Youjin B. ChungFeb 6, 2024
Sweet Deal, Bitter Landscape
Gender Politics and Liminality in Tanzania's New Enclosures
Cornell University Press 2024
During the “global land grab” of the early twenty-first century, legions of investors rushed to Africa to acquire land to produce and speculate on agricultural commodities. In Sweet Deal, Bitter Landscape: Gender Politics and Liminality in Tanzania's New Enclosures (Cornell UP, 2024), Youjin Chung examines the messy, indeterminate trajectory of a high-profile land deal signed by the Tanzanian government and a foreign investor: a 99-year lease to over 20,000 hectares of land in coastal Tanzania—land on which thousands of people live—to establish a sugarcane plantation. Despite receiving significant political support from government officials, international development agencies, and financial institutions, the land deal remained stalled for over a decade.
Drawing on long-term research combining ethnographic, archival, participatory, and visual methods, Chung argues that the dynamics of new and incomplete enclosures must be understood in relation to the legacies of colonial/postcolonial land enclosures, cultural and ecological histories of a place, and gendered structures of power. Foregrounding the lived experiences of diverse rural people, the book shows how the land deal’s uncertain future gave rise to new forms of social control and resistance, but in ways that reinforced intersecting inequalities of gender, race, class, age, and social status. By tracing the complicated ways the land deal was made, remade, and unmade, and by illuminating people’s struggles for survival in the face of seemingly endless liminality, the book raises critical questions about the directions and stakes of postcolonial development and nation-building in Tanzania, and the shifting meanings of identity, citizenship, and belonging for those living on the margins of capitalist agrarian transformation.
Dhouha Djerbi is a PhD researcher at the Department of International Relations and Political Science at the Geneva Graduate Institute.