Sweet Deal, Bitter Landscape: Intersectional Politics of Liminality in Tanzania's New Enclosures

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This dissertation traces one of the most high-profile agricultural land deals signed by the Tanzanian government and foreign investors in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Known as the EcoEnergy Sugar Project, the Tanzanian government granted a 99-year lease to over 20,000 hectares of coastal farmland on which thousands of rural women and men live, to a Swedish investor who promised to mobilize over USD 500 million for commercial sugarcane production. Despite enormous political support from top-level government officials, international development agencies, and financial institutions, the project has remained stalled for over a decade since its inception in 2005/6. Proposing to think with the heuristic of liminality—a lived experience and an ontological condition of being in-between—and the analytical sensibility of postcolonial intersectionality, the study examines the relational entanglements of the Tanzanian state, the foreign investor, and the rural women and men that have shaped the unfolding dynamics of the EcoEnergy project, against its apparent stillness or inactivity on the surface. Drawing on 18 months of visual ethnographic fieldwork in the district of Bagamoyo, it argues that the implementation of the land deal has been stymied by the convergence of political economic processes at multiple scales; the ambiguities in land tenure resulting from the legacy of previous rounds of state-led enclosures and dispossessions; as well as the determination of rural women and men to remain rooted on the land through diverse gendered strategies of everyday resistance. The study underscores the importance of understanding the historical, cultural, political, and ecological contexts under which contemporary land deals unfold; it demonstrates that the landscape in Bagamoyo has been a product of people’s on-going material and symbolic relationships with nonhuman natures, while being deeply enmeshed in local and global dynamics of power and capital. In shedding light on how gender, class, generation, location, and other intersecting forms of difference have shaped people’s experiences of and responses to the liminal land deal, the study also raises critical questions about the trajectories of postcolonial development and nation-building for the Tanzanian state, as well as the meaning of identity and citizenship for those living in the margins of capitalist agrarian transformation.
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African studies; Development; Sociology; Geography; interectionality; land grab; liminality; new enclosures; Tanzania
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Wolford, Wendy W.
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McMichael, Philip David
Bezner Kerr, Rachel Nicole
Schroeder, Richard A
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Development Sociology
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Ph. D., Development Sociology
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Government Document
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dissertation or thesis
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