Fields of Gold

Focusing on two country studies of the USA and Brazil, Madeleine Fairbairn's "Fields of Gold: Financing the Global Land Rush" (2020) explores the financial side of the global rush for land. This book provides unique perspectives on a widely written about topic (often under the land grab or large-scale land acquisition frame, I've also used the land rush in a book). A downside to the book is that it seems almost all of the interviews were conducted between 2011 and 2015, creating a rather large gap between the data / issues covered and the date of publication. The author has put a full copy of the book on Academia (available here). A few notes:

"In recent years, the financial sector has developed a surprising interest in farms. Institutional investors—pension funds, university endowments, private foundations, and other organizations that manage huge pools of capital—are increasingly incorporating farmland into their investment portfolios. The same is true of those extremely wealthy people who in financial circles are euphemistically termed "high-net-worth individuals." This investor interest has spawned a host of new asset management companies eager to accommodate and encourage investors' newfound passion for soil. Promoting shiny new investment vehicles including farmland-focused private equity funds and real estate investment trusts (REITs), these managers promise to shepherd investor capital safely, and often extremely profitably, into plots of farmland the world over. This book examines why and how this transformation is taking place…" (p. 2)

"In the 1970s, this plodding increase in land prices once again transformed into a mad dash. The US entered another farmland boom, this time lasting from roughly 1972 to 1981. The causes of the boom were many: global droughts in 1972, a huge sale of grain by the US government to the Soviet Union in the same year, the devaluation of the US dollar, a highly inflationary environment that translated into low real interest rates, and a certain amount of ungrounded optimism." (p. 25)

"Perhaps the most fundamental shortcoming of voluntary guidelines, however, is that they take the land deals as a given. They start from the premise that con-version to larger-scale, more capital-intensive agriculture is inevitable—or even necessary for rural development—and then strive to make those investments more environmentally and socially friendly." (p. 138)

"A final approach to re-embedding land markets in the social fabric lies in alternative ownership structures, such as community land trusts (CLTs) and real estate investment cooperatives (REICs). Unlike the previous two approaches, these are not explicit responses to the (financialized) land rush, but rather efforts to address the negative impacts that rentier landownership and real estate speculation, in general, can have on communities. The CLT model is based on the idea that property ownership should not just benefit individual property owners but should instead serve the interests of the entire community, particularly its most disadvantaged members. Under the CLT model, the landowner is a private, nonprofit corporation that is governed by a board largely composed of local community members and homeowners/lessees of the trust. This entity owns the land, while the buildings on the land are available for purchase, and the building owners are granted extremely long-term, inherit-able leases for the property upon which their buildings stand (ninety-nine years is a common lease term)." (p. 142-143) 

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The Horn of Africa

One of the Horn of Africa's long-time scholars, Christopher Clapham, wrote "The Horn of Africa: State Formation and Decay" (2017), with Oxford University Press. A lot of the book, expectedly, focuses on Ethiopia. And, unfortunately for Clapham, the world of Ethiopia and the Horn has changed dramatically since. The book is accessible, which is often a nicer way to say this is not a detailed academic book for experts of the area but for students and/or generalists who might be interested to learn about the region. I am sure experts will read this book / have read this book, but may take away comparatively less (that said, a number of leading academics of the region have cited this book). I collected a few notes on ethnicity and on the Somali state, which are below:

"All ethnicities, nonetheless, are to some extent fluid, and this fluidity is encouraged in the societies of the northern highlands by the principle of bilateral descent. Whereas in most African cultures, to which lineage is characteristically extremely important, descent is traced primarily either through the male (patrilineal) or female (matrilineal) line, in this region each enjoyed a broadly equal status, and hereditary rights in land in particular could be claimed either through one's father or one's mother. This made it relatively easy to blur one's identity, by selectively emphasising the most advantageous line." (p. 13)

"The genie of ethnicity, however, once unleashed, could not be put back in its bottle. The assumption, derived from the TPLF's (and especially Meles Zenawi's) ideological commitment to Marxism, that ethnicity was no more than a superstructural phenomenon derived from economic exploitation, which could in turn be neutralised by representation and development, proved utterly inadequate. Instead, predictably enough, ethnic identities have become increasingly entrenched within a system that had been intended to nullify them. A new politics of identity has emerged, despite (and not least within) a hegemonic party that has become decreasingly able to control the forces of proliferation that it did not create (since these were already implicit in the mismatch between the state and its population), but which it had at least sought to manage." (p. 107)

"Somali societies have operated in the absence of formal government institutions in a way that could scarcely be conceived in the agricultural highlands of the Horn, where the breakdown of hierarchical control has been coterminous with violence. Nowhere is this clearer than in the operation of an economy that has functioned with remarkable efficiency despite the lack of overall political control, and has in the process spared many Somalis the levels of destitution that statelessness might have been expected to bring with it." (p. 149) 

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Shariah Law Questions and Answers

In 2017, Mohammad Hashim Kamali, published a collection of crafted questions about Shariah, divided into 17 sections and 190 questions. I have posted on a number of Kamali's books, largely with reference to their use in teaching ethics and integrating more diverse thought traditions into the course. The audience of the book appears geared toward readers unfamiliar with Islamic law, and in that respect the book moves from basic introductions to specific issues. The selected questions appear geared toward addressing commonly raised questions about Shariah, particularly by Western readers. Each chapter concludes with a listing of evidence and legal maxims. One example question from about midway through the book:

"Q97) Is Islamic law compatible with democracy? With political pluralism? What is Shura, and how does it relate to democracy? A) Yes it is for the most part. A democratic system of rule on the whole compatible with Islam Because democracy is about people's participation, a representative by the people and for the people, it is also about fundamental rights and liberties, the rule of law, limitations, on the coercive of the state through checks and balances and equality before the law. Broadly, Islamic law approves of most of these and takes affirmative positions on the protection and realisation of people's welfare and their rights. Islam advocates a consulted and also a limited government that does not impinge on people's rights and liberties, one that is committed to accountability and justice. Islam also envisages a service-oriented system of rule that carries no barriers between ruler and ruled, and shuns pomp and ceremony of the kind that came into vogue with the onset of monarchy and dynastic rule under the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties. What is just said here is mainly meant to depict a general picture - let it be said, however, that Islamic history in almost every period and dynasty has also known many good and upright, indeed exemplary, rulers who inspired the confidence of their people and left an impressive legacy of dedication to public service" (p.106) 

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Stokely Speaks

Stokely Carmichael, better known as Kwame Ture, gave a number speeches and penned articles and letters, which were gathered in "Stokely Speaks: From Black Power to Pan-Africanism" (1965), with multiple prints and new Forwards added with each new print. A few quotes:

"I wouldn't be the first to point out the American capacity for self-delusion. One of the main reasons for the criticism of American society by the Students for a Democratic Society, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and other groups is that our society is exclusive while maintaining that it is inclusive." (p. 9)

"I maintain that every civil rights bill in this country was passed for white people, not for black people. For example, I am black. I know that. I also know that while I am black I am a human being. Therefore I have the right to go into any public place. White people didn't know that. Every time I tried to go into a public place they stopped me. So some boys had to write a bill to tell that white man, "He's a human being; don't stop him." That bill was for the white man, not for me. I knew I could vote all the time and that it wasn't a privilege but my right. Every time I tried I was shot, killed or jailed, beaten or economically deprived. So somebody had to write a bill to tell white people, "When a black man comes to vote, don't bother him." That bill was for white people." (p. 46)

"White Western society has been able to define, and that's why she has been the master. The white youth of my generation in the West today starts off with subconscious racism because he accepts the writings of the West, which have either destroyed, distorted, lied about history. He starts off with a basic assumption of superiority that he doesn't even recognize." (p. 80)

"Now we stand clear – self-defense will only maintain the status quo. If Egypt, Syria, and Jordan took a position of self-defense today, they would come out losing because the Israelis still occupy the land. If they want the land back, they must move aggressively against the occupying forces. And as they move aggressively, we have to move aggressively. There is no need to talk about peaceful coexistence; anyone who calls for peaceful co-existence is calling for the status quo to remain the way it is. The only solution is armed revolution! Those who say that we can exist with the imperialist forces are saying that we can exist with things the way they are, we never have to change them. But if we are suffering, we need change; and we must decide how that change is going to come about." (p. 139)

"There are basically two levels on which a colonized people move when they begin to move for their liberation: one is called, for lack of a better term, entertainment, and the second is called education. Both of them are necessary. The entertainment stage is very necessary. The entertainment is what's happening when black people say, "We're going to burn this city down. We can get Whitey. He ain't that bad." It's a sort of entertainment - we're entertaining ourselves because, for the first time, we are publicly saying what we always privately felt but were afraid to say. And while we're saying it - even though we're not powerful enough to do what we say - it's a sort of catharsis, a necessity, because, until we get to the entertainment stage, we are psychologically unequal to our oppressor. After that stage, after we begin to feel psychologically equal to the oppressor, then comes the stage of strategic planning, working out a correct ideology for a cohesive force, and moving on to victory." (p. 146-147) 

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