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Lionel Cliffe Colloquium: Democracy, land and liberation in Africa today: Bridging past and present scholarship

Venue: Centre for African Studies, UCT
Date: 20 Oct 2014 to 21 Oct 2014
Time: 9:00
The Centre for African Studies (CAS) at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and PLAAS are co-hosting a two-day colloquium on Democracy, Land and Liberation in Africa. The main purpose of this colloquium is to look at the current state of research on democracy, land and liberation in Africa today, with the aim of identifying gaps and mapping out an integrated and interdisciplinary agenda for future research.The colloquium will bring together leading scholars on democracy, land and liberation in Africa, all of them ‘engaged’ scholars who take part in broader poltical debates beyond the academy, as well as emerging researchers and post-graduate students,  thus helping to bridge the gap between senior and emerging researchers. 

Objectives and outputs

The overall objectives of the colloquium are to: 
  1. bring together leading scholars to discuss current research and debates on democracy, land and liberation in Africa, and identify knowledge gaps that require future research;
  2. promote dialogue between senior and upcoming scholars in Africa, to help create continuities between different generations of African and Africanist scholars and researchers;
  3. celebrate the life and work of the late Lionel Cliffe;
  4. formulate an interdisciplinary agenda for future research on the colloquium’s themes and related topics; 
  5. promote the sharing of knowledge and expertise on land, liberation and democracy in Africa.
The following outputs are expected from the colloquium: 
  1. an interdisciplinary agenda for future research on democracy,  land and liberation in Africa;
  2. a special issue of the Review of African Political Economy (ROAPE) based on selected colloquium papers;
  3. recommendations on how research on these and related issues can contribute to policy development in Africa today;
  4. a full report on the presentations and proceeding at the colloquium.

Celebrating the life and work of Lionel Cliffe

In critically examining  some of the central issues of our time, namely democracy, land and liberation in Africa, the colloquium will also be celebrating and honouring the life and work of one of Africa’s longest serving scholars, teachers, researchers  and activists, the late Emeritus Professor Lionel Cliffe, who passed away on 23 October 2013.  Although Professor Cliffe’s work on Africa encompassed a wide range of issues, the themes of this colloquium comprise the main focii of his work.
Lionel’s academic research in and on Africa can be grouped into three broad themes: agrarian political economy with a key focus on land issues, liberation struggles, and democracy in Africa. His work addressed the political economy of Africa in general, and the political economy of agrarian change in particular.  The latter is a theme that runs through Lionel’s work in Africa from the early 1960s until his death.  But Lionel was not just an academic, he was also an activist involved in liberation struggles on the continent (which led to him being arrested and jailed on occasion), especially in Southern and Eastern Africa. He used his home in Sheffield (UK) to host academics and activists alike.  Many people who have commented on Lionel’s life and work in obituaries and memorials on Facebook and Twitter have described  him as someone whose life was passionately dedicated not just to the study of, but also the liberation of Africa from foreign domination,  poverty, discrimination and injustice. In 1972, together with other scholars working on Africa, he founded a journal, Review of African Political Economy, that is dedicated to promoting critical reflection and debate on  political, social and economic issues in Africa. In 2002 the African Studies Association UK (ASAUK), in recognition of his immense contribution to engaged research on Africa, awarded him the Distinguished Africanist Award.

Themes to be discussed at the colloquium

The topical issues that the colloquium organizers will ask participants to reflect on include: 
  • Scholarship on democracy, land and liberation in Africa today
  • Consequences of the ‘democratic boom’ in Africa 
  • Elections and popular democracy in contemporary Africa
  • Challenges and opportunities of democratisation in Africa today 
  • The politics  of land governance and the colonial legacy 
  • Evolving land administration and policy in Africa
  • Land tenure and rural livelihoods
  • Impact of current land-grabs on rural communities
  • The past and future of customary land tenure
  • Unfinished liberation struggles in Africa today
  • Liberation,  poverty, inequality and  the African state
  • Land reform and African liberation 
Democracy, land and liberation are inter-related and topical themes in Africa today, which require further research and debate. Democracy in Africa, broadly understood, is an over-arching theme that relates to issues of land distribution, administration and governance, and also occupies a central place inliberation struggle narratives in Africa. Similarly, issues of land in Africa, especially southern and eastern Africa, have been closely linked to the liberation struggles.  In a number of countries, “regaining control over land lost to the colonial regimes and white settler farmers was an important rallying point for the national movements that gained strength in Africa during the 1950s, and for the armed struggle waged by liberating forces in countries gaining independence at a later stage” (Havenik, 1997).  While the  struggle to free land from colonial control has accomplished its goals, new forms of struggles over land have emerged, in the context of the current large-scale land grabbing, as well as unequal land ownership patterns. Although current struggles over land are often conceived as new challenges, there is a strong sense in which current forms of struggles over land are directly related to the earlier struggles. 
Likewise, over the last two decades, there have been extensive discussions about the “third wave of democratisation” or, more recently, the “Democratic Boom” in Africa. Yet there has been little understanding of how these dynamics relate to broader issues such as land and people’s everyday struggles.  Important questions arise: how has the third wave of democratisation affected issues of land ownership, administration, policy and management in Africa?  How is the ‘democratic boom’ impacting on the lives of ordinary people in Africa?  These are questions that require further research if we are to understand the rapid changes taking place all over Africa today, and to contribute to discussions that can influence decisions taken to respond to these changes. 
 It is for this reason that a critical assessment of existing scholarship and knowledge about democracy, land and liberation is important today. Discussions amongst participants at the colloquium will contribute to such an assessment by evaluting the state of existing knowledge on these and related themes in Africa and outlining an agenda for further research. 
The colloquium will draw in engaged scholars who have worked in and on Africa from different parts of the world, but prioritise African-based scholars.  We hope that the papers presented at the colloquium will be published in a special edition of ROAPE.