Ufahamu Africa

Ep. 125: A conversation with Alhousseini Diabate about land and food access in West Africa (English)

August 07, 2021 megandemint
Ufahamu Africa
Ep. 125: A conversation with Alhousseini Diabate about land and food access in West Africa (English)
Show Notes Transcript
Alhousseini Diabate joins us this week for a conversation about land access and food access in West Africa, particularly in Mali. This version of the episode is dubbed in English, but the original episode was conducted between Rachel and Diabate in French. You can find the French version of the episode on ufahamuafrica.com.Don't forget to also send us recorded clips of you sharing your good news with us! We will share everyone's good news in our upcoming season 5 finale episode. … More Ep. 125: A conversation with Alhousseini Diabate about land and food access in West Africa (English)
Rachel Beatty Riedl:

Welcome to Ufahamu Africa, a podcast about life and politics on the continent. I'm Rachel Beatty Riedl, your host and with my co host, Kimmy Yi Dionne, we want to share a few important updates for our listeners. First, a reminder to former guests and listeners to send us your good news for inclusion in our season finale, you can send an audio file to our email accounts, also check out and share our new call for non resident fellows. We're inviting researchers, journalists, practitioners, podcasters. Anyone interested in contributing to content creation and dissemination of cutting edge analysis and important narratives about life and politics on the continent. We're inviting you to apply for a 10 month non residential fellowship that will run between September 2021 and May 2022. So check out our website for all the details to apply and share the link with others who may be interested. Now straight to our guests. For today, we have a dual language episode. So for our listeners who want to hear this in French, please click on that episode link. And today we have the opportunity to speak with Dr. Alhousseini Diabate professor of law at the Universit des Sciences Juridiques et Politiques of Bamako in Mali and a fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Nantes France. Dr. Diabate has published a book entitled "The legal protection of the consumer of food to the test of economic liberalism in a developing country," the example of Mali. He's also served as an active member of the European research program called Lascaux, and at his university, he's the director of a master's in economic law, and a master's in land and agro business law. He has also served as a visiting scholar at the University of Seville in Spain. And His research interests focus broadly on consumer law, economic law, food law, globalization and its impact on food, land and environmental issues in West Africa. Thank you so much, Alhousseini, it's such a pleasure to speak with you on the Ufahamu Africa podcast. Now your research is based generally on the laws and the rights of land access and access to food in West Africa, while also considering the challenges of globalization and local contexts and priorities. You're working broadly across three concepts that we'll discuss today, food production circulation systems, food production sovereignty, and food production self sufficiency. Now, in your opinion, what is the difference between these three concepts? And can you explain to us about your project? Why do these three concepts differ and to what end?

Alhousseini Diabate:

Thank you, Rachel. It is truly a pleasure for me to be on this podcast. These three concepts one, food production circulation systems, two, food production sovereignty, and three, food production self sufficiency, are key concepts of my research, because they are different types of policies that have been adopted in Mali, Senegal, and in West Africa generally, during the 1960s independence movement. When strategizing to ensure food security, these concepts were successively initiated within the framework of national public policy. They all share the common denominator of endeavouring to achieve food security, despite different capacities, objectives, and the reality that no country today has fully been able to achieve this. The concept of food production self sufficiency, was one of the first concepts and one of the most important concepts that contributed to the African state being self sufficient. This means that across national production, local producers cultivate their own land, and attend to feeding and providing food supply to the nation's population. The aim is to ensure that food security with an estate and for the population is produced locally. Land and the people must work together and share a relationship or the people must have a mastery of the land. The concept of food production sovereignty emerged just after independence, and was declared in Mali at the start of the post-colonial period, following in the wake of the republic's revolutions, and the self sufficiency approach, within the framework of food sovereignty, it can be derived from the land from local production, but it can also come from the markets that is to say, from the outside. In this strategy, the mastery of the land is not always very strong because food production can come from national production, and it can also come from the outside. So although there is an inherent understanding of the land embedded in this term, and the connection to the land, the connection is not always strong, it's not primary. The ultimate objective is always to ensure the national population has sufficient nutritional intake, just through different means, and the self sufficiency model through in-country production that is dependent on the fact that the markets are managed by the state and dependent on the state's mastery in food production. Whereas with food production sovereignty model, we rely on external import expert systems to strike the right balance. Currently, we are in the food sovereignty model, which aligns with the United Nations' concept of food security developed in the 1990s and which corresponds roughly to the politics of globalization. Food security aims to provide access to sufficient food sources. And it's also a strategy that is based on the market. We are now in an economy of globalized markets. We're just coming out of a series of political reforms and structural adjustment policies in the 1980s, which is centered on the belief that markets guarantee the food supply and the populations access to it. Within the prior framework of agricultural self sufficiency, the state was present in all activities, the production, the distribution, and here during the structural adjustment transition, and the shifting framework to food security, we said, No, the state can allow laissez faire and the market economy because the state cannot manage all of this on its own. Therefore we must change we must replace the state with markets, food security, it is based on markets, not national production. It's not worth the trouble to master the land. Today with the politicization of the earth, and foods that have become merchandise and objects of marketization. Globalization has put pressure on the local markets on the local level of production, so that investors can come to rule the earth. This is such a sudden phenomenon where the foreign investors come into the picture. There is a local population who has a need for the land for its own agricultural production. There are also foreign investors who come to buy the land. Hence, there is a tension between these two interactions. So I'm studying this and the presiding conflict, which is that of globalization and international actors and commerce and the local sovereignty over the land.

Rachel Beatty Riedl:

So just to kind of summarize a bit what you're saying there's a real distinction in these concepts between the role of the state in managing food production and trying to produce it locally, versus allowing the import export, you know, we're trying to achieve food security, by by maximizing the global markets, right. In Mali, how do you see this playing out? You mentioned the role of the state and the contestations over whether the state is capable of managing local food production, distributing food production. And the agricultural actors, right, what's what do you see now to be the role of the state, the agricultural actors and their interaction?

Alhousseini Diabate:

in Mali, we are in a market economy now, even if before it was a state managed economy. Before independence in 1980, we were in an economy where the state's army and state itself was present in the production and the distribution of food sources. After 1980, there was a change, and the state transitioned from being state managed to a market economy. Thus, it then became the market that regulated everything, the state was practically erased. The state continued to play a role, but during this time, everything was in play. And there wasn't really an equal share of responsibilities. This is to say that a state can intervene only rarely in cases of food crises, in cases with NGOs. But even this is an exceptional case. And in principle, we rely on the market.

Rachel Beatty Riedl:

So for example, for the investors who come and who want to buy the land, let's say foreign investors, how do they manage if they want to buy the land? And what does this interaction necessitate for them in terms of finding that the agricultural plots that they want to buy, do they interact with, with the owners of the land directly? Do they work viz a viz the state? What kind of sovereignty are we talking about?

Alhousseini Diabate:

This is very interesting. And there has been an important evolution that has taken place. Starting in 1980, in West Africa in general, we transitioned to what one would call a liberal economy. This is to say that the state cannot satisfy all of the needs and all that is necessary to change that it is necessary to liberalize and necessary to open to investors. With this conception of the land, it was necessary to open the land to investors, the investors are going to come. They want money, they want capital, they want to capitalize the land, even if it is the home of a lot of producers. They have the technology, thus they have the savoir faire in order to make this happen, which the state cannot accomplish. Thus, it was necessary to open to investors. And it was also necessary to create an attractive legal framework, a framework that would create advantages for investors. In terms of West Africa, and practically all states, there are nationalized investment opportunities, which is aimed to be favorable to the investors that come to Africa. The idea was invented by the World Bank, you know, that there is a need for Africa to attract these markets. And thereby, there must also be an attractive legal framework. So we started from this common ground, there was an investor who comes and he is in contact with the state directly. This framework is now what we call the convention of agricultural investment, where the investor works directly with the state.

Rachel Beatty Riedl:

So the state and the land, the state, and investors together can expropriate agriculture, even producers. How does this happen in practice? How does the investor find the state so to speak, especially in Mali, as the state, as you've said, itself is in question in certain regions of the territory right up, particularly in the north, how does the State and or the investor actually displace existing agricultural producers on the land?

Alhousseini Diabate:

Yes, this happens very often.When the investor arrives, he can contact the state directly, because of the already existing framework of the society in agricultural development, the investor can directly contact the state, the investors can equally make the private legal contracts, that is to say that they can meet with local landowners, and they buy from them directly. And this is dangerous because sometimes investors come across land speculators or other intermediaries, they might bring them into a village and the investors buy. And the villagers may not be fully informed about the value of the land. And thus these tend to be unequal contracts.

Rachel Beatty Riedl:

Right, so there's a nature of exploitation and these types of external investors coming in, in many cases. So there are these three possibilities for buying the land. Right? And do you think that this augments the value of the land? Are we talking about a way in which it validates the utility of the market exchange?

Alhousseini Diabate:

No, I think that the initial idea of the World Bank was that the land must open to investors, because they have capital and technology, which can increase the value of the land. This goes beyond just theory. Now, this is not just only based on theory, but also in practice, because in practice, conventions of investment exist between the state of Mali and other multinationals. it governs the Mali Libya convention, the Mali China convention, the Mali Southern Africa multinational convention. I'm studying these contracts. And what normally happens in these contracts is that the investors assure food security of the local population and to add value to the land. It is true in theory that when investors come because they have money in capital, they can produce greater amounts of Malian agriculture. While this is all true, the goal is achieving food security for the local population outside of this contract. If we take these existing conventions as contracts, nothing obliges the investor to sell its production in Mali. Concretely, if they want to the investor produces everything and sells the goods elsewhere.

Rachel Beatty Riedl:

So they may increase production, but then they export it right? So it doesn't necessarily leave Malian citizens with a net increase. Yes, the export. Then there's less land for low landowners and cultivators.

Alhousseini Diabate:

Indeed, there is less land for cultivators. And these are the rights of contracts. These are lawful engagements that do not oblige the vendor to sell, but only produce. So the objective of food security is not at all assured, and it cannot be assured elsewhere. These systems are very dangerous. In the Mali Libya convention, for example, if you consider the system there, there are official irrigation canals of the Niger River, which are diverse water canals and irrigation systems that allow water to flow across and between the two countries. Sometimes we have to close these flows of water so that water can flow in other directions during certain seasons. In Mali's contract, there is a clause that says that the Libyan portion is prioritized between April and June, April to June is the dry period where there is no water. And thus it is during this period that the Libyan zone must be sufficiently irrigated. The consequence is that in April and May, rain will fall, but it will only serve the Libyan society. So all of the Malian land will not be well watered, because the contract restricts the flow of water supply. But it doesn't guarantee Mali the water, it means the Libyan landowners can take everything under the eyes of Malians in the same region, who are in the process of dying of hunger, this is truly a disaster.

Rachel Beatty Riedl:

So you're speaking in about several factors, in fact, that put many pressures on the question of the earth, right? There are the international investors, as you explained, there are also climactic changes -- significant drought, questions about rainfall, and where water that does fall will be diverted and to whom. These are really questions that pertain to the environment. So do you see climate change as something that's playing a large role in this question of the land, and the possibility of its cultivation and production?

Alhousseini Diabate:

The question of the climate is a global problem that plays a very important role for people everywhere. It must be said that we are in a zone where the traditional climate is not favorable. And in all cases, even those who follow the most ancient knowledge regarding rain, it's changing, there was a clear climatic concern which challenges even the most ancient knowledge about rainfall and food production, and sustainable agriculture. In any case, there is a very challenging period of drought. And this has a very serious impact. The other environmental impact that is new is the reliance on chemical products. We were not aggressive with the earth. And we were practically operating within the terms of a durable agricultural system. But with the opening to investors, as we said earlier, and the massive production possibilities that an investor brings to turn the land into something profitable. Under these terms, it forces us to produce a lot, it forces us to water the earth, it forces us to use chemical products, it requires all of this. And in all, this plays a very negative role in a very devastating role on the environment. Unfortunately, what is even more worrying is that there is not a legal framework, and there are products which are illegal that we are using. Whereas the law here, it is true that we cultivate this earth, but we must also preserve the earth. But unfortunately, we don't have this presentation in mind. And this is a serious problem. There will be land in a few years that will no longer be able to produce

Rachel Beatty Riedl:

Even for, as you say, these local producers who have so much knowledge about the land and how to best make it thrive.

Alhousseini Diabate:

Exactly. They cannot use the land anymore, because it is the earth that we had but no longer do today and considering the global problems that we have, I think that the question of climate change is an environmental question that is, in my point of view, very worrisome, and more and more worrisome. As I said, this is because the public does not seem to be conscious of the dangers of this reality.

Rachel Beatty Riedl:

So in addition, there's no pressure to create or uphold the legal framework or even mobilize in terms of a social movement concerning these questions.

Alhousseini Diabate:

I will emphasize that there is no framework for the law, and this creates a serious problem and there is no mobilized social movement. I myself am a part of a regional social network where I know that we are just beginning to hear more about ecology. It is very recent, there was not an organized mobilization effort present in civil society. And this is contrary to what the earth may be expressing to us. It is also contrary to the great mobilization of civil society around the world. Yet, that is the environmental question for the moment. Yes, there are initiatives, but they are not urgent for the moment.

Rachel Beatty Riedl:

So Alhousseini, being that you are a regional expert, political science and law, for example, in the United States, there are many people, perhaps now there are less than before who, who had the impression and who spoke often about informal institutions, and suggested that formal institutions haven't impacted politics in Africa in a significant way. They might claim that it's more traditional informal institutions that play a role, and that run everything. But you are also speaking about the laws and the legal framework and rights. And this may have a role. So given your expertise in the region, as well as your own focus on legal systems, what's your opinion about this distinction, or the balance between formal and informal institutions and what's doing the work where?

Alhousseini Diabate:

From the point of view of West Africa, that of which I've lived, the subject is a bit delicate, because it's true that for us, the jurists, and John Jacques Rousseau has demonstrated, there is a social contract that defines the law, the majority of the society that acknowledges the social contract, and this strengthens and gives value to the law too, so the law has an influence and has an impact because it is wanted by the majority, by the population. And this is a global concept. These are the basics. But in these cases, if we speak from this point of view about the law, it is the formal institutions that must have an influence on politics in Africa. But what I counter argue is that these informal institutions in the political sphere influence a lot. They influence elections, because a village chief, a traditional chief or tribe can say, Well, listen, I'm voting for this president, the people are going to follow me. But honestly, it's true. We believe more in the chief than in the law. Elsewhere in the world, the law is voted for by the assembly. But here the assembly is so far away and external and foreign to village life. So one doesn't know about the things that they aren't taught. Here, we follow the chief and then we vote for the chief's choice to to reinforce the credibility of the chief who was the core of the authority of power, because the chief can get the village to vote, we give him more power than the President and minister, too.

Rachel Beatty Riedl:

So thereby, we keep the chief as an intermediary in the political process, right as this key stakeholder.

Alhousseini Diabate:

Yes, we keep him as an intermediary in the political process, as well as in the social process. Sometimes he intervenes in social issues. Because when there is a problem, the authorities check with the chief to handle these problems. It is necessary to understand that we are operating within states, where in reality, there are state crises, and the informal institutions are in a state of crisis, too. This is important to recognize there was a crisis, the population doesn't believe in the state. And the state, in fact, is weak. The state has no power or ability. The state is currently in crisis. And the law is in a state of crisis, too. And this is because the judges and the jurists do not adjudicate when the law is corrupt. In the end, the people do not believe in this judicial system, and this creates a judicial crisis. If you think about it as an inversion, the informal institution becomes stronger. And it is the informal institution that regulates the law. Because there is a state crisis, there is a judicial crisis. There is a distrust in the state, yet the informal institutions of traditional rulers and local leaders, because they constitute the local authorities who have a close rapport and an established trust with the local population, we believe, and they have a particular authority and legitimacy within the state.

Rachel Beatty Riedl:

So I think that's that's really key. And in thinking about the ways in which informal institutions and traditional leaders, local leaders, are strengthened in so many cases across the world exactly when the political and legal systems are in crisis themselves. So during these last decades. Let's say there's a crisis, even while local leaders and actors have a certain authority over the people and a certain legitimacy. How do we make laws? In the current context for the citizens of Mali? Does the law always play an important role even while considering the importance of these traditional actors?

Alhousseini Diabate:

The law in all societies has an important role. If there was no judicial framework, society is in disorder, it's insecure. The law, it has the role of assuring the organization of a society, the cohesion of a society and the security of a society. It plays a role in determining what is illegal and what is permitted. The law plays a role in organizing when we do certain things, when there are sanctions. Thus, from this point of view, the law plays a really important role in any country, and will continue to play an important role. However, at times, we observe that in certain locations, there was no state because perhaps in these places, the state is not present. There was no police no judge no prefecture, hence, there is an immense void. Thus, unfortunately, if we take today the case of Mali, as this conflict in the northern region has an eight year history, where a large region does not have state infrastructure, there was a difference between the capital city and the rural periphery. If you want to consider Bamako, where there is a binding state law framework where people do not steal, or people do not act illegally, the law is binding. In Dakar he law is binding. In Abidjan, the law is binding. There are cities throughout the country where the law is binding. The judicial system is security for many. However, I will say that the judicial system is weak in this country. And it is important to restate it. If by any means there is a state crisis, there is a crisis within the law's framework. We don't have a lot of confidence, the citizens do not have a lot of confidence because the judges are corrupt. The police officers are corrupt. Well, finally, we even avoid seeing them when the citizens prefer to see the village chief to resolve a problem than the judge. This is because the citizens prefer to see the neighborhood imams because the imams are normally not corrupt. Yet, the judge doesn't have to be corrupt. So this poses certain questions.

Rachel Beatty Riedl:

Exactly. So you find that there's a tension here, for example, the people who go to see the imams, are the traditional leaders, the chiefs, is there a tension that's put on the laws of the state?

Alhousseini Diabate:

Well, problems in society are resolved by the Imam, or village chief. Whereas in contrast with the judicial system, we avoid any delay in processing the law before the judge, because we do believe that the judge is corrupt. We do not believe in the judge. And there is an increasing role given to the county courts, the religious judges, there is a political project that aims to give the kadhi courts more specific roles. If the kadhi court rules on a decision, it is approved, it's accredited, it's recognized and the decision has value. This we have to uphold because more and more, we see that traditional justice has challenges. And the modern justice system has difficulty satisfying the needs of the state as well. It definitely can be something positive because these kadhi courts can allow for a transition in the justice system in the country. Administration does not address everything. There are many places where there is no administration. Thus, it is the kadhis who are there. This system allows us to bring us closer to justice. I think that it can also be positive in the sense that citizens believe in the system a lot. Not in all cases, not in all of the world. But in certain places. Citizens believe in the kadhis much more than in modern judges, because the modern judges in many cases are corrupt.

Rachel Beatty Riedl:

So for example, that depends on the structure and also which laws are being used. Right. So there's a tension with the national law. Can that be difficult?

Alhousseini Diabate:

Yes, you're right. This can be a bit of a problem. These kadhi courts must be organized. And then the question that we must ask ourselves is, how do we know which law they're going to apply? Because perhaps they might have very strong contradictions. The kadhis are current on religious principles. And certain aspects of these religious principles can be contradictory with modern law.

Rachel Beatty Riedl:

Certainly, yes, there are other countries who experiment with this, like Nigeria and Kenya. Now there are constitutional roles in Kenya for kadhi courts, but there's a question of how to distribute authority across these domains.

Alhousseini Diabate:

In these very precise domains, most often there was a question about the role of family law or customary law within this framework. This is to say that the state accounts for all that is criminal -- criminal law, penal law, the state accounts for all of that. And this is all part of what is included in a state's role in our society. Within the county courts, the risks are that the law that the courts apply can be contradictory with regard to certain principles of modern law, and notably in the domain of family custom succession when considering the challenges facing young girls and children. These are the principles with which we could collide, or where we could be in contradiction to international law and modern law. And then these cases, even more of the lingering questions, the question of penal code and criminality. Now the kadhis, they don't have to but in certain cases in certain tribunals, the kadhis will know how to address these concerns, if there is no present judge, yet the sentences, the sanctions that are sometimes adjudicated, can really be contrary to the rights of men, especially when a court orders for a person's hand to be cut off. These are very much things that are contrary to human rights. These are the negatives and the risks of following this system.

Rachel Beatty Riedl:

So Alhousseini, thanks for that in terms of thinking about these different domains of legal order, where authority resides, and what the imbalances might be across different sources of authority. Now, before I let you go, we have to ask that one, our signature question that we ask of all of our guests on the Ufahamu Africa podcast, which is what are you reading? What would you like to suggest to our listeners?

Alhousseini Diabate:

Okay, so there are two documents that I'm currently reading. One is titled The methodology of legal pluralism. The other is the adoption of traditional customary indigenous natives, and the challenge of legal pluralism, both by Ghislain Otis, a professor at the University of Ottawa in Canada. This is very interesting, and related to my project, because he actually speaks about Aboriginal native ways of life and also about legal pluralism, that is to say, the plurality of the rules of the law. And this is very interesting from the point of view of my research, because honestly, I reflect on the subject and the sources of pluralism, and the pluralism of the rule of law. For example, the sources of pluralism when in a certain domain, such as in a household or a French economic region or setting, there are several restrictions that intervene in the framework of the law. But utmost in Africa, we see this within family law. This is due to the fact that there are state managed laws, traditional laws and modern laws. we attempt to combine all of that to have pluralism within this overarching law framework. There is also pluralism within the laws. There are national laws, international laws, national laws, these are like French farming laws. These are based on investments, international laws, such as global legal frameworks, like World Trade Organization, commerce laws, there you have it. And there is a pluralism in the law, it is necessary to have a framework for these laws, it is necessary for each of these laws to be logical, and to see if at times this logic differs. And these are the works that allow for greater understanding on this issues.

Rachel Beatty Riedl:

Thank you, Alhousseini for sharing those ideas with us. It really resonates with what you're saying in terms of the potential contradictions or tensions in the way of balancing across these different domains of authority and legitimacy and judicial rule. So we'll put a link on our website to inform our audiences of these recommendations. And thanks so much for being with us.

Alhousseini Diabate:

Thank you, Rachel. It's always a pleasure. And even more as you are a colleague, it's always a pleasure to work with you.

Unknown:

That's all for this week. Thanks for listening to this episode of Ufahamu Africa. To find any of the articles, books or links we talked about head to ufahamuafrica.com. Don't forget to follow and share your thoughts with us on Twitter @UfahamuAfrica. Our podcast is available on Spotify, Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, SoundCloud, and Stitcher. If you like what you're hearing on Ufahamu Africa, please share this episode and review our show on Apple Podcasts. This podcast is produced by Megan DeMint with help from research and production assistant Julia Felicity Turkman. We are generously supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and receive research assistance from Cornell University and the University of California Riverside. Our music is courtesy of Kevin MacLeod.