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Contradictions in the political economy of large-scale land investments and human rights discourse in Tanzania

Nkobou, A. T. (2021) Contradictions in the political economy of large-scale land investments and human rights discourse in Tanzania. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00107598


This study combines a historical, legal and policy analysis of large-scale land investments (LSLIs) to provide a critical engagement with LSLIs in Tanzania. The research presents new perspectives on an issue that has generated significant policy and scholarly debates in recent times. Arguably, LSLI policies in Africa rely on neoclassical approaches to development such as the promotion of growth corridors and leave insufficient room for observing non-economic [or political] processes of change. It goes beyond alarmist approaches to LSLI research, such as those cited in media and NGO reports in the wake of the ‘global land rush (2007-2012)’, by using a human-rights based political economy approach. Through an in-depth case study in the Ruvuma region of Tanzania, the study examines the contradictions in the political economy of LSLIs and human rights discourse in Tanzania. Contradictions are understood here as the differences between the promises expressed by LSLI policies and the everyday realities of agrarian societies in which LSLI schemes are embedded. Indeed, the tensions between the political economy of land investments and human rights are reminiscent of the tensions between market and society described over 75 years ago by Karl Polanyi’s (1944) ‘double movement’. These tensions create opportunities for reflecting on cultural, social, and political relations within agrarian societies. The use of a case study approach as a research strategy allowed for various data sources and research methods, including participant observation, focus group discussions (FGDs), key informant interviews, and surveys as a part of the investigation. I undertook a pilot visit to Tanzania from the 3rd – 23rd of December 2017. Fieldwork was carried out from May to September 2018. By unpacking the historical, legal and policy dynamics of LSLIs in Tanzania, this research contributes to understanding the political shifts and contestations inherent in ‘modernist’ versions of agricultural land investments in rural Tanzania, i.e., contemporary debates about LSLIs as contingent on history and pre-existing social formations. The research explores three research questions (RQs), i.e., RQ1: How does economic nationalism, defined as ‘practices to create, bolster and protect national economies in the context of world markets’, and LSLIs influence domestic political alignment within agrarian political economies? RQ2: How did ‘developmental nationalism’, a variant of economic nationalism, contribute to or undermine political trust and the politics of LSLIs in Magufuli’s Tanzania1 ? RQ3: What are the food (in)security experiences of individuals within households in LSLI-affected communities in rural Tanzania today? RQ1 and RQ2 explore the support for Economic nationalism under the Magufuli regime (2015-2021). Magufuli’s approach to economic development and investment was a restorationist form of developmental nationalism, which purported to make Tanzania great again. Economic nationalism encapsulates these variants of ‘nationalism’ linked to the state’s involvement in regulating and intervening in markets. It is viewed here as a political reaction to the uneven and combined development of capitalism. It emphasises the ‘national’ in economic nationalism as a crucial economic orientation of a state in restructuring its identity at a particular conjuncture. The nationalist turn of President Magufuli’s government was grounded in a selective history that swept him to power. By looking closely at the politics of land investments at the village level in Tanzania, the study highlights the extent to which local community members, a majority of whom are smallholder farmers, were in fact (dis)empowered by this wave of nationalism. Magufuli’s supporters heralded his approach to investment policies and regulations as an attempt to redefine Tanzania’s relationship with investors. Under the Magufuli regime, there seemed to be a contradictory relationship between Tanzania’s striving to attract investors and the president’s authoritarian impulses, which his supporters viewed as those of a ‘strong leader’. These contradictions present an opportunity to 1This research was conducted prior to the demise of President John P. Magufuli in March 2021. With his departure, it will be interesting to study if any changes are introduced in the orientation of the SAGCOT and investment policy in Tanzania. re-examine the LSLI discourse in Tanzania and understand the emergence of a new wave of nationalism. While this study acknowledges the authoritarian turn of Magufuli and the dwindling of civic and media spaces in Tanzania, it agrees with Paget (2020) that Magufuli succeeded in justifying his authoritarianism as a form of liberation which sought to make ‘Tanzania great again’. Hence RQ1 and RQ2 contribute to the growing literature on the complex politics of LSLIs by presenting the political contestations in both case-study communities. RQ1 is unique in its exploration of the labour dynamics within rural households, which contributes to an understanding of the nascent worker-peasant alliance against capitalist landed investments. RQ2 is distinct in its use of a Latent Class Analysis (LCA), which categorises research participants into different groups of individuals based on their trust in the president, the ruling party (CCM), the Tanzania Investment Centre (TIC) and their support for LSLIs. Political trust is defined as an evaluative orientation towards an institution or government based on people’s normative expectations. The use of an in-depth case study approach facilitates a context-dependent analysis for measuring political trust. RQ3 provides insights into the material impact of LSLIs in these agrarian communities and how the state of Tanzania may conform to or derogate from its duty in relation to the provisions within the relevant international human rights regimes that it is signatory to. The right to adequate food is used as the human right of interest and deviates from a needs-based perspective to an entitlement-based perspective of food security. The sustainable livelihood framework is used here to facilitate the assessment of livelihood strategies and outcomes in the two case study communities. Livelihood outcomes are evidenced by individuals’ food insecurity experiences within rural households and measured using the USAID standardised household food insecurity access scale (HFIAS). Findings from the analysis show that in the case of these two villages, the human rights principles of participation, accountability, transparency, and empowerment are severely undermined. This overall situation is due to inadequate monitoring and evaluation of LSLI processes and low levels of commitment on the part of institutions in Tanzania to monitor the promises made by investors. In concluding, the study argues that LSLIs deserve closer academic attention, not least for their remarkable popularity and their spread. But given that no LSLI occurs in a socio-political vacuum, also for the increased interest in the recognition to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of local communities, the majority of whom are small-holder farmers in ‘developing’ countries. Following the demise of president Magufuli in March 2021, it is relevant for future research to study the direction of investment policy and design in Tanzania. Certainly, the potential longer-term absence of the ‘strong leader’ element displayed by President Magufuli will have consequences for the orientation of Tanzania’s approach to both investors and ordinary citizens.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Ainslie, A.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Agriculture, Policy & Development
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Agriculture, Policy and Development > Department of International Development
ID Code:107598


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