Development projects in Africa often accelerate the destruction of commons but can also lead to the creation of new ones in the form of compensation measures. This phenomenon poses a number of challenging questions concerning distribution of gains and losses within communities and between genders.
The positive connotation associated with commons is being increasingly used in mainstream development discourse. Even large-scale developers now claim to have integrated the critique against privatization and exclusion, and their projects may for example include the creation of "new commons". However it is often unclear how these new common resources are distributed within communities and between genders.
New commons leading to collective gains refer for example to common infrastructure, irrigation channels, special community funds, classrooms or dispensaries. Cases from Africa suggest that these new commons are often located in rural areas but have a close link to urban areas where the developers are located.
Although a discourse of modernity, promises of development, and compensation measures based on CSR programs are often used to smoothen this conversion, evidence shows that the process may not go without conflicts and could be called a new form of Anti-Politics Machine:
- Do large-scale investments lead to the creation of new commons and are these commons part of a "global discourse" aiming to improve the palatability of large-scale investments?
- Which institutions regulate access and uses? Who is included, who is excluded in providing and appropriating new commons? What are the different (emic) perceptions about new commons, and why do perceptions vary between actors?
- In societies characterized by a strongly gendered division of work, how are women involved in the definition of the rules regulating the new commons? Do they benefit from these new resources? Can they compensate for the lost commons?