P 29

Contested Frontiers: Conflicts on the Transformation of Countryside

Panel abstract
The increasing economic importance of the resource sector has resulted in many countries—in Africa and worldwide—in an unprecedented spatial expansion of mining and agro-industrial production into areas hitherto sparsely exposed to capital forces. Scholars have demonstrated from a global history perspective how capitalism advances by expanding the ‘frontier’ of key commodities’ (both agricultural such as sugar, rice, and cotton, and fossil and mineral, such as copper and coal) exploitation to ever more peripheral rural zones. The expansion of the ‘commodity frontier’—thus, capitalism penetrating the global countryside—does not remain uncontested but leads a variety of social conflicts on different scales.
However, this does not mean that (local) contestations are to be understood as direct consequences of (global) political-economic transformation. Rather, conflicts over agricultural, mineral, and fossil resources are contingent and context dependent, impacted by numerous factors, and therefore vary in respect of issues, actors, claims, and outcomes.

Time: Friday, 29/06/2018, 2 - 4 pm
Venue: Seminargebäude, S 204

Kristina Dietz (Free University of Berlin)

Gordon Crawford (Coventry University, UK)
Bettina Engels (Freie Universität Berlin)
Grasian Mkodzongi (Tropical Africa Land and Natural Resources Research Institute, Zimbabwe)
Kehinde Olusola Olayode (University of Ile-Ife, Nigeria)


Paper abstracts

Gordon Crawford
Gold Mining, Capital, and Conflict in the Ghanaian Hinterland

Gold mining in the Upper East region of Ghana, the north-east corner bordering with Burkina Faso and Togo, is a recent phenomenon compared with the centuries-old practice in southern Ghana. It emerged as hard rock mining in the early 1990s, undertaken mainly by small-scale illicit miners as an alternative livelihood activity in conditions of severe poverty. Over the last 25 years, mining in this remote, rural area has expanded considerably. Small-scale mining, both legal and illicit, has increased greatly. Large mining companies have also entered the sector, notably a Chinese company, Shaanxi Mining Company (Ghana) Ltd, which controversially (and with questionable legality) established a state-of-the-art underground mine on small-scale mining concessions, and more recently an Australian-Ghanaian company, Cassius Mining Ltd, which is undertaking explorations in the area. Similarly, Shaanxi is seeking to significantly expand its operations and is conducting explorations over large areas of the region. Shaanxi’s presence has led to local opposition and conflict, including allegations that it was responsible for the deaths of seven artisanal miners in April 2017, with the temporary closure of the mine by the government. Currently, Cassius Ltd is conducting a public relations campaign, purporting to its social and environmental responsibility, to undercut local opposition to its activities. This paper examines the expansion of mining into a relatively remote area of Ghana hitherto scarcely exposed to international capital, the response of the state, and the local conflicts and consequences that this engenders in the local economy and society.

Bettina Engels
Land, Labour, and Class: Rural Transformation in Burkina Faso's Gold Mining Zones

This paper explores what insights critical agrarian studies (CAS) can provide us with in the analysis of conflicts related to the recent mining boom. Strikingly, research on extractivism makes relatively few references to CAS, the latter of which likewise focuses almost exclusively on the agricultural sector and hardly deals with mining. As a consequence, both debates are pursued in parallel, though both present critical ways of analysing transformations in the global countryside, namely structural shifts in land and labour regimes. Scholars from CAS analyse agrarian change by focusing on patterns of accumulation; on processes of production, i.e. the distribution of the means of production, technological changes, and labour commodification; and on how agrarian politics interact with processes of accumulation and production. I argue that CAS can prove fruitful in the analysis of structural change in the countryside—in which the expansion of the extractive sector is a considerable factor—and in particular in conceiving the impacts of global transformation. From a CAS perspective, we are able to understand the origins of the expansion of mining and to link it to an overarching political-economic context. In particular, CAS enables us to bring two core categories into the analysis of mining and related conflicts: labour and class. When it comes to understanding conflicts as social action, however, such a firmly structuralist perspective is stretched to its limits. The paper demonstrates how conflicts over mining can be analysed referring to analytical categories deriving from CAS in the case study on Burkina Faso, focusing particularly on the relationship of industrial and informal artisanal mining.

Grasian Mkodzongi
Agrarian Transformation and Peasant Struggles in Zimbabwe’s Resource Sector

One of the major outcomes of Zimbabwe’s Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP), implemented 2000 is the way it allowed peasants access to land and other natural resources which were formerly enclosed to them under the bi-modal agrarian structure inherited from colonialism. In the aftermath of the land reform, off-farm activities such as artisanal and small-scale gold mining have become a key part of rural livelihoods. This paper investigates the political economy of mineral resource extraction post-Zimbabwe’s fast track land reforms. The paper pays particular attention to peasant struggles over access to land and mineral resources in their quest for socio-economic transformation. The paper is based on ethnographic data gathered in central Zimbabwe.

Kehinde Olusola Olayode
A Contested Frontier: Oil Exploration and the Ogoni Struggles in Nigeria’s Niger Delta

The intensive exploitation of Ogoni land rich oil resources brought with it severe environmental degradation and pollution. Thousands of hectares of Ogoni land were acquired and devastated by oil explorers in the attempt to lay oil pipelines. The eventual promulgation of the Land Use Act of 1978 finally removed the control of the land from the people and placed it in the hands of the central Federal Government. For a people who are predominantly farmers and fishermen, land was almost ‘a totality of life’. With sacred and commercial importance attached to land, there could be no doubt that a desecration or seizure of any Ogoni land would be understood as a violation of the rights of the people to live. The Ogoni people suffered serious environmental degradation that polluted fishing streams and freshwater sources, poisoned land through spills and blow-outs, and created an atmosphere fouled by decades of flaring natural gas. While invoking the principle of ‘self-determination’, the Ogonis demanded political control of Ogoni affairs; the right to control and the use of a fair proportion of Ogoni economic resources for Ogoni development; and the right to protect the Ogoni environment and ecology from further degradation. Using the political-economy framework, the paper examines the dynamics of the Ogoni struggle and its attendant implications for the continuous struggles in the Niger delta region of Nigeria. The paper argues that far from being a contestation over oil exploration, the Ogoni struggle illustrates the interplay of politics, economics, and ethnicity, intensified by the paradox of oil riches amidst environmental squalor.