Neo-Feudalism on the Rocks: Shaken but not stirred
(KU Leuven University)
Paper short abstract:
The paper explores the effects of diaspora remittances as ‘untied’ finance, coupled with a ‘social business’ approach to development. It finds the effects of structural Neoliberalism on rural communities difficult to circumvent as it culturally reproduces the conditions that bind the peasantry.
Paper long abstract:
A 2002 World Bank report outlined that remittances from migrants in rich countries outstrip the combined total of official development assistance (ODA), sparking a euphoric progression of institutional and scholarly interest; while popular discourse claimed that structural adjustment programmes and general dependence on external finance have been the dearth of development. The so-called migration-development nexus has since re-emerged and now views the diaspora as new development actors and financiers with strong socio-cultural ties to their home countries. Through a multi-sited ethnographic study of Zimbabweans in the UK and some of their development efforts back home, this research interrogates the mainstream argument that the diaspora are a development panacea free of the adverse external conditionalities. This paper presents findings from a rural farming community at the foot of the Matopos Rocks south of Bulawayo, where diaspora contributions assist in linking smallholder farmers to sustainable larger markets by incorporating them into the value chain through a local agribusiness. It shows that diaspora finances are not "value free" as they become incorporated into existing socio-political relations at home, albeit without diaspora presence. While these funds are intended to liberate smallholder producers, data suggests the formation of a "disguised proletariat" where the agribusiness infiltrates private homesteads, restructuring work and social relations while deepening a dependent relationship and reproducing what Hobsbawm (1969) provocatively called Neo-Feudalism. This brings into question the diaspora's ability to influence actual "development practice" at home, despite the new call for diaspora-led development assistance.
New forms of dependence in rural Africa?