State-corporate alliances and spaces for resistance on the extractive frontier in southeastern Madagascar

15 Marzo 2018

How do dominant political-economic conditions articulate and manifest in rural spaces? This question is central to grasping the contextual dynamics of agrarian change and associated contestations, conflicts and struggles.

Drawing insight from political ecology, agrarian studies and radical social movements, we use policy analysis, review of secondary literature and evidence, including oral testimonies, collected over nearly a decade of advocacy work to present the case of how agonistic alliances, or nexus of power and resistance, have coalesced around the establishment of the Rio Tinto/QMM ilmenite mine in southeastern Madagascar. The QMM mine is one of the largest development projects in Madagascar and one of the most controversial mining operations in the world due to the local social and livelihood conflicts it has engendered and critiques of its strategy for environmental mitigation, condemned as socially unjust ‘greenwashing’.

This case demonstrates ways in which, at the current conjuncture, distinctions between the state and private capital, local and international are blurred as the global politics of sustainability and political economy of resource extraction in and from ‘the rural’ enmesh with the politics of place. These dynamics shape emergent nexus of authoritarian state - corporate development and emancipatory resistance. On one hand, the rural ‘margins’ of state power are being transformed through powerful alliances into new ‘frontiers’ of resource control and elite accumulation at the cost of ecological despoliation, dispossession, intensifying grinding poverty and deepening inequality. On the other hand, emancipatory alliances can raise awareness of injustice, challenge powerful claims to territory and resources ‘from above’ simultaneously on a number of national and international fronts.

The work of ‘internationals’ in these alliances is both important and risky. They can challenge and intervene in powerful discourses of ‘sustainability’, ‘development’ and ‘democracy’ that mask crises and contradictions and stifle dissent. They can work in solidarity to amplify the voices of those most profoundly affected by these developments to demand both dignity and the opportunity to articulate their own claims to rights, value and justice. At the same time they must work carefully to not undermine political spaces opened up by local action and resistance.

This paper was presented at the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI) 2018 Conference: "Authoritarian Populism and the Rural World"