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History and Role of Social Movements1

Sam Moyo

African Institute for Agrarian Studies

Paper presented at - "Land Redistribution: Towards a Common Vision, Regional Course, Southern Africa, 9-13 July 2007"

SARPN acknowledges the World Bank as a source of this paper:
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Introduction: Rural Movements and Land Reform

The paper attempts to answer a critical question which faces policy makers: whether the emergence of organised social movements is a pre-condition for land redistribution. Indeed, as we argue below in a number of situations, governments have pursued land redistribution more vigorously under the pressure of social movements in some cases, under the pressure of international governments in others, and/or under pressure from both.

If pressure from social movements is a critical factor in land reform, then the political and social rationale for land reforms assumes greater importance than has hitherto been acknowledged. Instead, an important body of the literature emphasizes the economic rationale of efficiency, inducing land reforms and related economic considerations arising from equity. Economic reasons also tend to be adduced to oppose land reform. This suggests that, since there is no need to wait for pressures for land reform from social movements, technocratic government and/or markets will themselves pursue land redistribution given the economic rationality implied. Moreover, it can be expected that in some situations, rural movements may even come to terms with governments to achieve a particular model of land reform involving both state and social movement actors, in varying ways and degrees.

Various cases are discussed to highlight the different circumstances under which state and social pressure interact, over land reform, in order to inform policy analysts of the options to consider in support of a more inclusive and participatory approach land reform.

To answer this question we look at the different and changing historical contexts within which land reforms have occurred (section 2), and then we examine some specific experiences that demonstrate the pressure of social movements (section 3). First, however we introduced the broad concepts, and Section 4 summarises the key insights gained. But first we elaborate here on some concepts and the context of contemporary land reforms.

  1. This paper has been prepared for the workshop “Land Redistribution in Africa: Towards a common vision.” The findings, interpretations, and conclusions expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank and its affiliated organizations, or those of the Executive Directors of The World Bank or the governments they represent.

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