Accepted paper:

On Zambian ground: Corporate sovereignty in the face of financial difficulties

Authors:

Tijo Salverda (University of Vienna)

Paper short abstract:

Seven years after a Western-European agribusiness purchased 40,000 hectares of land in Zambia, it is evident that the company has not lived up to its promises. This situation, however, offers insights into corporate sovereignty and interactions between corporations and the (Zambian) state.

Paper long abstract:

Seven years after a Western-European agribusiness purchased 40,000 hectares of land in Zambia's Central Province, it is evident that the company has not lived up to its promises. Not only has it put less land into production than planned, and provided less employment than expected, recent financial problems have also impacted the company's potential for success. The company's uncertain situation, however, provides relevant insights concerning corporate sovereignty and interactions between corporations and the (Zambian) state. In disputes between the company, employees, and rural residents, primarily resulting from delays in making payments and fulfilling commitments, government officials had to intervene on a number of occasions. As the state also needs support of its citizens for legitimacy, it cannot be perceived as accepting corporate wrongdoing and ignoring its citizens' interests. Though there are significant differences, especially with powerful mining corporations being able to evade responsibility, the Western-European agribusiness recognizes its vulnerability, in particular because it has little business success to show for itself. At the same time, however, partnerships with international NGOs and donors place the corporation in a positive light. Without financial means to sufficiently provide for its citizens, the Zambian state welcomes corporations to fill this gap. This allows corporations to somewhat 'pacify' the situation, even though there are no guarantees over its corporate sovereignty. With the state equally concerned about a discontented citizenry, agribusiness cannot take state support for granted and must constantly (re)negotiate support, thus demonstrating the everyday complexities of corporate sovereignty.

panel Anth24
Corporate sovereignty: connections and disruptions of corporate power in Africa