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Article

Jacqueline M. Klopp and Jeffrey W. Paller

Africa’s growing slums are complex, diverse neighborhoods with their own histories. Currently, these places, characterized by spatially concentrated poverty and human rights abuses, are where large proportions and, in many cases, the majority of Africa’s growing urban populations live. These slums often have a politics characterized by clientelism and repression, but also cooperation, accountability, and political mobilization. Importantly, they must be understood within a wider political context as products of larger historical processes that generate severe inequalities in standards of living, rights, and service provision. Varied approaches (modernization vs. more critical historical and political economy approaches) attempt to explain the emergence, dynamics, and persistence of slums and the politics that often produces, characterizes, and shapes them in Africa. While raising important questions about the link between urbanization and democracy, modernization theories, which are typically ahistorical, do not fully explain the persistence and actual growth of slums in African cities. More historically grounded political economy approaches better explain the formation and dynamics of slums in African cities, including the complex, uneven, and inadequate service delivery to these areas. Whether the conditions of Africa’s slums and the social injustice that undergirds them will give birth to greater democratization in Africa, which, in turn, will deliver radical improvements to the majority, is a critical unanswered question. Will social movements, populist opposition parties, and stronger citizenship claims for the poor ultimately emerge from slum—and wider city—politics? If so, will they address the political problem of inequality that the slum represents? A focus on cities, slums, and their politics is thus a core part of growing concern for the future of African cities and democratic politics on the continent.

Article

Land-related disputes and land conflicts are sometimes politicized in elections in African countries, but this is usually not the case. Usually, land-related conflict is highly localized, managed at the micro-political level by neo-customary authorities, and not connected to electoral competition. Why do land conflicts sometimes become entangled in electoral politics, and sometimes “scale up” to become divisive issues in regional and national elections? A key determinant of why and how land disputes become politicized is the nature of the underlying land tenure regime, which varies across space (often by subnational district) within African countries. Under the neo-customary land tenure regimes that prevail in most regions of smallholder agriculture in most African countries, land disputes tend to be “bottled up” in neo-customary land-management processes at the local level. Under the statist land tenure regimes that exist in some districts of many African countries, government agents and officials are directly involved in land allocation and directly implicated in dispute resolution. Under “statist” land tenure institutions, the politicization of land conflict, especially around elections, becomes more likely. Land tenure institutions in African countries define landholders’ relations to each other, the state, and markets. Understanding these institutions, including how they come under pressure and change, goes far in explaining how and where land rights become politicized.

Article

Barbara A. McGraw and James T. Richardson

Although the United States Constitution presumably was designed to avoid “regulation” of religion, there is an interplay between religious individuals and private organizations, on the one hand, and the state, on the other hand, which has a regulatory effect on religion in some areas of public life. The First Amendment’s “Religious Clauses” prohibit an establishment of religion and preserve the right to free exercise of religion. An important area of contention and development in legislation and Supreme Court jurisprudence involves free exercise accommodations or exemptions to laws and rules that generally apply to everyone. These are particularly at issue in the workplace, in correctional institutions, and in the military. The latter two give rise to establishment issues, which have been resolved in favor of free exercise, as government support of religion has been held to be necessary to preserve the free exercise rights of inmates and service personnel. The enactment of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) have led to a much greater deference to religious rights, resulting in accommodations that would not have been required under preexisting legislation and judicial interpretation. Another such area involves religious organizations themselves, in particular issues regarding tax-exempt status, land use, and faith-based initiatives. A provision in the tax code known as the Johnson Amendment, which restrains religious (and other tax-exempt organizations) from certain political activities, has been challenged recently as a limitation on free speech, however without success so far. Issues involving local government limitations on religious organizations’ land use through zoning restrictions are now being addressed more favorably for religious organizations through the land-use provisions of RLUIPA, although not without controversy. Faith-based initiatives have promoted religious organizations, or faith-based organizations (FBOs), as important government partners, which are eligible to receive public funds for the delivery of social services. Since the late 20th century, there has been a gradual, but significant shift toward greater respect for individuals’ and groups’ religious rights, especially reflected in recent legislation and Supreme Court decisions. Such trends suggest that, although religion has come into conflict with legal-policy developments in other areas, such as those involving gay marriage and contraception coverage, the right to practice one’s religion and participate in public endeavors alongside nonreligious individuals and groups, is likely to continue to expand for the foreseeable future.

Article

The currently extensive land appropriation across Africa signals the most radical shift in the distribution and tenure status of land since colonial times. The first alarms about “land grabs” by foreigners were raised by advocacy groups around 2007–2008. The search for land, always watered land, by foreign agents is driven by concerns about rising food and oil prices, and most of the acquired land is put under food crops, biofuels, and flex crops. The promises of profits from the exceedingly low price of land across Africa, as well as the rising demand for the mentioned crops, have also attracted speculation by private equity funds. With more detailed research on the processes and effects of this shift in rights to (and use of) land, the focus on a “new scramble” by foreign agents has extended to the multiple processes involved in the increasing demand for Africa’s land, internally and externally. The increase in acquisition of land by international agents, not only for cultivation but for minerals, oil, timber, and so forth, exacerbates the accelerating demand for land within African countries by nationals such as salaried, middle-class people and politicians acquiring land for cultivation and for an investment fast increasing in value. The millions of small-scale users of largely “customary” land struggle to derive a livelihood from their smallholdings and access to dwindling and increasingly enclosed common land, including grazing and watering areas. These linkages among local, national, and global dynamics of land acquisition reveal mounting socioeconomic and political inequality across Africa. In addition, research on the land rush reveals competing visions for African agriculture, invoking the debate of large- versus small-scale agricultural futures, a long-standing question of agrarian studies now being asked within much changed political-economic, social, and environmental conditions. Both macro-data and field studies show that most of the foreign acquired land is used for large-scale plantations, some of which include contract farming and outgrower schemes. Although, for a variety of reasons, some large land deals fold, the most recent Land Matrix data show most do move into production. Research on these large-scale projects has shown, however, that most fail to attain the projected aims of providing benefits to the countries and people from which they acquired the land. Most appropriated land was already in productive use by local users rather than “under-utilized” or “waste land” as described in many documents by investors and donors such as the World Bank; there were fewer benefits in the form of employment, higher and sustained income, and lower risk for most laborers, contract farmers, and outgrowers; far less infrastructure (schools, clinics, roads, etc.) built, as promised, for local populations; and output that is either exported or that proves unsuitable for the locales, with lower production value at lower efficiency compared with the land uses before the large-scale projects were put in place. These negative findings have to be set alongside the facts that the investors acquire the land at either extremely low cost (usually lease rather than sale) or even free, and receive tax, import/export and other “incentives.” The failure to benefit the millions of small- to medium-scale users of land, despite the rhetoric of land investors, major donors such as the finance arms of the World Bank Group, and governments facilitating the deals, has emerged as a key problem in light of deepening poverty, and a dearth of sufficient employment to absorb the young population, let alone people “exiting” from the land. Numerous experts conclude that a continued rapid alienation of land, especially to large-scale investors, will exacerbate localized land scarcity, restrict the potential of smallholder-led development, and put unrealistic pressure on the non-farm economy to absorb Africa’s rapidly rising labor force.

Article

In Latin America, urban popular movements emerged in the late 1940s as thousands of low-income migrants and city residents banded together to claim land, build self-help housing, and forge neighborhood organizations that fomented community participation and mobilized to demand land titles and city services. These neighborhoods were characterized by informal housing; inadequate provision of electricity, water, sanitation, transportation, and social services; and informal employment and underemployment. During the authoritarianism of the 1960s and 1970s, some urban popular movements resisted military dictatorship while others forged clientelist ties. Democratic and authoritarian leaders alike were forced to deal with the steady influx of rural migrants to cities, and regimes of all types often came to view informal neighborhoods founded by urban popular movements as an acceptable solution to some of the challenges of urbanization. In the 1980s and 1990s, neoliberal privatization of public utilities and cuts to social safety nets harmed urban popular movements, but national and local democratization expanded some avenues of participation, and the regional trend of urban popular movements expanded in numbers and extended its geographic reach. In the 2000s, socialist “Pink Tide” governments delivered benefits to low-income sectors, and many popular sectors supported these leftist regimes. Material gains proved modest, however, and state-movement alliances were rocky, leaving urban popular movements in the awkward position of being dissatisfied with national leadership, yet preferring the Pink Tide incumbents to most alternatives. And in the 2010s, a new “right turn” emerged, as conservative leaders replaced many Pink Tide presidents, threatening to reintroduce the repressive over-policing of popular sectors. Throughout these periods, the core conceptual identity of some urban popular movements shifted from the poblador (the “founder” seeking to meet his or her family’s needs) to the vecino (the “neighbor” collaborating with other movement participants through collective efforts), to the ciudadano (the empowered “citizen” who recognizes his or her needs as rights to be secured through political engagement).

Article

Suyapa Portillo and Cristian Padilla Romero

Honduran social movements have historically organized around three important pillars: political parties constituted by both traditional and more radical parties, labor organizing efforts, and campesino-based land struggles. Work and land took formidable shape from the 1900s to the 1930s as workers began pushing back against the unyielding exploitation of U.S.-based banana and mining corporations and resisting. The end of the Tiburcio Carías Andino dictatorship in 1949 gave rise to a militant labor movement and political opposition to the ruling National Party, which came with an uneasy alliance between leftists and the Liberal Party. Workers efforts, bottom up, paved the way for progressive labor and agrarian laws. After World War II (WWII), Hondurans become ensnared by U.S.-led Cold War politics and anti-communism, leading to the 1963 coup d’état against the Liberal president Ramon Villeda Morales and decades-long military rule, rendering the country one of the closest allies of the United States. Military rule and proximity to the United States crushed progressive movements that dared to organize, co-opted the once radical labor movement, and criminalized landless campesinos. In the 1990s, after the peace accords were signed in the Central American region, the Honduran state, following orders by international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), implemented neoliberal policies that rolled back many of the hard-fought gains of the 1950s and 1960s by eroding the public sector. As a result of the corroding democratic nature of the neoliberal governments, culminating in the 2009 coup d’état against progressive president Manuel Zelaya, Hondurans from virtually every sector of society, including Indigenous, Black, and feminists, began mobilizing against state policies and demanding a more participatory democracy in La Resistencia, which has transformed into a vibrant, creative, youthful, and widespread movement.