Theses defended

"The land does not grow": super-exploitation, land privatization and the human right to developmentin Namibia's eastern communal lands

Pablo Gilolmo Lobo

Public Defence date
June 27, 2022
Doctoral Programme
Human Rights in Contemporary Societies
José Manuel Pureza
In the communal lands of eastern Namibia, extensive livestock farming, mostly of cattle, is the main economic activity and livelihood. However, livestock production in the area remains subordinated to the requirements of the white commercial sector. Therefore, the human right to development, that is, self-determined development, has not obtained so far.

The area is a former "native reserve", or "homeland," as defined by racialized territorial segregation under German and South African colonialism. Imperial policy makers initially attempted to set the area apart as a labor reserve, but at least since the 1960s, as a consequence of a development intervention known as the "Odendaal Plan", the area became a site of livestock petty commodity production (PCP). A customary land distribution system also developed, resulting from complex political processes involving various factions of traditional power, who mobilized different notions of custom and tradition, and their social constituencies. The subordination of livestock PCP in the area conforms to the development-underdevelopment relationship which, as typically entailed in modern imperialism, is based on the super-exploitation of peripheral labor. In this case, subordination of livestock PCP also conforms to the notion of "imperialist rent", as it obtains from what I have labeled the "calves-supply function". That is, land scarcity forces communal petty commodity producers to sell livestock before it has fully grown, and the white farmers buy the calves and grow them to full weight in their large, private farms, thus realizing all the value bred in the communal areas.

After Namibian independence in 1990, commercial land reform has not attained remarkable results in the redistribution of white commercial farmland, while communal land reform has not protected vulnerable rural dwellers. In the three sub-areas into which I divided the area of study, variegated processes of class differentiation, as expressed in the individuation and illegal fencing of land to the detriment of customary land distribution, are not leading to development but are rather deepening the conditions of underdevelopment and the subordination of livestock PCP, therefore aggravating the crises of production, reproduction and the environment.

Since the 2010s, the Program for Communal Land Development (PCLD), partly funded by the EU, advocates for the regularization of existing enclosures and the creation of new ones under a privatizing rationale. The program has been reoriented, if timidly, to avoid deepening the dispossession of poorer rural dwellers. Yet the expectation of regularization fostered the individuation and fencing of land on the initiative of wealthy local residents and other national elites. In any case, PCLD ultimately aims to satisfy, in the communal areas, the land demands of these elites, thus easing the pressures on the government to redistribute white-owned land. That is, to protect white landed property. Alternatives to this course of events have been proposed by some interlocutors during the field research, while PCLD is piloting a cooperative scheme in Gam, far to the east of the area of study. Should these endeavors be successful, a path for self-determined development may open; otherwise, the political and social stability of the country will be seriously compromised.