Corporate Polymorphism, Fabulous Promises of Development, and Ostentatious Self-Promotion: Analysing Agribusiness Land Control Strategies in Senegal
(University of Toronto)
Paper short abstract:
In this presentation, I discuss the strategies that a controversial agribusiness company has deployed to maintain land control and exercise corporate power in Senegal despite mediocre results and pervasive local contestation.
Paper long abstract:
In Africa, governments increasingly devolve their traditional functions of ensuring development to the private sector, notably in agriculture. However, displacements created by large-scale land acquisitions can entail profoundly disruptive consequences for customary users' livelihoods. Furthermore, to transform land into an "investable" resource turns out to be a complex task (Li 2014). Not only do host governments develop elaborate narratives to justify land dispossession for private interests (Levien 2013), but investors are increasingly wary of negative publicity and accusations of land grabbing that could be detrimental to their business (Salverda 2018) and critically depend on the state for land access. In this presentation, I discuss the strategies that a controversial agribusiness company has deployed to gain and maintain land control in Senegal despite mediocre results and pervasive local contestation. Notably, the investor has adopted a strategy of what I term "corporate polymorphism," a concept that encapsulates the company's propensity to continually modify its business mission in response to volatile state priorities. To secure popular approval, the company has also made fabulous promises of social investment to local residents. Finally, the investor has organized a vast communication campaign to profess its intended contribution to state programs and celebrate each and every accomplishment in local communities. In analysing how these maneuvers have worked to help the company keep control over its gigantic land concession despite inauspicious conditions, this presentation contributes to the nascent literature on the strategies that land investors use to exercise corporate power, manage operational failures, and counter social opposition.
Corporate sovereignty: connections and disruptions of corporate power in Africa