New Terra Nullius Narratives and the Gentrification of Africa's "Empty Lands"

Charles Geisler

Abstract


Extraterritorial ownership and control of sub-Saharan African land have a long and troubledhistory. This research investigates a much-studied practicethe recent enclosure of African landand resourcesbut asks a little-studied question: how are non-Africans reasserting terra nulliusnarratives of the past to justify the present transformation of African landscapes? The answersuggested here lies in a bulwark of de facto terra nullius claims couched in security needs of theglobal North and referenced to the low density of Africas rural population, its land and laborunder-utilization, the ambiguity of its land tenure and related low yields, and its arrestedcivilization. De facto terra nullius is neither narrow in scope nor static in application. It isstirring again as a potent justificatory logic for north-south land relations.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/jwsr.2012.484

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Copyright (c) 2015 Charles Geisler

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