Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles

(2018) ‘Beyond Gatekeeper Spatial Metaphors of the State in Africa: Relational Geo-Histories of Angola,’ Third World Thematics 3: 1-21.     cite     link


The state in Africa has sometimes been understood through spatial metaphors that entail certain limitations. The metaphor of a ‘gatekeeper state’ relies on ambiguous notions of the gate, narrow pathways, islands, and vast spaces, as well as binaries of internal/external and island/non-island, which occlude spatial relations that are important to understanding state-society dynamics. In contrast, relational geographies emphasize multiple spatialities, spatial dialectics, and places as formed through interrelations. This approach can help to reconceptualise state power in colonial Africa through the conjoining of governmental indirect rule, violence, infrastructure, and patriarchal and domestic authority. This helps to rethink assumptions of ‘gatekeeper states’, including taxation as fiscal and indirect, rural areas as residual, infrastructure as narrow and static, and infrastructural protest as most significant. The article focuses on colonial Angola, briefly connects this analysis with an outline of Angola’s post-colonial period, and concludes with implications for understanding pessimism, patronage, and possibilities.

(2018, forthcoming) ‘Changing Paths and Histories: Mapping Pre-Colonial Connections in Africa,’ Radical History Review 131 (May): 169-175.   cite


A new detailed map of mainly pre-colonial paths in Africa can be derived from a late 19th Century map series. The map is useful less for its precision than for suggesting new understandings and questions about the roles of indigenous shaping of landscapes of connection. While further research is needed on specific areas and changes over time, appreciating the significant production of pre-colonial paths helps enrich recent reconceptualizations of the relations between cartography, colonialism, and capitalism. In addition, it also helps move away from pessimistic determinism and towards more promising understandings of political economy and possibilities for social change.

(2017) ‘Trajectories of Large-Scale Land Dynamics in Angola: History, Diversity, and Policy Implications for the Political Economy of Development in Africa,’ Land Use Policy 67 (September): 115-125. [primary author, with Jesse Ovadia]     cite     link


Numerous large scale land acquisitions have occurred in Angola since partial political and economic liberalization in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and further increased after 2002 and the end of armed conflict. They have occurred in conjunction with the emergence of a range of large state-coordinated agricultural projects, often by foreign contractors, for domestic food, and involving plans for backwards and forwards linkages to agro-processing and manufacturing initiatives. Altogether such land allocations and projects involve several billion dollars and several million hectares. These activities appear to often also involve high-level officials and/or wealthy Angolans and are often interpreted as neo-patrimonialism, state-sanctioned private accumulation, and instances of continuity in extractive institutions. Yet examining specific agrarian transformations illustrates how land and rural poverty in Angola are much more complex than a zero-sum game of elite accumulation of private land concessions. Key are Angola’s geo-historical trajectories of colonialism, war, socialism and liberalization, which the article examines in two concessions in Malanje Province. We address the relationships between international enterprises and domestic elites, and the relevance of land dynamics within a long-term political economy perspective on capitalist industrialization and structural transformation in Angola and Africa.

(2015) ‘Rethinking the 1961 Baixa de Kassanje Revolt: Towards a Relational Geo-History of Angola,’ Mulemba: Revista Angolana de Ciências Sociais [Angolan Journal of Social Sciences] 5(10):53-133.     cite     link    pdf


Through a geographic and relational reinterpretation of the start of armed nationalist struggle in Angola, this article helps to critique and move beyond common interpretations of Angola (and Africa more generally) as characterized by long-standing socio-spatial divisions. Rather than an economic protest in an enclave, the so-called «cotton revolt» actually had multiple aspects — some explicitly nationalist — in a mobilization that was forged through multiple connections spanning urban and rural areas, Malanje and Luanda, and Angola and the newly independent Congo. The revolt happened at Malanje’s transforming crossroads of an underground Luanda-Malanje political network of churches, contracted laborers and administrative personnel that intersected with Congo-based provincial political mobilization organized through transborder ties. These combined nationalist networks articulated primarily but not exclusively with discontented peasants who faced joint state-corporate attempts to use intensified labor, spatial restructuring, control, and risks to overcome resistance and stagnating cotton production. These patterns and the ways that the colonial government and settlers responded with farm mechanization, infrastructure and regional development as counter-insurgency measures would partly shape post-independence rural development projects, and, ultimately, also now post-2002 national reconstruction. Rethinking the Baixa de Kassanje revolt in relational, geographical, and historical terms allows a more accurate understanding of the trajectories of Angolan and African political economies, and hence eff ective avenues for progressive social change.

(2008) ‘ “Neopatrimonialism” and African Agricultural Development: Contributions and Limitations of a Contested Concept,’ African Studies Review 51(3): 107-133.     cite     link


The “neopatrimonial” character of African states has increasingly been invoked to explain the politics of agricultural stagnation across the continent. This article summarizes the literature on neopatrimonialism, reviewing how analysts have applied the concept in studies of food and agricultural policies in Africa. It then draws out some of the key contributions of such an approach, and describes limitations, both methodological and substantive. Finally, it asks how and why the concept has been deployed, and recommends greater circumspection, research, and refinement.

(2007) ‘Envisioning Futures of African Agriculture: Representation, Power and Socially Constituted Time,’ Progress in Development Studies 7(2): 79-98.     cite     link


Concern about the future of agriculture, particularly in Africa, has mounted again in recent years. This paper reviews applications of innovative methods for planning for the future – including scenario planning, future search, search conference, appreciative inquiry, and open space technology – and notes some limitations. Pro-poor planning for the future requires contextualising recent concerns within broader research about time, society and power, which emphasises that visions of the future are socially constructed, and hence inseparable from contemporary politics.

Other Journal Articles

(2005) 'Transport, Poverty and Agrarian Change in Africa: Models, Mechanisms, and New Ways Forward,'  IDS Bulletin, 36(2), 52-57.     pdf     cite      link


Nearly every major study of African agriculture states that the lack of quality roads is one of, if not the, major constraint to agricultural input and output markets, and hence productivity growth and poverty alleviation. Road projects are some of the largest funded donor projects in Africa, and the largest cause of resettlement. And yet there is surprisingly little rigorous, empirical research dealing precisely with the multiple links between rural transport, poverty, and agrarian change in Africa.

(2005) ‘Special Issue: New Directions for African Agriculture,’ IDS Bulletin 36(2) [co-editor with Ian Scoones, Stephen Devereux, and Lawrence Haddad].    pdf or zip     cite     link

(2001) '(Mis)Understanding Agro-Environmental Change in Africa: Population Growth as the Primary Cause of Poverty and Environmental Degradation,' Berkeley Undergraduate Journal, 27 (Fall).     pdf     cite


This paper explicitly counters conventional policy wisdom on agro-environmental change in Africa. I show which assumptions are unfounded, under what historical conditions suchassumptions were made, and what is a more precise understanding of agro-environmental change. Academics, policymakers and the public often assume that traditionally stable shifting cultivation systems have recently broken down because increasing population has reduced the amount of land which farmers can use to set aside to allow replenishment. Such notions have risen in colonial times, in the 1970s after critiques of the Green Revolution and in the late 1980s and 1990s with populism, environmentalism and promotion of biotechnology. In contrast to this dominant metanarrative, social relations at multiple levels are key in understanding change in agricultural production and environmental conditions. The incorrect emphasis on population as the primary motor of change underlies top-down strategies, inappropriate prescriptions, and ill-fated projects promoting green revolution technologies.

Book Chapters

(2003) ‘(Mis)Understanding Change in Agro-Environmental Technology in Africa: Charting and Refuting the Myth of Population-Induced Breakdown,’ in T. Zeleza and I. Kakoma (eds), In Search of Modernity: Science and Technology in Africa, Trenton: Africa World Press, 473-505.     pdf     cite     link


This chapter explicitly counters conventional policy wisdom on the locus of change in agro-environmental technology in Africa. I show which assumptions are unfounded, under what historical conditions such assumptions were made, with what affect, and what is a more precise understanding of agro-environmental change. Academics, policymakers and the public at large often assume that although previously stable shifting cultivation systems functioned for primeval societies, such systems have recently broken down because increasing population has reduced the amount of land, which farmers can use to fallow (set aside to allow replenishment). The assumed result is the apparently visible spiral of regional underdevelopment, reduced incomes (and hence local and national level under-nutrition), and environmental degradation. Such notions rose in colonial times to justify colonization and concerns for settler welfare, administration revenues, imperial environmental heritage, and social stability. These notions were fortified in the 1970s when the paradigm and practice of farming systems research arose, building off previous socially and agronomically synchronic structural functionalist and unilinear, teleological evolutionist thought, and was institutionalized throughout the world, having initially been spawned by critiques of the original Green Revolutions in Mexico and Asia. Finally, life-sciences corporations, academics and policy makers have revived the myth in the late 1980s and 1990s with cruder varieties of development populism, co-opted environmentalisms, and pro-biotechnology public relations campaigns.
In contrast to this dominant meta-narrative of population induced breakdown in shifting cultivation, social relations at multiple levels are key in understanding the patterns and changes of the socio-temporal production of agriculture and environments. Among the factors that combine in historically and geographically specific conjunctures include: gender relations, labor relations, land tenure and distribution, direct and indirect state policies (colonial and post-colonial), agricultural development projects, armed conflict (local, national, international), foreign aid, national parks, subterranean resources (oils, diamonds, etc.), and commercial timber production. The incorrect emphasis on population as the only motor of change—and consequent occlusion of history, politics, power and agency—underlies top down strategies, inappropriate prescriptions, and ill-fated projects promoting green revolution technologies.


(2018) ‘Water and African Liberation: The 1961 Kassanje Revolt,’ in Water: An Atlas, Oakland: Guerrilla Cartography.       pdf      cite     link

(2017) ‘Ndongo ca.1550,’ ‘Portuguese Angola & Ndongo ca.1622,’ ‘Portuguese Angola & Ndongo ca.1649,’ and ‘Portuguese Angola & Ndongo-Matamba ca.1663,’ in Linda Heywood, Njinga of Angola: Africa’s Warrior Queen, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.     maps     cite     link

Other Publications

(2010) HungerFree Scorecard 2010: Who’s Really Fighting Hunger, Johannesburg: ActionAid International [contributor, Jo Walker primary author].     pdf     cite     link

(2010) Securing future food: Towards ecological food provision, Briefing, London: United Kingdom Food Group [contributor, K. Bundell primary author, with N. Parrott].     pdf     cite     link

(2007) Linking Research and Policy: The Case of Ghana’s Rice Trade Policy, Ghana Strategy Support Program Background Paper No. 10, Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute, 60 pp.     pdf     cite     link


Agricultural trade policies, in particular import tariffs to protect domestic production, constitute a highly contested field of agricultural policy. In view of the recent focus on “evidence-based policy making” in the international development debate, the question arises as to which extent research-based evidence is used in such policy decisions, and which role research plays as compared to other political factors. Against this background, this paper seeks to examine and explain research-policy linkages in the case of rice tariff reform in Ghana. It is based on literature reviews and 70 interviews. The paper uses a historical cultural political economy approach, and reveals that in order to understand the actions of Ghana’s policy makers, there is a need to go beyond currently used approaches to understanding politics in order to reveal the complex factors that underlie such policy decisions. The paper starts by locating the study in the framework of the recent interest of the international development community in agriculture on the one hand, and in evidence-based policy-making on the other. The paper then reviews the recent literature on then links between research and policy making. After briefly describing the study’s conceptual framework and methodology, the paper gives an overview of Ghana’s governance, political dynamics, socio-economic trends, agricultural policies, which provide the setting for research-policy linkages. The presentation of the findings of the study starts with a general description of the links between research and policy that have been observed in agricultural policy-making in Ghana. In order to discover the underlying factors in linking research and policy requires examining particular conceptual lenses (“discourses”) in Ghana, as well the intricate politics of elections, nationalism, external pressure, and rifts with civic campaigners. To see whether or not the nature of linkages is unique to the rice sector, the report also contrasts the case of rice with on the case of agricultural mechanization.

(2004) ‘Food Security Options in Mozambique: One Country, Two Worlds?,’ London: Forum for Food Security in Southern Africa, Overseas Development Institute, Country Food Security Options Paper No. 3, 58 pp [with Steven Wiggins].     pdf    cite    link

(2004) ‘Biotechnology, Hunger and Poverty in Africa: Assessing Gains from GE Crops,’ in Fact Sheets on Biotechnology and Biosafety, Harare: Consumers International-Africa, pp. 6-7, July.     pdf    cite

(2004) ‘Ghana: Loggers and Politicians, not Small Farmers, are to Blame for Deforestation,’ World Rainforest Movement Bulletin 85: 12-13.    pdf     cite    link

(2003) ‘Public Sector Crop Breeding: Which Public?’ Seedling, July: 18-21 [with Peter Rosset].    pdf     cite     link

(2003) Genetically Modified Crops and Sustainable Poverty Alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Assessment of Current Evidence, Accra: Third World Network-Africa, 82 pp.     pdf     cite    link


This paper recasts the debate over biotechnology by moving past overly general hyperbole, and instead empirically evaluating current experiences with genetically modified crops in Africa. The debate is moved from hypothetical risks, to actual results. The ‘appropriateness’ of GM cotton, sweet potatoes, and maize is evaluated using six criteria widely accepted in crop breeding: demand led, site specific, poverty focused, cost effective, and institutionally and environmentally sustainable. Virus-resistant sweet potatoes are not demand driven, site specific, poverty focused, cost effective, or institutionally sustainable. The environmental sustainability of modified sweet potatoes is ambiguous, but not great. Bt cotton scores low on criteria of demand drive, site specificity, and institutional sustainability. It has ambiguous poverty focus and cost effectiveness. Environmental sustainability is currently moderate, but could potentially be moderate to strong. For Bt maize, the analysis shows low demand drive, cost-effectiveness, and institutional sustainability. It is too early too detect unambiguous site specificity or poverty focus. Environmental sustainability is currently low to moderate, but could potentially be raised. I conclude by examining potential reasons for considerable attention to these three crops despite their generally inappropriate nature for poverty alleviation in sub-Saharan Africa.

(2003) ‘Constructing Subsidiarity, Consolidating Hegemony: Political Economy and Agro-Ecological Processes in Ghanaian Forestry,’ Environmental Governance in Africa Working Paper No. 13, Washington, DC: World Resources Institute, 34 pp.     pdf     cite     link


Despite proliferating claims that Ghanaian forestry is collaborative and community-based, most powers over forestry remain concentrated in an unrepresentative and unaccountable centralized forestry administration. In ways that presage current negotiations over the principle of subsidiarity, various regimes in Ghana throughout the twentieth century have, when challenged, misconstrued agro-ecological processes in order to justify centralized and violent control that, although conducted in the name of the public good, allowed forest resources to be appropriated by select state agents, traditional authorities, and domestic and international firms. Recommendations are given to help pry the concept of subsidiarity away from abuse by hegemonic elites: participatory empirical studies of forest agroecologies and management, and inclusive processes of formulating and interpreting policies and laws.


Reference Lists & Citations: