by Rebecca Pointer, Information and Communications Officer, Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS)
Humans have always used natural resources. As demands and lifestyles change and people move from place to place, there are compelling reasons to value, sustain and protect rare or vulnerable species and ecosystems. But these places are also where people live and work – and natural resources can be vital to people’s livelihoods. How they are valued depends on who is doing the valuing – and what influence or power they have.
Creating exclusive zones of environmental protection is, then, often a contentious process. In various African countries, such processes are leading to territorialisation, deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation – where communities become connected or disconnected from the land in different ways. These processes are not consecutive, but often overlapping and fluid.
In a panel on day 1 of the Green Economy in the South conference, Frank Matose highlighted how communities in South Africa’s Wild Coast are resisting neoliberal territorialisation, whereby game lodges and tourist spaces displace and exclude local people. Adrian Nel told the story of how Uganda’s forest territories have come to be governed transnationally, where development agencies often have more control than government or local communities over how forests are used and accessed, and by whom. And Connor Cavanagh unpacked how ‘ceasefire capitalism’, in areas contested during the civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia, was replicating the same territorial contestations that started the wars in the first place.
Reclaiming ‘lost nature’ in South Africa
In Dwesa-Cwebe, on South Africa’s Wild Coast, community resistance has enabled people to recover land where luxury lodges had tried to establish a presence and where private companies had pushed for co-management of resources with communities and government. The resistance made co-management untenable, and led to changes in property ownership as communities reclaimed ‘lost nature’. Matose discussed the different forms that resistance can take and which forms of resistance led to change. Often, simmering and ephemeral forms of resistance have led up to stronger, organised and assertive forms of resistance that then brought about real changes.
Patterns of conflict: Liberia & Sierra Leone
In Liberia and Sierra Leone, where civil war had displaced people, argued Connor Cavanagh, some areas had become artificially depopulated and these areas are now being reterritorialised through privatisation by assemblages of state actors, development agencies, the private sector and traditional leaders. In creating protected areas to support a ‘green economy’ the assemblages are replicating the very territorial conflicts that caused civil war in the first place.
Furthermore, demobilised government soldiers are now accessing paid employment as forest rangers and security, while those who fought in the resistance are increasingly involved in activities such as illegal mining. In both Liberia and Sierra Leone, legal pluralism is also contributing to ongoing conflict as traditional leaders lay claim to full control over parcels of land, and sovereignty and territory are often not under state control.
Privatising forests in Uganda
Forest territories in Uganda were created through the colonial imaginary of a Ugandan protectorate and these were ruled by compliance elites; they were initially created to force locals out of subsistence agricultural and into waged labour.
Nowadays, this colonial imaginary is continued through an assemblage of market environmental governance, as Adrian Nel argued. While Uganda forest management is currently scaling up, it is also downscaling to ecosystem level and outscaling through privatisation. Through the actions of donor agencies, facilitating privatisation and foreign ‘investment’, Ugandan forestry territories are being turned into a flow of timber resources out of Uganda with territorialisation, deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation all happening at the same time.
In all of these case studies, the powerful contestations over land and the questioning of protected areas as strategies of exclusion are clearly present. Some discourses from the North claim these enclosures as promoting green politics. But the extent to which they exclude – and the extent to which that exclusion is contested – reveal ‘greening’ processes, led from the North, as a form of neo-colonial control of African territories.