Decolonize the Commons – Debate! A Conversation with Franklin Obeng-Odoom

Antipode has become a key platform for engaging with decolonial and anticolonial scholarship, as well as scholarship that breathes that spirit (such as Black geographies, Indigenous studies, including from Latin America and work on settler-colonialism). We recognize that there are several loci of enunciation for decolonial and anticolonial work and would like to give scholars from Africa associated with these epistemic and political projects more space on our website.

This conversation with Ghanaian political economist Franklin Obeng-Odoom is the first installment of a series of three Interventions that cover different intellectual territories carved out by prominent decolonial scholars from Africa. These are scholars whose work should be centered more firmly in radical geography. By engaging with their work, we hope to foster new intellectual alliances and to address power/knowledge questions that even decolonial scholarship cannot evade. We also hope that the Interventions will lead to more submissions to Antipode from scholars from Africa and the African diaspora.

Stefan Ouma
Editor, Antipode
August 2021

Franklin Obeng-Odoom is a prominent political economist from Ghana, working on questions of urban and rural land, the commons, resources and extractivism, and uneven development in Africa. He has made key contributions to the political economy of Africa over the last years, including Reconstructing Urban Economics: Towards a Political Economy of the Built Environment (Zed Books, 2016), Property, Institutions, and Social Stratification in Africa (Cambridge University Press, 2020), The Commons in an Age of Uncertainty: Decolonizing Nature, Economy, and Society (University of Toronto Press, 2021). Global Migration Beyond Limits: Ecology, Economics, and Political Economy is forthcoming from Oxford University Press. He currently works at the University of Helsinki.

​​The conversation below was conducted online by geographers Sybille Bauriedl and Inken Carstensen-Egwuom on 17 June 2021. The occasion was the book they edited, Geographies of Coloniality (forthcoming from Transcript Publishing), in which this conversation will be published in German (Bauriedl and Carstensen-Egwuom 2022). They shared the original version so that it can be published on

Sybille Bauriedl is Professor of Integrative Geography at the Europa-Universität Flensburg in Germany. She teaches, researches and publishes on manifold research topics in political ecology, feminist geography and postcolonial studies such as urban sustainable development, local energy transition, the platform economy, global climate justice, and colonial infrastructure in European port cities, and she is involved in the Right to the City movement.

Inken Carstensen-Egwuom works as a postdoc at the Europa-Universität Flensburg. Her most recent work engages with approaches to reparatory justice in the context of slavery and colonialism, and with colonial legacies in European harbor cities and related (sugar) plantation economies. She has also researched and published on intersectionality and transnational migration. She teaches courses on global citizenship education, among other things, and is an active member of the “Flensburg Postkolonial” Network.

Decolonizing Nature, Economy, and Society

Inken: Looking at “Geographies of Coloniality”, as we called it in our book, we are interested in colonial continuities around spatial structures of inequality, dispossession and accumulation in general and we believe that looking into the colonial legacies of today’s property regimes is one of the most pertinent issues when we aim at understanding those deeply ingrained structures of inequality.

In your research, you look at social-ecological crises in the Global South and also highlight issues of social stratification and social justice – both in urban and rural areas – and so we are very pleased that you agreed to take time for this interview.

With this background in mind, we really believe that your most recent book, The Commons in an Age of Uncertainty: Decolonizing Nature, Economy, and Society (Obeng-Odoom 2021b) offers a compelling and rich perspective on intellectual debates and political practices around the critique of private, exclusionary and unequal property regimes, and that research around the commons addressing questions of organizing collective ownership and cooperative ways of regulating access to resources is very important here. From our perspective, we are especially interested in your own decolonial approach to this field of knowledge. As a first question, we would like to ask you if you could elaborate on your specific understanding of what you call the commons and your decolonial perspective on it?

Franklin: I intend this book to be one of a three-part analysis which I consider to be a contribution to the Black Radical Tradition (Robinson 1983). So, I have to answer your question from this perspective. I started this three-part analysis with my book Property, Institutions, and Social Stratification in Africa (Obeng-Odoom 2020a), which seeks to re-examine inequality and stratification in Africa and between Africa and the rest of the world. In the book on the commons to which you refer, I have tried to develop this Black Radical Tradition in socio-ecological terms. Then in the last part of my three-part analysis, I hope to demonstrate the power of this tradition in terms of re-thinking global migration (Obeng-Odoom 2022).

Within this tradition, it is not only the “mainstream” body of research that is the focus of critique, as in some decolonial approaches, but also the so-called progressive scholarship. In the book to which you refer (Obeng-Odoom 2021b), I identify two key colonial approaches: the Conventional Wisdom and the Western Left Consensus. Both are centered on growth. Both are centered on capital. Both are based on prioritizing Global North interests and universalizing Global North approaches. My decolonial approach stresses global inequalities and stratification, global unequal land relations, and Global South concerns about the socio-ecological crises in the world. In the process of writing The Commons in an Age of Uncertainty, whenever I distinguished my work from existing theorizing about the commons in these ways, I was referred to what, for example, Marx said somewhere in a footnote or in his main texts, but on which he did not dwell. Well, I didn’t say Marx didn’t do anything about land. But how I think about land, the weight I have been giving to land, and the limitation I am placing on a workerist framework of analysis – these are all quite different. My formulations are, indeed, more Georgist, drawing far more on Georgist Political Economy (GPE) than on Marxian political economy, which is more strongly focused on capital. Yet, Georgists are not the best on postcolonial analysis, but neither is the Conventional Wisdom nor the Western Left Consensus. My decolonial approach to socio-ecological crises engages, but ultimately tries to transcend, insights from all these approaches. For example, I try to learn from Southern scholars, not only their empirical insights, but also their theorizing. I work both into my questioning of the capital-, growth-, and Global North-centered approach to the commons. My central point is that I develop a decolonial approach, which is quite distinct from the Conventional Wisdom on the commons and I consider that my approach is also quite distinct from what I call the Western Left Consensus.

Inken: Thank you so much for that! Maybe my next question would kind of approach that in a bit more detail. You do extensively refer to what Elinor Ostrom’s research did and she focused on the potentials of cooperation and the complexity of decision making when it comes to managing common-pool resources. She also argued against Hardin’s (1968) position, what might be the Conventional Wisdom that any common-pool resource would eventually be overused and destroyed, and against his advocacy for kind of top-down government intervention or privatization as a solution. And her case studies that she did with colleagues showed that humans do have this ability to cooperatively manage and take care of resources without massive state intervention – if they have long-term interest, if they invest in monitoring the resource and also if they are able to make their own rules and develop trust (Ostrom 1990). For us, this framing of the commons seems to be like a rather optimistic approach for sustainable development and has been also important for social justice movements. And maybe if you could tell us what your view on this approach is?

Franklin: Ostrom might come across as offering a fundamental critique to the Conventional Wisdom, but one has to go beyond what people write and look at how they intend to achieve what they write or say. I doubt it very much that Ostrom has a theory of justice. As I discuss in Chapter 3 of The Commons in an Age of Uncertainty (Obeng-Odoom 2021b), Ostrom’s approach to sustainability is centered on something about polycentricity, something she called, in this context, “green from the grassroots” (Ostrom 2012). It’s something like this: “Oh, we should all make a contribution”, as if we all contributed equally in creating and reproducing the crises! So, in the book I classify Ostrom as part of the Conventional Wisdom. I cannot see any structural difference between Ostrom’s and Hardin’s approaches. They are similar, as suggested by Hardin (1998) himself. If you look at Ostrom’s work carefully, in fact, what she is saying is not entirely that Hardin’s work is fundamentally flawed; but that Hardin’s approach is not the only way. It is one way; Ostrom proposed another. To really understand Ostrom’s alternative, we need to leave, for a moment, Ostrom’s work as a famous political scientist, later Nobel Prize winner in economics, and look at her PhD work. Academics tend to be quite incremental in what they do and, therefore, the history of what they did is important in understanding what they do today. Ostrom is a public choice theorist. Like all public choice theorists, she was skeptical about the state. Public choice theorists seek to develop alternatives to the state because of assumptions that politicians are rational individuals seeking to maximize their own utility. So, Ostrom, too, started her work in this tradition. Unfortunately, she never really left this tradition. The cloak of global fame and global respectability appears to have diverted attention from her cynicism about the state, which she appeared to consider in static terms, allowing for little or no room for evolution or transformation – much like the Conventional Wisdom about the state (Klimina 2018). This stasis, or static view of the state hides Ostrom’s own ideological views in plain sight. In The Commons in an Age of Uncertainty (Obeng-Odoom 2021b: Chapters 3 and 4), I review much of Ostrom’s work, often concluding, based on the evidence, that she is usually trying to say something about the power of the market, something about how inefficient the state is, and how great self-organization can be. So, the virtues of both gated communities and informal communities are extolled. Regardless of their contrasting, albeit interlinked realities, for Ostrom, such spatial inequalities mark the wonders of collective organizing to reject the failures of the state.

As I show in the book, experiences of people in informal economies do not bear out these claims. The point that I’m making is that I consider Ostrom’s work to be within the Conventional Wisdom, conventional analysis of socio-ecological crises, conventional solutions and conventional theorizing. It’s not even near the Western Left Consensus, but as I said, as soon as Ostrom became famous, progressive thinkers also tried bringing her closer to their own schools of thought. I think there might be two reasons for this. Number 1: They don’t systematically study Ostrom’s work. And number 2: It sounds, from the reading of her work, like she’s saying “Oh, you know, the commons are not destined to crises” and, hence, others consider her arguments to be germane to theirs. As I argue in the book, there is a distinction between the Conventional Wisdom on the commons and the Western Left Consensus. That said, there is an increasing convergence between the Conventional Wisdom and the Western Left Consensus. To give one example, the Economist magazine recently published an issue with the lead story “Making Coal History” (The Economist 2020). Well, I think that many who advocate the Western Left Consensus would welcome this position but, as I argue in the book (Obeng-Odoom 2021b: Chapter 6), I think from the radical alternative, that I try to develop, this is inadequate, as is the capital-, worker-centered Western Left Consensus on “just transition” (for further elaboration, see Obeng-Odoom 2021a). But many colleagues will be satisfied, because it says that coal should be left in the ground and that’s the end of the story. Even though, this approach does not address what Julian Agyeman, the Black socio-ecological theorist, calls “just sustainabilities” (Agyeman 2008, 2013). In my view, questions about global ecological reparations need to be addressed as urgent (Obeng-Odoom 2021a). But, for the Western Left Consensus, once fossil-based capitalism seems to be buried and fossil fuel is left in the ground, that should be enough and that, I think, represents the kind of consensus, you know, not consensus just within the Western left, but now increasing consensus and convergence between the Conventional Wisdom and I think the Western Left Consensus. The radical alternative is of course different; it’s based on global just sustainabilities, demanding redistribution, and commoning land. If the two, the Conventional Wisdom, including Ostrom’s work, and the Western Left Consensus, seem to be in a tug of war about growth, whether it should be “no growth”, whether it should be “more (green) growth”, or whether there should be “degrowth”, the radical alternative is centered on inequalities and global stratification centered around land. So, we have quite a different way of thinking about the problem and therefore, what might address the political-economic and socio-ecological crises of our time.

Shift to Landed Property

Inken: Thank you so much. That did a lot to clarify for me. And then I would love to shift our discussion to what you mentioned previously, that your focus is on land. I have the impression that your focus on land is very much in tune with the seminal text by Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, “Decolonization is Not a Metaphor” (Tuck and Yang 2012), where they argue that much of the academic discussions on decolonization are fraught if they do not seriously attend to problems of land distribution and the restitution and reparations of lands that were forcibly taken from Indigenous peoples through colonization in the Americas. It focuses on the American context, but in your research you use examples from many different regional contexts, especially in Africa. Maybe if you could explain more on how you see the connections between colonial processes and the regulation and distribution of landed property, for example, in an African context?

Franklin: What you describe is intriguing. Decolonization is, indeed, a concrete vision, not mere rhetoric. Vague notions of progress ring hollow and are often based on hazy analytical formulations. I consider my own approach to land to be quite specific and quite concrete. It is neither neoclassical nor Marxian, as I have said, even if we can find writers in both traditions who work on land. It is Georgist, but with features that cannot usually be found among other Georgist political economists. It is precisely for this reason that when I say that I am interested in land, in the book, I spend some time to try to explain, what it is that I am interested in, what concept of land, what politics of land, and what sort of theoretical currents percolate my thinking about land (see, for example, Obeng-Odoom 2021b: 10-15). Some people talk about land restitution, but as the example of Zimbabwe shows, it can be quite limited as a remedy for inequalities and social stratification. Setting aside problems of implementation which could be addressed, as I argue in Property, Institutions, and Social Stratification in Africa (Obeng-Odoom 2020a), there are fundamental problems with the physical redistribution of land or plots of land. Problems of absentee landownership can easily arise, as can the problem of the private appropriation of socially created rents. So, my emphasis on land is closest to the theorist Henry George (Obeng-Odoom 2020b). In The Commons in An Age of Uncertainty (Obeng-Odoom 2021b: Chapter 3), when I write about rethinking the commons, I actually set Ostrom’s and George’s conceptions of the commons side-by-side. So, the emphasis in my interest on land, is landed property, property rights, and economic rent. I’m not thinking really about physically redistributing land in the Marxian sense. But I am talking about the socialization of land rent,[1] the institution of just wages, and establishing social protection schemes funded by land value tax and others, notably, reparations.

This takes me in a rather different direction to what is quite common in the Western Left Consensus. Again, the way I am thinking about rent in the book is not to totally remove rent from society (as per some Marxian Western Left Consensus theorizing), but to socialize it – the two are not the same. In other words, they seek socialism or communism when they try to nationalize land, although, for me, the emphasis could helpfully be on socializing and sharing rent. Spreading value, progress, and prosperity is more certain and more ecological this way.

Inken: Okay, yeah, thank you so much.

Sybille: I think this leads us perfectly to our next question. You made clear your critique of the Western Left Consensus perspective on commons. And there is a second debate, that is really important, we think, in the Left Consensus or in critical development research. We find numerous studies that have been conducted in West and East Africa on the phenomenon of land grabbing in the last decade. What is new about recent dynamics, according for example to Peluso and Lund (2011: 668), is the tilling of land for “new crops with new labor processes and objectives for the growers, new actors and subjects, and new legal and practical instruments for possessing, expropriating, or challenging previous land controls”. And we are interested in your observation, what do you think are the central aspects of these dynamics of land use change?

Franklin: Yes, interesting that you mentioned this work. Christian Lund’s work is fascinating. I reviewed one of his many books for Geography Research Forum (Obeng-Odoom 2017). From what you describe, there is much which I share about the literature on land grabbing. That said, most of the work on land grabbing claimed that it was “new” without taking into account the history of land appropriations, specific historical contexts, changing property rights and relations across space and time, and rent analysis, as I argued in my contribution to the Review of Black Political Economy (Obeng-Odoom 2015). For example, I thought the Marxist work on land grabbing was not undertaking Marxist rent analysis carefully. Even more fundamentally, Georgist political economy, the most comprehensive framework for the analysis of land, had been overlooked. That is why I focused my analysis on clarifying Marxian rent theory and Georgist political economy. The two lead to quite different lines, or lanes, of analysis and quite distinct possible policy options. So, the studies on land grabbing generated a rich body of work, no doubt about that, but I thought such research could be developed further, analytically. Some of this deeper analytical work has been done now within the Marxian tradition by colleagues such as Stefan Ouma (see Ouma 2020), whose work is outstanding, as I have previously said (Obeng-Odoom 2020b). I work in the Georgist school of thought that is distinct from the Marxian school of thought or even from Polanyian school of thought.

Land is central to all aspects of my analysis. So, if someone says that “Oh, but Marx also talked about land” then I say, well but if you look at the circuit of capital, land and capital are the same, there is no special place given to land in the circuit of capital, even if the most creative Marxists find a way around the problem. If there is a talk of rent, they say, “Oh, rent is one of the elements in surplus value”. In my own approach the reverse is the case: land is pivotal and special. The rest are secondary. These emphases shine through all the three projects I have talked about: social stratification in Africa (Obeng-Odoom 2020a), the commons (Obeng-Odoom 2021b), and global migration (Obeng-Odoom 2022).

Sybille: I think this is a very great point, because we have a lot of geography students and also postgraduates who want to start a dissertation and I think for them it’s easier to get access to inequality, when they focus on people who were displaced. So, this is mostly a focus not on land but on the people, who were displaced. And we are very interested in your understanding of land and when you speak about land, you address various elements of nature as we understand it: the environment below the surface of the earth (such as minerals) and the nature that existed on the surface of the earth (including soil, vegetation, and water). Do you think “land grabbing” is not the right term to address all these elements? And how do you think we can consider the exploitation and property rights of these different elements of land together?

Franklin: Yes, let’s talk about rights and rents from these socio-ecological relations. But first one small clarification about whether land grabbing is the right term. I think it’s the right term, it could be used, it’s the approach that I was talking about. On the one hand, if the approach leads to an analysis of land that excludes property rights, then much insight is lost. If the approach to land grabbing overlooks rent analysis, again, much analytical power is lost. On the other hand, an approach to land that emphasizes the centrality of land for nature, economy, and society clearly leads to a much more comprehensive framework for analysis. So, if graduate students are interested in the exploitation of labor and the expropriation of land, they can, indeed, work within the Black Radical Tradition, drawing on Georgist political economy, institutional political economy, and stratification economics all at once. That way, to say that the question of land is central to our understanding of the world is not to diminish the importance of capital and labor, or the stratification by race, color, class, caste, and gender, indeed by many other identities underpinning stratification. We can engage, but transcend, the historical focus on individuals, capital, and class this way. Graduate students can – indeed should – be critical of the approach I have been describing, too. Consider Georgist political economy. It can be quiet on the question of stratification and minimalist on the issue of reparations, but I consider myself a reparationist. Henry George had just a few things to say about reparations and some Georgist political economists sometimes cringe at the mention of reparations, because they think, to address socio-ecological crises, it’s sufficient to pay to labor what it is due without taxing away wages, socialize rent, and use the resulting revenue for social and ecological purposes. “Economic insanity” could be addressed this way (for a more systematic review, see Obeng-Odoom 2021d). But I suggest that if you look at the historical wrongs, the weight of the historical problems that Black people and others across the world have endured and which continue to shape their realities to this day, well, there needs to be a place for, you know, for reparations in the story. That could still be incorporated in the analysis. For African-Americans, it is usually done by reference to “forty acres and a mule” (see Darity and Mullen 2020). For Africans, socio-ecological reparations could be worked into the analysis of social change by considering, as an example, oil cities, as I try to do in the case of Port Harcourt in Nigeria (Obeng-Odoom 2021a).

Urban Political Economy

Sybille: So, as you mentioned, you think, not the size, but the value of land is crucial to bear in mind and in our opinion. Is this true for rural areas as well as for cities? So far, postcolonial development studies on dispossession and displacement have focused almost entirely on rural areas and the countryside. What do you think, how do these land conflicts (in Africa) differ conceptually from land issues in urban areas? For instance, in cities and suburban areas land rights and land demarcation lines are more clearly defined and land ownership is more personalized. So, is there in your opinion a conceptual differentiation needed for urban and rural areas?

Franklin: This is precisely the reason why rent is so crucial in urban settings. Perhaps this is the most important distinction between the urban and the rural: urban land rent. Even though the “urban” and the “rural”, indeed the “region”, and the world are interconnected all the time because urban land undergoes certain processes that are not typically the experience of rural areas, cities can be special. Along with the economies of agglomeration that urban economists and economic geographers like to analyze, and the growing urban poverty, inequalities, and socio-spatial stratification, cities need to be taken very seriously. How urban land accumulates rent, how such rent is appropriated, and in what ways the resulting rent-related and other inequalities produce and reproduce urban problems are central axes of conflict and contradictions for urban political-economic analysis. Not only are landlords even more powerful and absentee landlords build cities from afar. With little interest, attachment, or care to the local, the neocolonial landlord class who are neither resident nor attached to particular cities own and control such cities, often marginalizing the voice of those who actually work and produce in those cities. That is also the reason why in the analysis of the commons, as a potential way to resolve these conflicts, it is crucially important to take urban land seriously. But as I said, a sharp distinction between the city and the country is unhelpful. Often, urban landlords also control land in the country, which, in turn, supplies food and finance to the city. In examining oil cities in Africa, for instance, all the scales of analysis are needed to understand oil, transnational corporations, labor, cities, regions, Africa, and the world (Obeng-Odoom 2014). Land matters in all contexts. The size matters, but perhaps the rent, rights, and value matter even more. They can all be interlinked, of course, in shaping the ownership and control of cities.

Sybille: When we speak about land, we always have to add water, too.

Franklin: Absolutely, absolutely! And minerals – in general the earth – along with the rights that come with nature, as I argue in my book (Obeng-Odoom 2021b: 10-15). In other words, land is something – indeed the intersection of rights therein – that, in simplistic terms, is not created by labor or capital. Similarly, the right to land and the rights in land are fortuitous, even though these rights and interests in land have been so much shaped by other socio-ecological and political-economic relations. That conception is very powerful because as soon as we conceptualize land that way, then the fundamental problems of all traditions which suggest that the enslaver, by providing some kind of capital, becomes automatically entitled to land ownership and control become evident. From this perspective, the Lockean theory, that “if slavers are able to provide some capital and put the land to more profitable uses they have won the right to land” becomes questionable. Similarly, from the way that I conceptualize land in the book, land is not capital as in the conventional sense and land is not one thing, but rights and interests. It is, for many people, identity, another name for nature or spirit. Land is power.

Development and Its Alternatives

Sybille: I would like to refer to a debate that is really strong in Germany, at government level. The idea, that Africa is a continent of “chances”, of “opportunities”. In summer 2017, during the presidency of the G20 Summit, the German government published the so-called “Cornerstones of a Marshall Plan with Africa” (BMZ 2017). They don’t call it a plan “for” but “with” Africa, and imagine a very positive future of collaboration with Africa as a rich continent with vast agricultural and land resources. The goal of this plan is a new partnership for development, peace and a better future and a relationship between Europe and Africa “at eye level”. The plan refers to the growth-oriented development strategy of the African Union. This is very obviously a plan to establish the whole continent as a free trade area without barriers for European investments. Do you see any opportunities for a radical transformation of this kind of neoliberal idea of modernization? With reference to the debate on decolonial development studies (Escobar 2015; Ziai 2012), do you think we need an alternative idea of development or do we need development as a strategy at all?

Franklin: Going back to the taxonomy I use in the book, the Conventional Wisdom, the Western Left Consensus, the radical alternative, I think even though I have not read nor referenced this plan, from how you describe it, it seems to me, it falls directly within the Conventional Wisdom.

Sybille: Of course.

Franklin: In this Conventional Wisdom, Africa is also conceptualized as open pasture. And in order to transform Africa or to develop Africa we go back to Hardin’s framework (Hardin 1968). From this conventional standpoint, it is necessary to have transnational corporations or state corporations, acting as transnational corporations, to parcel out Africa, an open pasture. In the Hardin frame, analysts typically consider the city, or the nation. But in my book (Obeng-Odoom 2021b), I think about the “tragedy of the commons” in global terms, too. Therein lies the contradictions in the German plan you are talking about. From what you say, the logic seems to be that the future is this frontier, this new land with opportunities and it is the business and the responsibility of maybe more enlightened Europeans, European interests to get into a kind of partnership. And here, we need to remember our earlier conversation about Ostrom and Hardin, but also remember the notion of “good” governance. In practice, when systematically studied (Obeng-Odoom 2013), this view really means neoliberalism or libertarianism on the right and anything in-between. Previous attempts at colonizing the commons have been similarly framed. “Protectorates”, “collaborators”, and “co-producers” are some of the jarring jargon that are used as a veil for these processes. It’s just surprising, how this keeps coming back. For me as an author that shows me that the taxonomy I develop in The Commons in an Age of Uncertainty (Obeng-Odoom 2021b) is quite useful, quite a helpful framework. This plan – “Cornerstones of a Marshall Plan with Africa” (BMZ 2017) – which you describe is not even within the Western Left Consensus, which seeks to challenge these forms of organizations and these processes and initiatives to transform Africa.

In short, as with the Conventional Wisdom that I discuss in the book, I don’t see any prospects for serious transformation. This way of thinking could, indeed, worsen in my opinion the socio-ecological crises, which in The Commons in an Age of Uncertainty, are centered on global inequalities and global stratification. So, to the extent that this kind of free trade regime increases or reproduces these forms of inequalities, we are back to where we began, perhaps even in a worse situation.

That does not mean that the alternative African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is in any sense a panacea. As I recently argued (Obeng-Odoom 2020c), although clearly an improvement over classical, neoclassical, and Marxist models of trade in the sense that it advocates Pan Africanism as an antidote to the problems of slavery, colonialism, and neocolonialism, it is still quite limited. AfCFTA does not stretch to the Black world outside Africa. AfCFTA does not have any serious mechanisms for demanding, producing, and institutionalizing redistribution, and AfCFTA actually encourages the private appropriation of socially created rents. Only when trade commonizes nature, economy, and society, by commoning rents, liberating labor, and demanding reparations, can we truly decolonize global trade.

Teaching Decoloniality

Sybille: Thank you for this clarification. In the beginning of our conversation you said that you would like to refer to the topic of teaching, so maybe you want to add something to this point?

Franklin: Indeed. The aim of my three-part analysis on social stratification in Africa, on socio-ecological crises, and on global migration was to demonstrate the power and alternatives offered by the Black Radical Tradition (Robinson 1983). I would also like to reflect on the underlying pedagogical questions, how I have approached and addressed them, in the future. So, you know, as a teacher I have to think through these three positions in my own pedagogy. Doing so could be helpful in further elaborating the limits of both the Conventional Wisdom and the Western Left Consensus, and further strengthen radical alternatives of just sustainabilities developed by the Black intellectual Julian Agyeman (2008, 2013). Clearly, the Western Left Consensus position of degrowth does not systematically take into account all these other layers that I have raised. The tension, or the intersection maybe, between gender, race, and class. A just transition is needed, no doubts, but as colleagues from South Africa have shown (Marais et al. 2021), just transition, for Africa and for the Global South generally, it’s not just about compensating workers or greening work. In any case, you see, that the “worker” in “just transition” discourses is the exception in many cities and regions in the world. Many people are not workers, classically defined via wage relations. Informal laboring is not I think fully appreciated, neither is color, race, caste, nor gender, sexual orientation, abilities or disabilities (or other identities and their “intersections”) are appreciated fully, not in research, and certainly not in teaching. There has been some progress, or at least awareness since Black scholars raised these matters (Carbado et al. 2013; Crenshaw 1989), but the realization of the vision is far from complete. On the one hand, these matters are not taught nor learned (Conventional Wisdom). On the other hand, they’re being presented as proselytizing, not teaching, or presented as teaching but only as marginal (because “capital” or “capitalism” or “resistance” or “revolution” is more important) and, even then, as the say so of some Western texts, Western writers, or male Western writers only ( = Western Left Consensus). In my view (Obeng-Odoom 2020d), critical teaching is not about preaching, nor is active learning about accepting sermons, whether of the Conventional Wisdom or of the Western Left Consensus. As a teacher, even when justice, whether social or spatial, economic or ecological, is central to my pedagogy, I actively encourage critical thinking and questioning of every position raised and discussed in the classroom. We must go beyond pedagogical monism and beyond pedagogical pluralism as well. To decolonize the classroom and the university, we need to take global pedagogical citizenship more seriously. We need a just transition, but that change cannot be just that: we need a just change, both in research and in teaching.

Sybille: Franklin, thank you so much for your thoughts to the debate on, how we call it, “Geographies of Coloniality”.


[1] For a discussion of rent and Georgist political economy, see Obeng-Odoom (2015, 2021c), Haila (2016) and Harrison (2021).


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