5. The African State, Land Reform and Politics
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5 The African State, Land Reform and Politics This chapter examines the experience with land reforms in Africa, with particular emphasis on the role of the state, in the light of the peculiar factors and the empirical trends which distinguish the African land question. We comment broadly on the African state and the politics of accumulation and land control. Then we examine state-led redistributive and tenure reforms, and the reshaping of local land administration structures. First, what problems should concern African land reforms? Land reform in Africa should be expected to address the need for extensive redistributive land reforms in southern Africa and those parts of east and north Africa which have relatively higher levels of unequal land distribution alongside landlessness and land shortages. In these territories, however, limited redistributive land reforms had been attempted since the late 1950s, while since the 1980s gradualist market-based land reforms were initiated in southern Africa. Land reform was only ‘radicalised’ recently under conflicted conditions in Zimbabwe. The need for redistributive land reforms could also be expected in other countries, where localised and regional enclaves of land concentration have emerged through gradual and piecemeal expropriation by the colonial and post-independence state. Redistribution would also involve land allocated to public agencies for economic use and environmental protection purposes, some of which has been concessioned out on a large scale to domestic and foreign capital at the expense of the increasingly landless or land-short. African redistributive land reforms would be expected to differ physically from their Asian and Latin American counterparts mainly because the form of land redistribution required involves restoring lands which are physically controlled by large landholders through the resettlement of displaced peasants and alienated semi-proletarians, and the enlargement of peasant land areas Moyo-sept-07.pmd 24/01/2008, 20:01 98 The African State, Land Reform and Politics 99 using repossessed contiguous lands. This approach would differ from the Asian reforms in which land-renting peasants are allocated land rights mainly by reallocating them the ‘title’ independently to hold the land they formerly rented, or by upgrading the conditions under which they rent land from feudal or semi-feudal landlords. To some degree, the upgrading and re-assigning of tenure rights to land users is relevant in some parts of Africa where land rentals and sharecropping have emerged (especially in West Africa). But this form of redistributive tenure reform, of the ‘land to the tiller’ genre, is more relevant on a large scale outside the continent. Redistributive land reform in Africa should be accompanied by ‘progressive ’ land tenure reforms to counter the general tenure insecurities and land grabbing processes which have been ushered in and facilitated by regressive state-led land tenure reforms over the last fifty years. Current resistance to land marketisation and ‘individualisation’ schemes, as well as to the manipulative reform of land administration structures, encapsulates the type of issues which would define progressive land tenure reform. But the land tenure reform requirements of Africa also include institutional reforms which can defend the poor against potential land losses as well as accommodate those excluded (for example, women, minorities, settlers) from increasingly scarce arable lands. Such tenure reforms would also need to be able to prevent and resolve conflicts over competing claims over land rights and ensure the fair administration of rights and land use regulations. Whether the land tenure reforms required would include the ability to ‘transact’ (rent and sell) and mortgage peasant lands, especially in the absence of measures to prevent land alienation and concentration, is as politically contentious as its feasibility is questionable. Our research suggests however that African redistributive and tenurial land reforms, instead of addressing directly these land issues, are more focused on selective and piecemeal modification of land management institutions in a manner which has tended to reinforce rather than redress the land problem. This result, as we discuss below, reflects mainly the peculiar power relations which define the African state and its agrarian class interests, mediated ideologically and programmatically through neo-liberal conceptualisations of the land question, land reform and development strategy. The African state, land policy and primitive accumulation The economic and material foundations of the African state rest largely on primary resource extraction and export activities in agriculture, oil and mining , and natural resources (forest, wildlife, bio-diversity exploitation), given Moyo-sept-07.pmd 24/01/2008, 20:01 99 African Land Questions, Agrarian Transitions and the State 100 the low levels of industrial and services sector...


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