Thursday, September 2, 2010

Presidential Solutions to Land Reform in Africa

The recently ended presidential roundtable held in Dar es Salaam under the auspices of the African Presidential Archives and Research Center (APARC) at Boston University has elicited the exchange below between one of its discussants and the then chairman of the then Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters in Tanzania - chip in and let the debate continue beyond the inner (presidential) circle!

Notes from the African Presidential Round Table: Leadership Solutions to Land Reform in Africa

I was invited to attend this event held in Dar es Salaam on 30th and 31st August and participated as one of the discussants, amongst quite a lot of others. My immediate neighbors at the table - Anver Versi (editor of African Business and African Banker magazines) and Moeletsi Mbeki (one time journalist, now best known as Thabo’s brother, but also big business man, his company Endemol is behind Big Brother Africa) – gives some indication of the type of people participating.

Amongst the ex President’s attending were Kenneth Kaunda and John Kufour. Benjamin Mkapa also a key player not least due to his role in the UN’s Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor (CLEP).

The main speakers were: Dr. Tukufu Zuberi, University of Pennsylvania, giving a context input entitled Demographics and the Implications for Land Reform; Hernando de Soto, Institute for Liberty and Democracy (ILD), who under the title The Key to Capital Formation and Poverty Reduction presented his same basic and simplistic argument about the importance of legible registration of the property of the poor in order to unleash the value of the capital they have and bring them into the modern capitalist world; and Klaus Deininger, World Bank, who talked on The Political Challenges of Land Reform, but actually focused on the agricultural potential in African on a macro level calculated largely from satellite information and experiences of land titling/registration in Ethiopia and Rwanda (Important initiatives for empirical research), he did at least give a more honest sense of the complexities of land reforms.

Amongst other omissions none of them talked about those excluded (land registration is by definition as much about the exclusion of others as the strengthening of the rights of some), or the power relations that will determine who benefits whether you have land registration or not. These power relations play themselves out at the level of international relations between countries and the level of household, in particular with regard to gender relations.

This is clearly a class project and a fairly sophisticated one. The event was largely USAID funded, I saw Coca Cola and Chevron logos as well, and clearly had a neo-liberal and capitalist modernization agenda. Papers on land grabbing that I copied and gave to the organizers to circulate somehow were not circulated. While there was some, limited, space for us privileged to be at the table to talk, there was no space in the programme for a proper input of an alternative view point, or one that may be critical of de Soto and the World Bank.

Interesting in the way this is being run is the race dimension with almost all the main organizers, the US government representatives, and a lot of the academics and students being African American. The former US Ambassador to Tanzania, Charles Stith, runs APARC. The positive dimensions to the advancement of African and African American leaders and a solidarity with the diaspora should not blind us to the class project clearly being driven, even if with some of the best intentions, in this case.

MKURABITA, the property and business formalization programme in Tanzania was referred to quite a bit by de Soto and others as something of a success. It strikes me that there is a need for much stronger empirical research on what is happening - working and not, from the perspective of the excluded as well as included – with land in Tanzania under the land laws that have been in place for about ten years now as well as experiences in other countries like the one Deininger was referring to. We need to grapple with the challenges of formalization versus informal, individual versus communal, in the context of the encroachment of ‘empire’. We need good empirical research to inform discussions on this and what can work in the interests of people in the region.

The discussions were certainly interesting and I did manage to make some inputs, put land grabbing on the agenda, pointed out the importance of issues of power relations, and circulated to some participants documents on land grabbing as well as some critiques of de Soto’s thesis.

It was positive to see that some African leaders and officials are also looking at the land issue more critically, were concerned with land grabbing, and were not just buying the line from the organizers and de Soto. More worrying was the close friendliness of some of the leaders with de Soto and the general, all too common, cozy relations between the rich and the political leaders at this type of exclusive event.

There were quite a lot of students from Universities in Africa and USA as well as some academics. Good to expose students to these issues, important to try and give a balanced and more critical perspective.

This forum is one that is potentially influential given the influential people there, the media coverage (front page story in Tanzania today), and they are talking about how to make it more influential by strengthening links with current leaders.

It was useful to speak to people from the Land Policy Initiative that has been writing the Framework and Guidelines On Land Policy In Africa as well as others from the African Union (AU) working on land issues.

The final version of the Framework and Guidelines On Land Policy In Africa is going to printers soon and is due to be discussed and launched at the AU Agriculture Ministers meeting in Lilongwe Malawi 28-29 October. I believe this will be a good opportunity for lobby and media work on land and food issues.

The AU is also starting to draw up policy guidelines on pastoralism. There may be a consultation end September in which people from pastoralist organisations should be invited.

A highlight was Kenneth Kaunda, one evening, singing a love song and talking with feeling about HIV/Aids and the death of his son from Aids.

Marc Wegerif, 1 September 2010.
(I write in my personal capacity)

Preliminary Reaction from Professor Issa Shivji

Thanks Marc for this excellent notes and assessment of the 'jamboree of the big'. I couldn't agree with you more that this issue is centrally a CLASS project and very central to the new wave of primitive accumulation. In effect, in a continent of small producers - whether agriculturalists or pastoralists - the so-called privatization and individualization of property in land (which in effect is what de soto/world bank project is all about) is the 'royal road' to dispossession. And this has been shown again and again in all the so-called experiments of this type of land reform. Kenya's consolidation and registration programme of the 50s, which was a political response to the armed struggle of the Land Freedom Army (or the so-called Mau Mau is a classical illustration of what (undiluted) ITR (Individualization, Titling and Registration) does in Africa.

Mwalimu Nyerere's famous "mali ya taifa' ['national property' ]response to the proposals of the colonial government in the late 50s was precisely an answer to exactly the same proposal (ITR) made in the Report of the East African Royal Commission (1953-54).

What has been put forward as a novel and profound idea by Hernando de Sotto and supported by the likes of Margaret Thatcher and Madeleine Albright, among others, is actually nothing new and dwarfed by the far more profoundly and empirically based arguments of the Royal Commission.

When the de sotto team first came to Tanzania, one of theirs from the Institute for Liberty and Democracy (ILD) came to see me. He thought he had come here to write on a clean slate. When I told him that his ideas were outdated by at least 50 years and that there has been an enormous debate on ITR in this part of the world since the Royal Commission, he was both surprised (because he didn't know anything about the Royal Commission) and, I guess, offended. His ego was hurt because I told him in so many words that they, at the least, ought to have examined what had been done on the issue - even as a background - before they set on the path of recommending land reform.

One does not have to go as far back as the 50s of the last century. 20 years ago when the Land Commission published its report we had another round of debate on this issue. Even that has been forgotten. Unfortunately, our activists and NGOs too, like politicians and consultants, have short memories. You hardly hear people recalling these important interventions and debates in the fora they participate in.

The point about de soto is neither an issue of formalization nor legalization. By that, if de Soto means legal/statutory recognition of customary titles/ownership (because customary is informal to him), then that is exactly what was recommended by the Land Commission and has also been done by the Land Acts (Hati za Mila ['Certificates of Customary Rights of Occupancy'] are formal, for all intents and purposes they are statutory titles). But de soto wants a particular type of formalization under the western/capitalist legal regime of ITR. In fact, his team was very disappointed and frustrated by this so-called Hati za Mila etc. (I think HAKIARDHI [Land Rights Research and Resources Institute (LARRRI) can attest to that.)

I agree with you that these ideas must be expressed in different fora. But I think this roundtable may be a good opportunity to work towards organizing an alternative roundtable, as a straight counterpoint to the de soto/world bank/presidential roundtable. These guys can then be invited, just as they invited you, and students and academics, (of course as tokens). Perhaps this could be coordinated with colleagues in Kenya and Uganda and also the African Institute of Agrarian Studies (AIAS) Summer School. (You may also invite, if you like, this gentleman reverend Charles Stith!!)

Oh! I have gone beyond a short note of thanks. Pardon me.

But before I close, I think, there are also new elements that should be duly taken account of when we launch a new round of debate on ITR or formalization etc. And these new elements include; (1) of course, land grabbing; (2) "discovery" of Africa as the most endowed land to feed the world (never mind that it cannot feed its own people; who are every day of the Lord bombarded with ads to buy their bread and margarine and maize- mealy from supermarkets -comparative advantage - since the productivity of the African peasant is abysmally low, not to speak of his/her proverbial laziness!). (3) land for biofuels spearheaded by Brazil, where the ruling class in consort with imperialism is destroying its Amazons and its inhabitants); (4) "new" forms of accumulation under neo-liberalism driven by speculative capital (e.g. development of futures in commodity - food).

We have very good radical political economists from India and elsewhere who could do excellent expose of these issues.)

Ok, Marc, let's continue conversing. To kick off, you may wish to circulate your notes and my response more widely.


Anonymous September 2, 2010 at 7:58 PM  

Thank you Mark for this valuable information. The little i have been able to read about the meeting is Mkapa's councelling Africa that it should not listen to the West about China. Of recent Mkapa wants to appear as a 'born again' nationalist after blundering with his passionate embrace of everything he was tutored about neoliberalism. The sad thing however is that even after the the washington consensus was declared 'dead' the political and bureacratic elites in Africa are going on with the same policies as if nothing happened. Converts of neoliberalism believe that it is the rich (something like the national bourgeois) who would free Africa from its current problems. At the centre of it all is class interests, and the question of accumulation at the global scale. The problem with this form of accumulation accelarates Africa's role as a periphery of capitalism. The question is then is how do we understand the current forces of accumulation and those against it, and how the forces against are organised and operate. It is at the end of the day a question of class struggles and we need to understand the various forms it takes under the present neoliberal accumulation model, how it operates globally, and specifically how it operates in the periphery.

ng'wanza kamata

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