The curious case of three male elders: Land grabbing and perverse legal resistance in Bagamoyo, Tanzania

Authors: Youjin B. Chung*, Clark University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Gender, Africa
Keywords: land grab, resistance, gender, intersectionality, Tanzania
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: 8201, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The EcoEnergy Sugar Project in Bagamoyo District was the first and pilot land deal the Tanzanian government had signed with a foreign investor during the “global land rush.” Yet, like many land deals that were initiated during this period, this project has remained stalled for over a decade, and its future remains indeterminate. Among many reasons for the project’s delay, this paper focuses on the role of political resistance from below. Based on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork, it examines what might pass on the surface as formal-legal repertoire of resistance: a lawsuit lodged by three male elders from a local community to claim their customary rights to the land. By tracing the elders’ litigation process, however, the article reveals the perverse nature of their legal action. It shows that while their lawsuit succeeded in temporarily stalling the land deal, the exclusive and opaque nature of the litigation process deepened pre-existing social inequalities and created new tensions within families and communities, along the lines of gender, generation, location, class, and residential status. When the elders eventually lost the court case, it gave the district government and the foreign investor the license to denounce all individuals occupying the concession area as “invaders.” Not only did this rob the local women and the elders’ wives of whatever land rights they had enjoyed previously, but it also exacerbated the precarity of poor, young, landless migrant women and men who have come to occupy the land during the project’s delay.

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