Ambiguity, Contradiction, and an International Land Acquisition
Lessons Learned from the Establishment of the Kaweri Coffee Plantation in Mubende, Uganda
Keywords:Accumulation by dispossession, international land acquisition, land tenure, neoliberalism, Uganda
In 2001 Neumann Kaffee Gruppe, a German-based company, established Kaweri Coffee Plantation in Mubende District, Uganda. The multinational leased land for Kaweri from the Ugandan government, which purchased the parcel from a formally-tenured owner the year before. However, 2000 villagers filed suit against Kaweri for violating their customary tenure rights after being forcibly evicted from their farms by the Ugandan military to make way for the plantation. In this study, we ask how smallholders with constitutionally protected, customary rights were dispossessed of their farms. To answer this, we used document analysis to examine relevant Ugandan legal doctrine in addition to dozens of published accounts, documentaries, and social media postings created by conflicting parties to the Kaweri controversy. We subsequently triangulated our data by interviewing a key informant displaced by Kaweri. Our findings indicate Kaweri’s establishment at the expense of Mubende farmers is a textbook example of accumulation by dispossession. More specifically, however, they reveal that substantial ambiguity and contradiction exist in Uganda’s constitutional and policy frameworks purported to protect small landholders, making it possible for its government to pursue neoliberalizing development goals through international land acquisition. We term this process accumulation by ambiguity. Neumann Kaffee Gruppe shields itself from liability by interpreting equivocal Ugandan law in a way that recognizes formalized land tenure over informal, customary tenure. Legal, yet unjust, land acquisitions associated with market liberalization are possible in Uganda as a result.
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