivation changed the...


pdf iconDownload PDF (1.0 MB)
pp. 143-166

Selected Bibliography

pdf iconDownload PDF (651.0 KB)
pp. 167-182


pdf iconDownload PDF (382.3 KB)
pp. 183-189

E-ISBN-13: 9780299153335
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299153342

Publication Year: 1997