The enclave and the official

Special report. Grounded companies and the role of states
How do giant industrial plantations integrate political territory in Cameroon?
By Guillaume Vadot

Based on a comparative ethnography of three Cameroonian agribusiness complexes in the 2010s, this article describes the processes through which these spaces, landlocked and granted to powerful enterprises, have been progressively integrated into the political territory. In a context marked by privatization and a rise in the areas dedicated to industrial agriculture, it describes an a priori surprising burgeoning of local authorities and spread of the language of officiality inside and nearby these isolated “enclaves”. To that purpose, it follows the making of local notabilities out of some specific members of each company’s staff. It also studies the sociogenesis, rooted in the daily interactions that characterize the industrial plantation areas, of a rising number of local institutions able to gain official recognition from the public authorities (local communities, administrative subdivisions, chiefdoms of different kinds). By describing some of the numerous mobilizations that have affected these companies over the last decade, this article shows that all the complexes (even the only one that remained a parastatal) have been exposed to similar demands and the imposition of comparable social obligations toward their employees and neighboring communities. Through improvisation and incremental accommodations, each of these diverse spaces has therefore in its own way followed a trajectory of integration into the political and institutional framing of the territory as it has been reinvented over the last two decades in Cameroon. In that sense, this article also bears witness to the vitality of local authorities in that country, in the framework given by a politically locked decentralization.

  • company
  • territory
  • agriculture
  • Cameroon
  • mobilizations
  • decentralization
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