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CHARCOAL POLITICS IN AFRICA: VALUE CHAINS, RESOURCE COMPLEXES, AND ENERGOPOLITICS

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Peer-reviewed

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Authors

Phillips, Jon 
Agyei, Frank Kwaku 

Abstract

Charcoal is a primary urban energy source throughout Africa; it is also blamed for massive environmental harm, in particular deforestation and forest degradation. Despite its centrality to urbanization, rural economies, and contemporary environmental transformations, however, charcoal’s politics have been relatively underexplored. This article develops three approaches to the study of charcoal politics in Africa by critically assessing the existing literature on charcoal and drawing on studies of the politics of other forms of energy. First, charcoal can be understood as a commodity within value chains, generative of profits and rents. Formal and informal institutions govern charcoal’s distribution, and the relative power of actors determines access, control, and proceeds. Second, charcoal is a material object manufactured from trees and distributed through socio-technical infrastructures. It is embedded within “resource complexes” involving political contestation around land, trees, labor, transport, and legitimacy, determining where, how, and by whom charcoal is produced and traded. Third, charcoal is a source of energy within specific energy regimes that underlie political-ecological systems, a form of “energopolitics.” Uganda provides a case study illustrating the energopolitics of charcoal as it shapes the state, state-society relations, and visions of development and modernization.

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Keywords

Journal Title

Progress in Environmental Geography

Conference Name

Journal ISSN

2753-9687

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Publisher

SAGE

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Sponsorship
British Academy (HDV190205)
British Academy