John Barker's Blog

Land Grab: Enclosure, Dispossession, Eviction


By John Barker and Ines Doujak

The taking of land and its resources –farming, forest and urban – by omnivorous capital is an act of class war. Its increased ownership not just of the means of production but of subsistence increase its power of control which also makes them a ‘safe’asset for investor sovereignty.[1]  In the process  capital recreates scarcity, as it must, in both the rural and urban worlds while accumulating itself. Its war-like character can be seen in the many, many violent deaths of those resisting the process, some of whom are represented on a poster. In the present, the process has been called one of the ‘new enclosures’[2]  referring back to a period in Europe from the late 15the century through to the 18th when a new class of landless labourers was made and then  labelled, feared and despised  as ‘vagabonds.’ This coincided with a worldwide ‘land grab’ by Europeans whose settler colonialism was  unequalled in its sheer scale and whose dirty footprints are all too evident in the present day.  A sense of entitlement, usually claimed in the name of productive efficiency or a self-defined though generic ‘modernity’, also required the psychic protection of denigrating those whose land had been taken and which settled into disgust and hatred both in Europe and the colonised world. One of many articulations came from  the Jesuit Father Gijil in 1780 after he was exiled from Orinoco whose people had’ betrayed ‘ their conversion to Christianity and  compared Amerindians to the filthy peasant of Europe “who grow fat in their own filth”.  Nowadays, the dispossessed are labelled as ‘squatters’ and despoilers of the environment.

Though the  scale and impact of the ‘new enclosures’ is on a qualitatively different scale in the present day world to that which was colonised in the past, similar processes are also at work in the richer world most dramatically in how Hurricane Katrina was used in a project of class cleansing New Orleans.[3] In Britain the Vagrancy Act of 1827 is still in force and being used against street sleepers in cities where somewhere to live has been commodified, reproducing scarcity and enforcing exclusion. In the case of New Orleans, and as colonial entitlement required, class was overlaid by a racism that continues into the present, as does a vicious resentment of non-productionist societies. The fascistic language of current Brazilian President Bolsinaro towards indigenous people is not new and has a basis in the resentment by one of British colonialism’s useful idiots Thomas Carlyle: “, “Where a black man, by working about half an hour a day … can supply himself, by aid of sun and soil, with as much pumpkin as will suffice.” A similar complaint was  applied to lower class Englishmen by a late 18th century Church of England vicar; with enough land to feed himself and his family, such a person was an idler; lets see him work when it is there no longer there was his gist.[4]

This kind of racism directed mostly at indigenous people or those labelled as ‘backward’ in the present is not exclusive to Bolsinaro. As in one of the posters Alan Garcia a recent leader of Peru showed the same hatred. In his case hatred in the interests of mining capital –Western and Chinese – when so much of the copper and gold they extract is on indigenous land. His successor promised an ‘iron fist’ against opposition in a country where the violence against protests is a constant. In 2018 a company controlled by Barrick Gold –whose Papua New Guinea activities appear on a poster –  was to get control of 8,900 hectares of Amazonian land on which live 12,000 Shawi people. This in addition to the 145,000 hectares it already controls grace of the government.[5]  At the same time the temporary tax benefit for mining companies was to be made permanent. The country is  World Bank and neoliberal poster boy.

The recent term ‘land grab’ appeared and was originally limited to large scale purchases, concessions and leases – and 99 years appears as no different to outright purchase to those affected – by nation states in South East Asia and the Gulf in Africa. It was specifically for food-producing arable land and gained traction at the time of the 2007-8 ‘food crisis’ which saw riots over the price of food in cities of the global South and which has been partly attributed to the increasing use of arable land for bio-fuel. But investment in land  – including for bio-fuels -by various forms of domestic and international capital from pension funds to private equity and hedge funds were already in process. With the connivance of state power, themselves debt-pressured,  different forms of force were used to dispossess small farmers, communal farmers and pastoralists. Investment in land for bio-fuels in Africa was almost exclusively British. Elsewhere it is domestic capital as in Russia and India which benefits from land grabs and gets laws changed to make this possible, or acts as proxy for foreign investment when there are written laws against foreign investment in land as has also happened in Russia as well as Cambodia, Serbia, Myanmar and Ukraine.

This process, also called and with a different emphasis Accumulation by Dispossession[6]  accelerated with the  2007-8 financial crisis (that coincided with the ‘food crisis’)  which both revealed and augmented one of capitalism itself, a surplus of capital as against a finite existing pool of profitability.  In 2009 the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) estimated that between 15 and 20 million hectares of farmland in developing countries had ended up in the hands of external investors since 2006. The Land Matrix (which aggregates statistics for known and projected purchases and grabs shows an increase from 62 million hectares in August 2015 to 72 million hectares in October 2016 (including intended and failed deals), and the figure is still on the rise. The International  Land Coalition talks of 200 million hectares  between 2000-2010, the majority in Africa.

 Where to invest that would make the kind of returns omnivorous capital demands, had become a more pressing question from 2008 onwards, rather more than the much trumpeted actions of sovereign wealth funds or the Chinese. [7] It was those promising such returns who were the prime movers. Some ‘agricultural funds’ were offering returns of 20-25% both from food production and the rising price of the land combined when the ‘solution’ to the financial crisis was the further inflation of asset values made inevitable (to use a favourite neoliberal word) by the policy of Quantitive Easing.[8] Money could be made  even when mistakes were made along on the way, because the surplus of capital from those inflated assets could be applied to lands where there was a shortage of it, as explained by one of our poster boys. [9]There was the added attraction of land being a finite, material resource as well as being productive; capital had the power to reproduce scarcity while accumulating itself. The relative extreme cheapness land in Southern Africa for example was in itself, “an arbitrage opportunity. We could be moronic and not grow anything and we think we will make money over the next decade.”[10]

Forest land has had the same appeal as shown in the posters; East European forests snapped up by West European capital; and their use now in REDD-based carbon-credit schemes.  The Latvia’s Forests during 20 Years of Independence brochure of  2011 could boast “Foreign investors choose not to make short-term investments in manufacturing sectors  which are subject to various dangers, but instead in the timber industry, where investments are more secure than bank deposits and annual increases in growing stock volumes also ensure higher profits.“ In the process this psrticular claim lead to deforestation of the country, trees cut at a far faster rate than replenishment would allow.[11]

This is not the whole story, land grabbing affects not only forests and farmland for biofuels or crops, but also claims for ‘nature conservation’ , tourism, mining as in Peru, and large-scale infrastructure such as dams and the roads and rail of ‘economic corridors’. Just as significantly urban land grab is not included, usually because of the limited scope –and perhaps moral/ ideological nature – of campaigning NGOs. Given that in many cases the rural dispossessed have little choice but to migrate to cities in which land prices are rising and where –over time –such migrants may be dispossessed again as in Delhi and Mumbai, this omission becomes a form of distortion. It was one of the strengths of the original “New Enclosures” work, that it showed both – rural and urban -in the poorer and richer areas of the world and thus, the class nature of these attacks.

                                             DEBT AND THE COMPLIANT STATE

Any bullshit detector would immediately see the falsity of neoliberal capital’s anti-state rhetoric. It is only against the state as a possible source of redistribution of wealth or the scraps of taking  care of its citizens’ health, housing and educational needs, but not all the laws made in its favour, their implementation or the subsidies it receives.[12] . In the case of land grab it needs the state’s powers to dispossess. In the 1980s and often beyond states in the Southern world often had little choice. The debt they had accrued, largely because of policy decisions in the USA[13]  was the lever by which ‘structural adjustment’ policies could be imposed by the IMF/World Bank axis and which weakened the state’s capacity for economic development.  This debt pressure in turn meant the use of the law to transform property relations where official ownership did not exist. In the 1980s just 36 African states implemented 241 adjustment programmes laid down by the World Bank/IMF consortiumwhich they could impose because of the states’ indebtedness.  Under the terms of these programmes,  Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal were urged to sell off common land that was suitable for growing rice to private buyers. “The effect of this was to encourage get-rich-quick merchants to come in and develop rice fields. But often they installed the cheapest form of irrigation, without drainage, as the campaigning group Food First noted in 2002, long before the notorious 1.3 hectare proposed  South Korean arable land lease in Madagascar which prompted the “Land Grab” terminology.[14]

Where peasant land was taken by the state – and this was not all ‘the commons’ as a literal reading of ‘new enclosures might imply – resistance was determined not just by whether compensation was on offer, but by what form or amount it might take, and what opportunities there were for new incomes.  In China violence was outsourced by regional Communist Party leaderships to  mafia-type thugs where what was on offer was rejected. In Ethiopia all land was ‘owned’ by the state and thus could be allocated regardless of the rights and livelihoods of those who lived on the land. In Latin America and South East Asia, continuing right now, violent coercion is the norm whether it be for mining, palm oil or sugar plantations. In India  the law was used for compulsory purchase. The official in charge of Andrah Pradesh’s Special Economic Zone (SEZ) was clear about its need, farmers would not sell without it, in most cases even at market rent. At first the British compulsory purchase law of 1894 was used stretching interpretation of its ‘for a public purpose’ clause to the limit , then in 2005 a new law demanded by domestic Indian real estate capital meant  even what was ‘productive’ was reduced to 35% of the land that was allocated as an SEZ. In Russia where the debt of collective farms had also played a role in the post-Soviet period along with bureaucratic difficulties for peasants to stake claims to their land  and because “often people in remote areas do not have the money in order to formalize their land shares”,[15] land was acquired de facto style by oligarchs with their capital from oil and mineral privatisations. These transactions were then legalised in 2002 in a law which also allowed the free sale of land and allowed the use of proxies for foreign land purchase. Similar laws passed in 2002-12 all over the world, from Myanmar and Cambodia to Angola and Namibia.

From Laos to Ethiopia long term leases were signed over to a range of ‘investors’ with no consultation and often needing coercion. What then is the motivation of such states? In all, there are liable to be elements of corruption even when industrialisation or efficiency is the main claim but this is not a sufficient.[16]. In Africa the external pressure of debt was powerful enough to privatise communal land and to do so for more than rice, a food for domestic consumption as well as export, mostly the requirement was for mono-crop export, the colonial model and from which debt repayments were siphoned. In other instances, plantations were genuinely thought to be a means of modernisation, even if top-down as can be heard in the voice of the regional governor in Gambella, Ethiopia “.Lands you are using are not utilized. We have investors coming who will use it more efficiently. Against those who resist we will take all possible action.” This was his message in 2012 to local communities subject to involuntary displacement under the label ‘villagization’. This was not how it was seen by those affected as described by a land grab witness from Benishang in the same country one in which food insecurity has been a constant: “This is not development. Investors are destroying our lands and environment. Bamboo is crucial for us. It is used for food, for cattle, for our beds. Homes, firewood, everything. They destroy our forests. They grow sorghum, maize, sesame, but all is exported.”

Although such a belief in such modernisation might be genuine, it is also a capitalist version. It is not corruption as defined in the West but many African leaders and administrators have become habituated to this view of the world refracted through  the capitalist lens through in their dealings with international finance institutions.  “ In some cases  governments might have been managing aid and adjustment regimes for years. It is unsurprising then, that a highly integrated milieu has emerged in which key civil servants, technicians and ministers have established areas of political management with in-country aid donors and World Bank/IMF missions. This ‘realm of governance’ is identifiable in a series of political practices, clustered around regular meetings with donors and creditors, workshops, seminars, audit and policy management processes.” This is not the corruption beloved of the Western media but more the absorption of elite ideas in elite circles in which those of the modern world and colonial-created hierarchies coincide or are indeed directly related.[17]



In this world it is the World Bank most of all that, has provided both ideological justifications of the ‘efficiency-entitlement’ and modernization type for land grab as shown in several of the posters and actively–to use one of its buzz words – ‘enabled’ it. While denying, like A.W. Clausen in the poster, any such ideological intent, the Bank has consistently equated efficiency with private property and, implicitly, large scale capital starting with the Berg Report of 1981 which, as already touched on instigated ‘structural adjustment’ and its emphasis on cash crop export. It has also had the power to define what is ‘efficient’, what land is ‘marginal’, ‘sustainability’, ‘yield gap’ ‘good practices’ and other key notions. It has claimed all these as factors of and for food security.[18]  This claim, which is usually made for the whole ‘global population’, does not fit well with how cereal crops have accounted for only 20% of land use on land grabbed as opposed to over 50% for oil seeds and sugar and their bio-fuel role.

The  Bank has been able to impose –through the pressures of debt/aid and Western political clout- what it justifies, classic colonial pattern export-led agriculture. This began with the abolition of taxes on food exports – further weakening the budget and thus ‘capacity’ of  the state – [19] and was followed by its highly selective investment support decisions creating the infrastructure for exports as in its funding focus on ports especially in the 1990s. [20] Just as in cities where  infrastructural development is skewed in favour of linking wealthy parts of the city bypassing swathes of the city inhabited by the poor with large chunks of capital going into expressways, airports, so with transport and storage infrastructure for small farmer is being under-invested, making hard for them to get their surpluses to market which in turn justifies them being labelled as inefficient. It’s one more  case of capital having the power to create the circumstances which justify its original wishes. Its ‘good practices’ involve  ‘benchmarking’ countries with its ‘Enabling the Business of Agriculture ‘whose ranking system incentivizes governments to “reform their agricultural sectors to allow the increased use of chemical inputs and commercial seeds, foster private titling of land and create favourable import and export conditions for agribusiness.” Such ranking is based on ones created in the USA in a context where there is an oligopoly of private seed companies.

 Its interference on the ground has had the consistent aim of the privatisation of land. An early example of its meddling with indigenous land right systems where there had been no local demand for it was the Ivory Coast Rural Landholdings Project in 1989. Here ‘objective’ and ‘neutral’ mapping served as “ technocratic tools for transforming indigenous tenure systems characterized by multiple and open-ended land rights to more restricted and exclusive arrangements”[21]  in a context in which the Bank estimated that only 10% of African land was officially titled. [22] More recently it has pushed the land titling ideas of Hernado de Soto, and, under the banner of ‘transparency’ seen blockchain as a means of achieving a cynical utopia in which each peasant can become a capitalist, cynical because it ignores all the inequalities of power under which claims could be made. These will not be magically transformed by the transparency claimed by blockchain which is now be heavily trialled for land titling. There is no ambiguity however from the head of the Bank’s Agriculture and Rural Development Department, Jürgen Voegele “When done right large-scale farming can provide opportunities  for poor countries with large agricultural sectors and ample endowments of land. To make the most of these opportunities however, countries will need better secure local land rights and improve local governance. Adopting an open and proactive approach to dealing with investors is also needed to ensure that investment contributes to broader development objectives. “ Objectives as determined by The Bank; ‘done right’ as determined by the Bank; ‘opportunities’ as defined by the bank all on the settler colonial notion of a terra nullius here called ‘ample endowments of land. The giveaway is ‘local land rights’ with ‘large-scale farming’ all in the same breath.


Through its International Finance Corporation arm, the World Bank has the power to implement real world developments. One instance of its investment has been in Dinant Corporation a palm oil plantation owner in Honduras, and in the Banco Fichosa its main creditor. Palm oil whose production levels have risen exponentially on world-wide level  doubles up as a staple in wide range of processed foods  and as a bio fuel.  Malaysia and Indonesia are main producers with companies like GAR (Golden Agri-Resources) and the IOI Corporation in which the Swiss banks UBS and Credit Suisse among others have stakes. IOI has been accused of illegal clearing of forest land, illegal encroachment on peatland, with the power to simply redefine such areas, as well as illegal logging. Deforestation in Indonesia is on an epic scale in 2015 it caused a smog that brought everyday life to a standstill. On its net environmental effect there is no consensus in that as a fuel it produces less carbon emissions than other biofuels while deforestation reduces ‘carbon capture’. When the business is ‘exported’ to Africa and especially Central America, its overt role in land grab is clearer.

The Dinant  Corporation whose PR tells of its pride in its Honduran heritage is owned by one of Honduras’s most powerful families. Land grabs in the 1990s by such families privatized collective landholdings which held no modern contracts amounted to 70% of peasant lands in the lower Aguan valley, an especially fertile area. Since the ‘legal’ coup of 2009 [23]  this oligarchy has even greater flexibility and violence in expelling smallholders from their land to such a degree that in 2017 those in the village of Panama, surrounded by Dinant plantations took the Bank’s IFC to court over its complicity in the killings of 100 people by Dinant guards, and the participants in farm co-operatives dismantled in the 1990s as part of reforms pushed by the World Bank. In neighbouring Guatemala, the  agribusiness giant Cargill has been supplied by another murky palm oil concern.[24]

 Cargill is active in both the corn, sugar and ethanol business in Brazil. As a‘flex-crop’ sugar for example can switch between food sugars and ethanol according to international price. Its plantations have  spread over great expanses of land, displacing other rural activities and the people dependent on them in a country already marked by extreme inequality in access to it. Over the ten years from 2006 the area converted to sugar-cane in Brazil nearly doubled from 4.8 to 81.million ha. They are comprehensively linked into the global capitalist markets of food, feed and fuel. Recently, owing to global price shifts it is corn-ethanol which is growing while Cargill has backed a plant in Goias state that can process both crops into ethanol.

The grab of land that this has required is also enmeshed in the international financial world. Despite some half –hearted legal restrictions on foreign ownership have been overcome by joint operations with large-scale Brazilian capital.  As in many other instances it is Chinese land holdings in soya in the country that are most publicized, but there investment and holdings are far less than the USA, EU, Argentina and Japan. Some of that investment reveals the sheer extent of the forms of capital, most notably that of the giant TIAA pension fund based in the Unites States which also has a stake in Guatemalan palm oil. [25] 

 “I think natural resources are limited and I need to take them before they’re gone,” Doàn Nguyên Dú’c founder and CEO of the Vietnamese HAGL (Hoang Anh Gia Lai Group)[26]

Elsewhere in the world, the World Bank’s IFC has directly supported another land grabber, the  Vietnamese rubber baron HAGL which took advantage of the weak government of Laos and the corrupt one of Cambodia. Its founder’s sentiments echo Saskia Sassen’s claim that “the land is more valuable to the global market than the people on it” which runs against the thrust of the historical analogy with the enclosures of early modern Europe and its production of a landless proletariat. The present wave of land grab makes people landless but whether its aim is to create wage labour or whether it is a bi-product or ‘unintended consequence’ or whether this is even possible also varies and also may well determine the level of resistance to dispossession. Writing at the time of the Mozambican Peasant Union successfully putting a stop to the 35 million hectare Brazil-ProSavannah soyabean project in the fertile Nacala Corridor Christopher Tanner noted in 2004 that where there is land grab and displaced people there unlike in Europe of the past, “this will be a country that is not about to embark on a labour-intensive Industrial Revolution generating thousands of jobs for them.[27] More recently in Mozambique the Beira Agricultural Growth Corridor project and the concurrent “Vision for 2035 for port development” will take land for its access road from small farmers with insufficient compensation and facing a high unemployment rate and overcrowded ‘informal sector. “Skilled labour in Beira is imported from foreign or Maputo-based firms that have no interest in incorporating farmers or informal local labourers.” [28] In India, the resistance to land grab for Special Economic Zones is fierce from farmers who see no prospect of computer ‘back-office’ employment in them which is why the state must intervene on behalf of capital. [29]

In other instances there is no choice but to become cheap wage labour on plantations on the very land you have lost. Doàn Nguyên Dú’c was clear primarily wanting land, though he may have  overreached himself in developing an upmarket complex in Myanmar’s capital Yangon,[30])but it came from accumulated capital  using the dispossessed of Laos to work as cheap labour on the rubber plantations where it “grabbed land from indigenous communities and decimated ancient forests”. [31] Laos, as a ‘weak’ state has over 4million hectare of its land (15-20%) under agric-business concessions and contracts. In Attapeu province semi-proletarianized peasants on the South African-Mozambican colonial model were especially exploited on the company’s 10,000 hectare sugar concession which it gained for financing the SouthEast Asian games hosted by Laos in 2009. 12 hour working days were the norm under constant supervision with a ban on smoking and talking. The consequences were very real, a UN Development Programme found that Hmong populations displaced from upland villages suffer mortality rates of up to 30% when they are forced to give up their traditional livelihoods.  

 The IFC’s involvement with HAGLhas led it  in 2017 to smooth out a deal with villages in Cambodia where its concessions are even greater.[32]In Cambodia itself much has been made of the lack of land titles due to the Khmer Rouge destroying so many in pursuit of a primitive communal accumulation, as if their presence would have stopped the epic scale land grab. Even when papers existed the dictatorial government enforced grab by international and domestic capital.[33] It allows for cases like South Korea as one of the main enclosers also usingf women forced off the land in its outsourced clothes factories.  Most of all the migrant labour of the dispossessed are especially functional to profitability as in the unofficial/illegal part of the Indian coal industry which provides 80% of its profits.

Most of all, at a time of dispossession, eviction and increasing inequality the sector of work  most rapidly expanding is, understandably, ‘security’. There are the activist military, police and corporate militias that carry out evictions and the same corporate thugs who protect the mines and plantations. In the supermarkets of Western cities and a whole range of buildings in cities of the South ‘security’ is everywhere. In such southern cities –Sao Paulo or  Harare, young men stuck in uniforms with one insignia or another stand  bored all day [34] as either symptoms of or solutions to what economists call ‘underemployment’, but also as cheap boundary markers of exclusion.   


Shamelesness is a common characteristic of contemporary capitalism. The TIAA which not reveals which Brazilian farms it owns is a founding member of the UN backed Principles  of Responsible Investment in Farmland. It would take a lot to be removed from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and when this happens as with the Malaysian IOI a vague promise to be good brought re-instatement. Voluntary agreements and self-praise are the norm. At The World Summit on Social Development in Johannesburg in 2002 in the heavily barricaded Sandton Convention Centre, “delegates from the world’s environmental elite were handing out social responsibility awards to the corporate world, including awards to firms that have been involved in the appropriation of the resources of the poor.”[36]  At one level this is simply PR talk for luxury tourism as in the claim that “ Sustainability has always been at the forefront of Hamilo Coast’s vision of providing premier beach-resort living in thecountry” claimed Shirley C. Ong, executive vice president for the company in 2018, a company named after the coastal area of the Philippines  it took over, evicting 10, 000 peasants and 1000 fisher people  in the process.[37] Together with another company, the coastal ‘project’ will involve building 4 golf courses, 2 marinas as well as the exclusive resort. Other water hungry golf courses have been constructed under an eco-development banner India, China and Myanmar despite local resistance.

“Eco-tourism” has however become more than just PR but part of a worldwide strategy of victim blame. A process of environmental degradation by capital- deforestation, soil depletion from mono-cropping, over-use of nitrogen-based fertiliser and pollution of water – is transformed into a problem of local small farmers and pastoralists. Thus Tanzania Conservation Ltd, part of Thomsen Safaris which charges $535 a night for eco-tourist lodges on land that had been of the Maasai people on whom prohibitions are now placed by the American –owned company in a deal with the Tanzania state.

From one perspective such prohibitions are an absolute assertion of private property rights. Its defence and sanctions reinforce the removal of food self-sufficiency for the dispossessed, just the as the original enclosures were accompanied by the death penalty for poaching. Bamboo is out of bounds to the Ethiopian, berries, mushrooms and bee hives to the dispossessed Russian peasant.

From another it follows a colonial strategy of using environmental concerns as a rationale for the expropriation of land. Complict in this is that part of the ‘green’ movement that refuses to see that the crisis it proclaims is a product of capitalism, its necessarily private interests and compulsion to accumulate.  Like the World Bank  the redistribution of land in the face of its increasing inequality is to be resisted both in practice and ideologically. In furthering land grab, the rights of those living in certain areas must be undermined: it is they who overgraze; they who are responsible for deforestation for firewood. In February 2019 the Indian Supreme Court overturned the 2006 Forest Rights Act and ruled that indigenous people living “illegally on forest land should move. The ruling was prompted by various wildlife conservation groups who aimed their fire at minority ‘tribal’ people. The demand made is that up to 6 million people prove with documents their right to be in the ‘ancestral’ lands with the assertion that India’s forests are being relentlessly eroded by humans in areas of wildlife.. Calling this a ‘land theft on an epic scale’ Stephen Corry of Survival International pointed to how it would lead to wholescale misery, impoverishment, disease and death “and do nothing to save the forests which the tribes people have protected for generations.”[38]

In the cities of India meanwhile “bourgeois environmentalism” [39]is at work in the business of class cleansing like Delhi. It defines the “self-contradictory logic of the  increasingly affluent lifestyles of the middle class, resulting in environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity on one hand, and the primarily middle-class-rooted agenda conservation agenda (protected parks, sanctuaries for wildlife) and beautification movement, clean and green urban spaces. “ In Delhi as in a poster the Commonwealth Games was a lever in the class cleansing process, but it also involved judgments from the High Court of Delhi who simplified the complex problem of the Yamuna river pollution into one whereby “slums had destroyed the natural beauty and ecology of the river. Court verdicts dealing with slum evictions  also showed a shift from a stipulation that “the right to livelihood” is an “important facet of the right to life” to viewing slum dwellers as encroachers on public land, as squatters. [40] Such selective targeting, as Baviskar says, let “the more powerful polluters and encroachers off the hook.” It was also a judgment on which livelihoods were functional to capital, the irony being that many evicted for the Commonwealth games had originally squatted in the city to build the facilities for a previous Asian Games.

                        “DUBAI ON THE NILE” AND EXCLUSIVE ZONES

The eviction of people from agricultural land and forests has consequences for land in urban areas. It does not wholly account for the whole rapid urbanization of many parts of the world – in Africa “urban expansion largely results from in-situ natural expansion” – but can have visible and dramatic consequences as for the evicted of Honduras and Guatemala. For them arriving in the city on the worst of terms and faced with institutionalized violence, they have become the ‘caravans’ facing Donald Trump’s dehumanising language of the encloser and colonist unchanged from the 17th century onwards.

At the same time the city too has become another investment opportunity for surplus capital, which has inflated property prices and rents having the effect of a  ‘class cleansing’ from Western inner cities. A variety of ‘public-private partnerships’ there and in cities of the South have changed their geographies, at the expense of the poor and in which corruption is a bigger factor One tactic has been the use of major sporting events in the interests of real estate ‘development’[41]. More generally transformations have come from changes in planning and tenure laws and in zoning; the class-based provisioning of infrastructure; the enforcement of formal land tenure arrangements; and criminalising  the street life and economies of the poor.

Some of these mechanisms have been described in the case of Accra, capital of Ghana. The privatisation of public land for elite development projects was accompanied by the eviction of ‘squatters’ from the city centre and the ‘cleansing of street hawker’s from the city’s public spaces.[42]

The eviction  of ‘squatters’  as in Delhi, Kigali and other cities  is usually done in the interests of  ‘development’, private and public-private. In Vienna it took 1700 police and a tank to effect the removal of 31 politicized squatters in the way of such development while  in Salavador, Bahia in Brazil it took an explicitly racist form with the eviction of black-skinned families from the centre.[43] Real estate developers along with aspirations like ‘world city’ are prime movers.  Public-private violence is often used as in Jakarta in 2008 when 3 people were killed and 150 wounded defending ‘illegal’ homes in the sub-Koja district in the interests of the private Pelindo company that runs the airport and wanted the land for a road and rail link to it. In present-day South Africa the violence is outsourced to companies like the Red Ants who killed 2 ‘squatters in an operation to clear a camp made by the homeless where a mall was to be built on the outskirts of Johannesburg. [44]

            What is common is how different mixes of coercion, physical and financial –debt, taxation, lack of rent controls and changed in welfare payments – in countries with very different ‘standards of living’, poor and working class citizens are forced out to the outskirts of cities.  This is underlaid by Privatization of public land and public housing in response to the influx of capital. Property in inner London was equated with being a ‘reserve currency’. Unpaid lengthy travel to work is one consequence, less physical and social infrastructure another.  Khartoum, capital of Sudan, is experiencing the full effects. Real estate capital from the Gulf and Asia has come in waves as the city promoted itself as the ‘Dubai on the Nile’ and as evidenced by the proliferation of real estate agencies in the city. At the same time a demographic explosion linked to an influx of the displaced from land grab  and drought in different parts of the country.[45] It led to violent evictions and displacement of squatters to the outskirts of the city where land prices also took off. In 2005 a demolition operation in the Soba Aradi area of the city and the ‘rehousing’/displacement of its residents to an unserviced desert site some 40 kilometres north of the city saw ten police killed and hundreds arrested. [46] Present day resistances have developed into political protest against the regime.  

What events in Khartoum also revealed is how tenuous the power of property titles and how contingent their validities in relation to political and financial power. The obsession with land titling as a solution to all problems and being spearheaded by the World Bank led in one of their titling projects in Phnomh Penh which began in 2002 to a devastating series of slum fires and the move of 23,000 squatters from tracts of untitled land in the heart of the city. As elsewhere they were dumped on relocation sites outside of the city from which the cost of commuting consumed the wage they had been earning before the fires. Some sold cheap before the titling programme (which increased land prices 10 times), to elite groups with the knowledge of titling’s consequences and the financial leverage to take advantage of it..Others were simply simply evicted. There is, as with rural land there is   naivity amongst people who are not naive in assuming that titling is beneficial to all when it occurs in a context of inequalities of access, knowledge, finance and existing ownerships. More, “formal land holdings are more likely to be lost by poor people than informal ones precisely because they are marketable.” Being marketable they are primed for

This is of a pattern. More or less all governmental and institutional powers and their ideological cheerleaders like The Economist take it as a given that redistribution of land in the context of massive inequality. Their projects and solutions are devoted to this not being even considered. Where the dispossessed re-occupy land or try to, as in Brazil they are labelled as ‘reactionary’ and met with violence. The ‘objectivity’ and neutrality of their projects and conceptions of modernisation is an obvious falsehood, assuming not just that the private interests of capital can be neutral but denying the inequality of power to enforce it. those private interests. The notion that with titling each slum dweller and peasant can become an entrepreneur is a cruel joke of a utopia.  

[1]  Food is a weapon as one poster declares as it has been in modern wars, ‘civil’ and otherwise and  in a thinly veiled threat made by US President Gerald Ford to OPEC in speech at UN General Assembly 1975 “The attempt by any nation to use one commodity for political purposes will inevitably tempt other countries to use their own commodities for their own purposes…The US recognises the special responsibility we bear as the world’s largest producer of food…it has not been our policy to use food as a political weapon, despite the oil embargo and recent oil prices and production decisions.” 

[2] Coined in 1990 in Issue 10 of  Midnight Notes the journal of a collective that included present contributor George Caffentzis 

[3] Disasters have been used in other parts of the world for similar ends. “When the tsunami came, it did what the fire couldn’t: it cleared the beach of Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka completely.” Naomi Klein,The shock Doctrine, 2007. She describes  how hotel industry lobbyists had been pushing to relocate the fishermen of the Bay before the Tsunami and 24 fishing huts had been burned down in mysterious circumstances. A wave of “land theft” swept across Southeast Asia, obscured by the aftermath of the tsunami. Thailand, Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka all imposed ‘buffer zones’ as part of their ‘coastal re-development’ post-tsunami. In Sri Lanka and India in particular, high-end tourist businesses and large-scale fishing industries were exempted from the new rules.

[4]  One of several vicious clergymen and ‘well-wishers’ quoted by Marx in Volume I of Capital

[5] Protests focus not just on the loss of land and its sacred places, but on both the plundering of water and its contamination.

[6] Theorized by the radical geographer David Harvey

[7] Land Matrix statistics show China as a minor agricultural player in Africa with barely one third of that obtained by US investors.

[8] In ‘saving’ the capitalist world economy in 2008-9 with the injection of liquidity, this had to be done without any risk of redistribution of wealth or ‘socialist’ directed investment by governments, QE involved lending money to banks at zero, or close to zero, interest rates. The banks could then re-lend in a manner that simply inflated asset prices like those of real estate.

[9] And ‘mistakes’ were made The Indian-owned Siva group for example amassed a farmland portfolio of nearly 1 million hectares for oil palm plantations went bankrupt as has the king of the Kenyan flower business brought lowly a 300,000ha concession in Ethiopia. At a large-scale commercial level jatropha as a wonder bio-fuel failed as shown by the abrupt Shell oil company pull-out. Such investment depended on movements in the price of petroleum oil but jatropha yields were held to be disappointing. However on a smaller scale jatropha as a bio-fuel has worked successfully.

[10]  Susan Payne  of Emergent Asset Management, 2011

[11] In the especially severe shrinkage of the country’s economy after the 2008 crisis, which also saw a spurt of foreign investment in its forest land, trees were being cut at an unsustainable rate to such a degree that in 2016 half of its managed forest lost their Forest Stewardship Council’s certificate. It was typical too of primary commodity export, the Swedish manufacturing sector despite promises did not develop timber processing in Latvia. In other instances it is a matter of what trees are grown as in resistance to water-hungry eucalyptus plantations in Brazil, Chile  and Portugal where it was also Swedish timber companies who bought up land for this purpose in the early 1970s when the Portuguese state was pressured by the debt involved in fighting colonial wars in Africa. In Chile the aim of doubling wood product exports from $2-4billion with a doubling of land for eucalyptus and pine, a major threat to the survival of its native forests.

[12] From export credit guarantees to transport for trade infrastructure.

[13] The need to invest a new pool of petrodollars in the 1970s led to large-scale lending around the world denominated in dollars. When a classic ‘sound money’ banker, Paul Volcker took charge of the US Federal Reserve, he sharply increased US interest rates which had averaged 11.2% in 1979, to a peak of 20% in June that repayments on what has been borrowed became much more expensive. In the period 1980-92, debt service payments increased to $1.6 trillion more than the actual debt itself and was accounting for something like a quarter of all export earnings when the axis was pushing indebted economies into export-oriented economies

[14] The proposal was defeted by popular protest and prompted a subsequent coup

[15] Tamara Semenova of the pro-peasant organisation  Kretsyanskiy Front cited in Visser, O. Et al Oligarchs, ‘Megafarms and Land Reserves’, Journal of Peasant Studies 39)

[16] Instances vary, in Kenya land has been part of the intra-elites political bargaining over rewards. In China corruption by local Communist party bosses has usually been to inflate their achievements  shown in economic growth statistics, whereas with highly-sought farmland of Ukraine, corruption is endemic and is used by foreign capital.

[17] The either colonially  imposed or strengthened hierarchies around chieftancy or cas te  and gender demand a distinction being made between what is communal and what ‘customary’ a category still under  liable to be under elite control.

[18] Given the dominance of the Bank by US political figures it is hard to reconcile this with Ronald Reagan’s Agriculture Secretary John Block assertion that “The idea that developing countries should feed themselves is an anachronism from a bygone era. They could better ensure their food security by relying on US agricultural products.” Where free trade deals have been made with the USA it has destroyed the livelihoods of farmers in Mexico and Peru

[19] It was when the Argentine government of Cristina Kirchner attempted to introduce a tax on agricultural exports –that she became under constant attack from the institutions, think tanks and opinion makers who have such an influence on Western politics. Export capital is both constantly demanding low labour costs to stay competitive while having no direct, that is capital accumulation, interests in the domestic economy and its aggregate demand.

[20] In more recent times it is China who are most active in port building both internally – the biggest in the world – and either completed or under construction in Myanmar, Argentina, Pakistan and Tanzania.

[21] The maps present an incomplete view of these tenure systems by their exclusive focus on the rights of agriculturalists and lineage heads… . With maps in hand, government officials can now get on with the business of issuing land titles to selected individuals in the project area. The project thus constitutes the first step in the establishment of private landholdings as a structural condition of agrarian change.

[22] Securing Africa’s Land for Shared Prosperity: A Program to Scale Up Reforms and Investments, World Bank, 2013

[23]  The Honduran ‘legal’ coup by being un-condemned by the US Administration set a precedent, swiftly followed by one in Paraguay and evident in the downfall of Brazilian President Dilmar Roussef.

[24] REPSA and its owner Grupo HAME, has been accused of contaminating the Pasion river, destroying the livelihoods of around 12,000 families, and human rights abuses in a country where where 72% of murders are not investigated. It was linked to into the world of international capital to major agribusiness traders Cargill and Wilmar. Despite a RESPA campaign of victim blame these two finally suspended dealings with it when a shaming campaign coincided with charges of bribery and corruption.

[25]  As it expanded both in client base and its farmland fund, it sidestepped an attempt by the Brazilian state to restrict foreign ownership by joining the sugar giant Cosan  and has been accused of purchasing already-cleared indigenous forest land in the northern states of Piãu and Maranhão some from land  Euclides De Carlo, accused of illegally seizing over  million hectares using armed men. In Brazil 44 killings of environmental and land defenders were actually recorded.

[26] Interview with Forbes magazine 2009

[27]  In the same area in an earlier period of colonialism, Ruth First – picking up on the 1921 work of D.L. Jones – showed how it was in the interests the interests of  S. African mining capital and Portuguese colonialism not to have migrant labour develop into a proletariat  but instead feed itself as peasants when their labour was not needed in the mines, thus saving the costs of its own reproduction. In the present It is highly unlikely there is going to be a repeat of the ‘economic miracles’ of Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore, no industrial revolution in Africa, indeed investment statistics show it.

[28] A. Zouma et al, ‘The Rush for Land in an Urbanizing World’. The two projects both involve European public money, Dutch, English and Norwegian, and the port project is a Dutch public-private affair. Such ‘corridors’ developed around the infrastructure for international trade are being projected everywhere. The Chinese ‘Belt and Road’ has them earmarked all over Asia.

[29] M. Levien, ‘Special Economic Zones and Accumulation by Dispossession in India’, Journal of Agrarian Change, Volume11, Issue4, October 2011

[30] The company had to be rescued by the Vietnamese Central Bank and recently forced into a merger with Thaco, another rubber capitalist company

[31] (Inclusive Development International  cited in The Phnom Penh Post 27/7/201

[32]  Deutsche Bank also had a stake in the company but was shamed into giving it whereupon it was immediately taken up by the Major Swiss bank, Credit Suisse.

[33] The legal method of grab in Cambodia are Economic Land Concessions whereby land can simply be reallocated as ‘state private land’ as happened when the Phnomh Penh Sugar Company was awarded a 99 yrar lease on 9000hecatres in 2006

[34] There is nothing as both tiring and humiliating as having to pretend to work as well described in Ed Dorn’s novel By the Sound

[35] Kojo S. Amanor, Land and Sustainable Development, Zed Books, 2008

[36] ibid

[37]  The company is owned by the country’s richest man Henry Sy and had the backing of the Philippines Agrarian and National Reclamation Plans and use of the police to counter any resistance

[38] There are alarming precedents. In January 2014 the15,000 strong  indigenous Sengwer people were evicted from their ancestral homes in the Embobut Forest with the pretext that they were accelerating degradation of the forest. The Kenya Forest Service used the tactics of the 19th century Highland Clearances, torching over a thousand homes.    

[39] Amita Baviskar, ‘Wjat the Eye Does Not See: The Yamuna in the Imagination of Delhi’, Economic & Political Weekly.  10 December, 2011

[40] This shift away from ‘the ‘right of livelihood’ being abstracted from place happens at the same time in rural Myanmar with the abolition of ‘the tiller’;s right to the land’

[41]  In an open letter from Chinese intellectuals at the time of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, they said they took no comfort in grandiose facilities or Chinese medals. “We know too well how these glories are built on the ruins of the lives of ordinary people, or the forced removal of urban migrants, and on the suffering of the victims of brutal land grabbing, forced eviction and exploitation of labour.”

[42] “To attract private developers and tourists , the latter mechanism featured a ‘decongestion exercise’ to remove hawkers and remove other ‘chaotic’ space users. A strong aesthetics narrative, in line with ‘dirt-and-disorder narratives employed in many cities accompanied the narrative.”  Femke van Noorlooos et al ‘Land in urban debates’ in Urban Studies, 2018 .Such removals have been made in Quito, were crucial to the Delhi ‘transfomation’ described above, and were made in Beijing before its 2008 Olympics. Elsewhere it is street drinkers and the homeless in general who are constantly harassed.

[43] Foreclosures, that is evictions of people from their homes for falling behind with mortgage payments in US cities like Boston, fall mostly on African-American citizens.

[44] .  Its white farmer owner Johan Bosch  could claim with a now typical shamelessness, “We are a family. We look after each other … We have built a community.”  In Cape Town where evictions are regular and the city has developed an Anti-Land Invasion Unit which by-passed a law on illegal eviction  by claiming, in the case of eviction in Philippi that shacks “were not homes. )

[45]  Four million  hectares transferred to foreign private investors between 2004-13, more than any other country surveyed by the World Bank

[46]  Mixed with  Some like the Alsunut Development Companmy’s project has involved a grab of formerly agricultural land in the city, the ‘peri-urban, a major area of land grab in the context of expanding cities and with projects like the Beira Corridor.

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