Panel 9: Insurgency, Peace and Resources

Jacobo Grajales, University of Lille, (chair)

Abstract: The benefits of peace. Agrarian frontiers and the political economy of peace in Colombia

This paper uses the Colombian case to deal with a particular sort of frontier production: in this country, the relative and recent securisation of rural areas has been construed by government officials and business actors as an opportunity for development. This is particularly true for marginal places, where the opportunities for economic development were hindered for decades by the threat of violence. The convergence between pacification efforts and frontier dynamics is of course not specific to Colombia; however, this case is particularly interesting as it combines a recent and encompassing peace agreement that led to the demobilisation of one of the world’s oldest rebel movements, with a strong political support for an agribusiness development model. This paper focuses on a part of this puzzle. In the years 2012-2016, several legal controversies over the opening of agrarian frontiers in Colombia unfolded. They primarily concerned a territory that epitomises frontier politics, the Orinoco lowlands, a savanna region covering 253,000 square kilometres between the Andes, the Amazonian jungle and the Venezuelan border. These legal controversies were linked to competing claims over the access to land in marginal regions of the country. While business sectors supported by the executive branch claimed that places such as the Orinoco plains constituted a land of opportunities for Colombian agro-export development, NGOs, members of the parliament and even government officials denounced a violation of existing legislation, which provided that public lands (baldíos) should exclusively be distributed to landless peasants. I argue that the study of these legal controversies can help us to disentangle the complex articulation between peace building and the construction of agrarian frontiers.

Peer Schouten, Danish Institute for International Studies,

Abstract: Nonconventional logistics: subversive mobilities in Central African hinterlands

States are interested in channeling people and goods through centrally controlled points of passage, to raise taxes and surveil identities. Much of the contemporary Central African Republic (CAR) and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are ‘logistical peripheries’: zones where the road-based state holds little purchase. All-weather roads, if they do exist, connect individual urban hubs or extractive enclaves to ports, and much of the road network in both countries ceases to exist during the rainy season. What are the forms of rule, imposition, and resistance that emerge when road-based statehood is impracticable? This paper explores this question based on data on armed group strategies derived from fieldwork in 2016-2018 in logistical margins of both countries. It zooms in on the interface of strategies of imposition and subversion through the notion of ‘nonconventional logistics’. Coined by an armed group, the term captures the logic of warfare, rule and resistance in times and places where infrastructural statehood can’t reach. 

Kenza Yousfi, The University of Texas,

Abstract: “Life’s Bottleneck”: Walls, Phosphate Extraction and Infrastructure in the Western Sahara

The end of the Moroccan-Saharawi war transformed the 2700 kilometers wall into a frontier. Built in the beginning of 1980s by the Moroccan army, the wall first encircled the “useful triangle,” a region that engulfs the phosphate mine of Bucraa, the 100 kilometers long conveyor belt shipping extracted phosphate rock to the factories, and the port facility that refines and ships phosphates to its global consumers. The wall continued to function as a military infrastructure to maintain control over territory. But the wall transformed the violence of sixteen years of war to the violence of peace where exploitation of phosphates becomes a central question. These three infrastructures have shaped the way Saharawis link the wall to the production of phosphates as something that is about rupture as much as continuation. The wall emerges in Saharawi narratives as a violent technology, a material structure that has given Morocco and state-led phosphate company Office chérifien des phosphates (OCP) the upper hand in the illegal plundering of phosphates. In the port city of Laayoune, Saharawis move in proximity to the conveyor belt continuously shipping phosphates. Saharawis have been blown off the belt numerous times to cripple production; at other times it stops working because of its decay. Many Saharawis negotiate with the Moroccan state their right to liberation through demands of employment at OCP. Many of these workers describe their involvement in maintaining the infrastructure as emptying their ancestral land from its resources. I call this infrastructural frontier “life’s bottleneck”, an analytic to think of the relationship between phosphate extractive industry and the militarized wall. I use life’s bottleneck to draw connections between multiple contingent factors that shape Western Saharan infrastructure organized around the extraction and exportation of phosphates and how walls—as a political project with a material edifice—play out in making new frontiers. This paper shows that shifting our attention to the Western Sahara as a frontier delineates novel machines of extraction on multiple scales—walls, mines, conveyor belts, and ports—that enable phosphate production in the Western Sahara.

Alice Kern, University of Zurich,

Abstract: The Politics of Performance: Contesting Authenticity and Territory in Sri Lanka’s Post-War Frontier

Cultural politics of identity in South Asia often entail struggles over authenticity and anxieties around purity. This paper focuses on identity politics of a so-called indigenous community in Sri Lanka, the Coast Veddhas in Batticaloa district, and explores how performances of authentic culture shape ethnic politics and resource access after the civil war (1983-2009). The paper argues that celebrations of indigeneity go beyond Veddhaness. Questioning and contextualising the spectacle of ethno-nationalism make its erasures and contradictions visible. The paper suggests that the performance of authenticity in form of mimicked leadership and memorialisation contributes to a post-war nation-building process in the margins. Placing the “Others” into the centre of attention legitimates claims and contestations of Sri Lanka’s territory across ethnic boundaries. Therefore, the paper also argues that it is vital to take into account the role of the margin for state expansion and space appropriation, rather than just taking the margin as a scene for territorialisation processes. Based on eleven months of ethnographic fieldwork in Eastern Sri Lanka, the paper analyses a) the performance of indigenous leadership, b) the celebration of Veddhaness in museums, and c) the contestations and contradictions of authenticity through which these claims over space and identity are expressed. The paper contributes to a more fine-grained understanding of frontier dynamics in post-war contexts.

David Escudero King, University of Copenhagen,

Abstract: The sovereignty of the market and the struggle for citizenship in the Polochic Valley, Guatemala

The Guatemalan Peace Accords in 1996 established the “Fondo de Tierras” (FONTIERRAS), a new mechanism to encourage Market Assisted Land Reform (MALR). This, in theory, would provide access to land for landless families which, given the historical relation between land control, the suppression of citizenship for indigenous people, and state-making efforts, seemed to potentially address the historical injustices imposed on indigenous people by the state in relation to land property. As I outline in this paper, citizenship and property are deeply entwined and carry a history of racism and violent oppression in Guatemala such that conflicts over land are also conflicts over the inclusion of indigenous people as legitimate citizens in the body politic. The empowerment of transnational market actors in the global political economy, combined with the structure of market oriented land reform through FONTIERRAS has resulted in sovereignty over land shifting to the market regime, such that communities are, in practice, missing a sovereign body against which to lodge claims for land. I illustrate this by examining an empirical case study of peasant communities’ counter-territorialisation in the Polochic Valley, and the state’s response as it attempts to reconstruct both authority over the territory and over the communities through the bureaucratic process of FONTIERRAS. For those who participate, this is concomitantly a process of legitimation of state authority just as it is a legitimation of themselves as citizens. The diverging ways the communities engage in this process of re-establishment of state authority unveils the lack of sovereignty of the state over land allocation and correspondingly how transnational market forces are a determinant sovereign power over land property, thus affecting local struggles over citizenship.