Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Mozambique, Neoliberal Land Reform, and the Limpopo National Park *

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Mozambique, Neoliberal Land Reform, and the Limpopo National Park *

Article excerpt

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Since the end of the Mozambican civil war in the early 1990s, the Mozambican state has undergone a profound transformation in which it has abandoned many features of its state-centered economy in favor of a free-market, capitalist economy. Central to this transformation, in 1997 the state passed a radical new land law (Lei de Terras, Lei No. 19/97), which guarantees the rights of individuals and communities to occupy and develop land and transfer land-use titles. Neoliberal reformers saw such restructuring of the land-tenure system, which amounts to the semi-privatization of land and natural resources, as necessary for attracting private, mainly foreign, investment. In this article I analyze the promises, ambiguities, and impacts of the 1997 land law in the context of Mozambique's Limpopo National Park (LNP)-a project that has enabled significant investment opportunities--and several adjacent villages. (1) By comparing how the land law has been applied in these different spaces, I show how it has led to geographically uneven land reform. More specifically, the law has enabled the land occupied by communities outside the LNP to be semiprivatized, a move that has appeared to protect their land rights. As the law has been applied inside the park, however, it has enabled the further nationalization of this space, which is leading to land dispossession for those living inside park borders.

After describing the neoliberal economic and political context out of which the land law emerged, I turn to the LNP, examining the significance of the park for national development as well as how the land law has both enabled communities living near the park to protect their land-use claims and provided the legal conditions necessary for building decentralized, community-based development projects tied to the park. I then show how the land law exempts the space of the LNP- from having to recognize community rights to use and benefit from the land as well as hold transferable land-use titles. Juxtaposing the park with the communities outside its borders in this way allows me to illustrate the uneven geography of neoliberal land reform. I conclude by considering how this case speaks to larger concerns regarding state power and neoliberal reform, especially the privatization of land and natural resources. I demonstrate that this case both fits uneasily with and extends the insights of many contemporary analyses and critiques of neoliberal political, economic, and environmental reforms. First, many recent studies have shown that the privatization of land and natural resources often leads to dispossession, especially among the poor. In the case of the Mozambican land law, the semiprivatization of land as enabled by the law seems to protect community land rights. But the nationalization of parkland--intricately tied to broader, neoliberal economic reforms, as I will show--is what has resulted in land dispossession. Second, in recent years scholars have shown that neoliberal policies have not only led to the retreat of the state but have also brought about its restructuring and the consolidation of its power. Investigating how the land law has been applied to the LNP, we will see that state power is not merely consolidated over the park. More profoundly, the park emerges as a type of "neoliberal state space"; that is, a space over which the state is the ultimate arbiter, deciding who can enter this space, for what purposes, and so on.

BACKGROUND TO THE 1997 LAND LAW AND NEOLIBERAL REFORM IN MOZAMBIQUE

Upon independence from the Portuguese in 1975, the Marxist-Leninist Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) came to power and set out to transform Mozambique into a "modern," single-party socialist state. Reflecting FRELIMO's socialist political platform, the 1975 Constitution nationalized all land and natural resources, meaning that only the state could determine the conditions under which citizens could access them. …

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