Home page > Catalogue > Policy & Development > Economics & Development > Crisis and Neoliberal Reforms in Africa: Civil Society and Agro-Industry in (...)
| More

Crisis and Neoliberal Reforms in Africa: Civil Society and Agro-Industry in Anglophone Cameroon’s Plantation Economy

Wednesday 22 December 2010, author(s)-editor(s) Piet Konings

This book discusses the social and political consequences of the economic and financial crisis that befell African economies since the 1980s, using as case study the plantation economy of the Anglophone region of Cameroon. The focus is thus on recent efforts to liberalize and privatize an agro-industrial enterprise where overseas capital and its domestic partners have converged, the consequent modes of production and labour, and the alternatives proposed and resistance generated. The study details how the unprecedented crisis caused great commotion in the region, and presented a serious challenge to existing theories on plantation production and capital accumulation.

The crisis resulted in the introduction of a number of neoliberal economic reforms, including the withdrawal of state intervention and the restructuring, liquidation and privatisation of the major agro-industrial enterprises. These reforms in turn had severe consequences for several civil-society groups and their organisations that had a direct stake in the regional plantation economy, notably the regional elite, chiefs, plantation workers and contract farmers. On the basis of extensive research in the Anglophone Cameroon region, Konings shows that these civil-society groups have never resigned themselves to their fate but have been actively involved in a variety of formal and informal modes of resistance.

Purchase on African Books Collective

Purchase on MSUPress

Purchase AMAZON

ISBN 9789956578030 | 278 pages | 216 x 140 mm | 2010 | Langaa RPCIG, Cameroon | Paperback

5 Book Reviews

  • A fascinating account of the agrarian crisis in the plantation economy in Cameroon, against the background of reform, privatisation and the response by unions and cooperatives in providing support for livelihoods on the edge. A must read for all those interested in the political economy of agrarian reform.

    Professor Pradip Thomas, University of Queensland, Australia

  • Crisis and Neoliberal Reforms in Africa: Civil Society and Agro-Industry in Anglophone Cameroon’s Plantation Economy 22 December 2010 11:51, author(s)-editor(s) Milton Krieger, Professor Emeritus

    A tribute to Leiden University’s tenacious and comprehensive African Studies vision, twenty five years’ work informs Konings’ latest text on Anglophone Cameroon’s tea plantations, bringing his analysis into the 21st century. It is based on archival research, interviews and observations, engaging public authorities, company managers, and workers as they labor, confer, strike, blockade roads and face the consequences. An exhaustively crafted, quite magisterial study.

    Milton Krieger, Professor Emeritus, Western Washington University, USA

  • This work is well-written, accessible and profoundly covers sensitive and often neglected topics of neoliberal reforms plaguing the civil society and the agricultural economy of the former British Cameroon. The author demystifies and provides superior quality exposition and well documented answers to an array of complex issues…

    Esendugue Greg Fonsah, Associate Professor and Agricultural Economist, University of Georgia, USA

  • Koning’s book is a sophisticated dissertation on the complex management process of the agro-industrial plantations in Anglophone Cameroons caught up in the prolonged effort to fight poverty and an especially severe and prolonged economic recession. The partners in the struggle are a composite mixture of localized and regionalized ethnic peoples in evolutionary time and places, changing managers with their different management structures, the state with its political power and financial resource manoeuvres, the land owners with their inherited cultures of land ownership and the partition of labour between men and women, and the immigrant labour population. The milieu is one of perpetual striving for modern capital accumulation for survival and modernization, which is interpreted as sustainable socioeconomic development. Whereas the organized labour forces (or proletarians) are perpetually committed to the pursuit of production, the necessary control of management systems and the tendency for over-exploitation by capitalists to sustain scarce resources often leads to threats or real industrial conflicts which must be minimized for the sustainability and economic progress of the shareholders and the entire nation.

    For thorough mastery of this complex dynamic system, the author has applied, through his erudition and scholarship, the combined knowledge of several academic disciplines: Anthropology, Sociology, Economics, History, Philosophy, Geography, Political Science, Social Psychology, Political Sociology, Management Theory and Industrial Relations.

    This work is indeed a combination of several studied themes related to various agro-industries in time and place, each of which is presented as one of seven chapters, and then reorganized and synthesized as underlying theoretical principles in chapter one, captioned “Civil Society and Anglophone Cameroons Agro-Industrial Crisis and Reforms”. Chapter two treats ethno-regional groups and association’s responses to agro-industrial crisis by liquidation and sale of PAMOL oil plam plantations. State withdrawal and privatization of the Cameroon Development Corporation are highlighted. Chapter three dwells at length on the CDC Workers’ Union and trade unionism among tea pluckers. Further, trade unionism and changed reactions to the PAMOL oil palm crisis and liquidation is treated in Chapter four. Bakweri Chiefs’ sustained claim to the ownership of CDC lands follows in chapter five. But the successful privatization of Tole and Ndu Tea Estates reveals the forest and grassland ethnocentricism in CDC Estates in chapter six. The smallholders’ development picture at CDC from 1946 to 1995 is described in chapter seven. The dynamics and responses of PAMOL’s contract farmers and cooperatives to survive the economic crisis in the land-locked sub-region is fully elaborated in chapter eight.

    The period covered by the work is so recent and contemporary that some well informed elders of Cameroon society can, with chagrin, identify some individual actors and confirm their socio-political and psychological attitudes and leanings.

    Certainly, Koning’s book is a melting pot of attractive compulsory knowledge for all scholars of the human sciences, and it is an invaluable reference for students pursuing terminal degrees, thanks to its methods of investigation, scholarship and erudition. As such it should be available in city, university and departmental libraries for wide consultation. Some Cameroonian political elite will derive direct benefit from its demonstration of socio-political attitudes. Students of management will learn a lot from the book so that they will be able to defend modern capitalism and economic liberalism. I strongly recommend that this revealing story should be updated every ten years to teach the up-rising generations that the mastery of management skills is very necessary and effective for socio-economic development and capital accumulation.

    Daniel Noni Lantum, University of Yaounde I

  • Konings presents a well-written history of civil society and the Anglophone Cameroonian plantation sector in his book Crisis and Neoliberal Reforms in Africa, published in 2011 by the Langaa Research and Publishing Common Initiative Group (RPCIG) in Bamenda, Cameroon. Langaa RPCIG is unique publishing initiative with a strong focus on Cameroonian and African scholarship and creative writing. It is a non-profit, peerreviewed publishing group supported by its founding members, contributors, financia grants and various university-based African studies centres that seek to strengthen African research and publishing.

    Konings’ work contributes to this initiative by providing a much needed update to the literature on the plantation economy in Central Africa.

    Konings has spent well over two decades researching Cameroon’s Anglophone region conducting archival research, interviews and observations. Crisis and Neoliberal Reforms in Africa is an empirical case study that exposes the problems and progress of government reforms, the entry and exit of firms, and workers’ responses to these changes. As many new foreign firms are currently seeking to enter and to expand Cameroon’s plantation sector, Konings’ history is timely. The country’s plantation economy is in an increasing state of crisis as private actors seek ever-larger amounts of land, and the responses of the underpaid labour force to sectoral challenges have become increasingly unpredictable. This book is a reference for researchers seeking a detailed historical description of land, labour and resistance in the country’s plantation economy.

    Crisis and Neoliberal Reforms in Africa is published at a time when African reliance on imported foods and on agro-commodity exports has been subject to increasing criticism. Cutting through the status quo, Konings’ work tells an authoritative story about the limitations of monocropping while also exhaustively detailing the benefits of economic diversification. Through focusing on an array of plantation crops, including palm oil, rubber, tea and bananas, he recounts numerous instructive land and labour disputes.

    Konings’ narrative is an important work that researchers focusing on the agriculture and agro-industrial sectors, land grabbing and labour issues as they relate to export crops should feel compelled to engage with. His book could also help to inform many new studies of dynamic present-day food security challenges in Cameroon.

    Of particular note, Konings’ political economy story details the problems and progress of a Cameroonian subsidiary of a multinational company, the rise and fall of the state-run Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC), and the travails of Cameroon’s tea estate. To do so he employs literature from 1960s to the 1990s on plantation economies, and more recent literature on African labour and civil societies. Visibly omitted from his review is the Caribbean plantation literature, which might have helped to drive his analysis forward.

    The book focuses on the actions of civil society groups linked to labour and land when privatization of the plantation sector was coming to a head. Konings found that these actors make up a specifically African style of civil society that is not only created by the place, but also largely shapes the place, the region, and the country. The actions of the individuals and groups in his study enable the continued, albeit limited, functioning of the corporate entities while also crafting their own political and economic identities. Konings asserts that his contribution builds on Marx’s concept of the “hidden abodes of [capitalist] production”. His analysis focuses on the subordination of labour to the authority of management by documenting the various forms of resistance that emerge from the process of subordination at times of crisis and change. To accomplish this, Konings describes how the terms of the labour contracts and land agreements are negotiated, transcribed, resisted and transformed.

    The book consists of eight essays organized in chapters. The first chapter characterizes Anglophone Cameroon’s civil society, the agro-industrial crisis and subsequent reforms.

    This chapter also outlines the theories that inform the overall study on plantation agriculture. The second chapter assesses the role of ethno-regional groups in Cameroon’s South West Province and the agro-industrial crisis. The third and fourth chapters characterize the role of workers and of trade unions during the crisis. The fifth and sixth chapters study the protest actions of chiefs and workers against externally imposed attempts to privatize the CDC, Cameroon’s longest standing company, second largest employer and one of the few public enterprises that performed relatively well until the economic crisis in the 1980s. Chapter 6 may be his strongest chapter, focusing most explicitly on the protest actions of the tea pluckers in the region. This chapter documents the longest strike in Cameroon’s history.

    The seventh and eighth chapters focus on the role of smallholders and their cooperatives during the crisis and reform period. It is here where the shortcomings of the book are the strongest. The last two chapters are based on fieldwork and observations from the 1970s and 1980s but these chapters still need work to recognize the significance of these actors in the present day. Chapters 7 and 8 could address the impacts of the neoliberal reforms that happened after the period described. Also, as a reader, I would like to see a concluding chapter drawing all of these themes back together; the book simply ends.

    Crisis and Neoliberal Reforms in Africa does not mention the environmental impacts of plantation economies – an issue that civil society researchers are currently engaging with in Cameroon as they grapple with the many new proposals for large-scale agriculture projects. The principal critique I have of the book is that Konings does not refine the notion that the wages from plantation labour have often been insufficient in providing a particular level of household security or self-sufficiency. By extension, many of the labour disputes Konings details were instigated not only by worker complaints over declining wages but also a strong inclination of the companies not to pay wages owing. The impacts these actions had on the companies are described, but not the impacts on the workers, their households, and ultimately how these actions affected livelihoods.

    Moreover, while the chapters often outline and document the histories of the companies, many of the workers’ stories are sanitized or largely missing. While these limitations expose weaknesses in the book, Konings’ narrative does make a notable contribution to the literature on agriculture and civil society in Cameroon and by extension Central Africa. I invite readers to explore the concepts employed in Konings’ book in their ongoing and future work.

    Lauren Q. Sneyd

    Doctoral Candidate, Geography and Collaborative International Development Studies, University of Guelph, Guelph, Canada lsneyd@uoguelph.ca q 2013, Lauren Q. Sneyd http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00083968....