Investing in Irony? Development, Improvement and Dispossession in Southern African Coal Spaces

Büscher, Bram


The natural resource political economy in Southern Africa is booming once more. Central in these dynamics are the practices, promises and consequences of 'investment'. Investment is ubiquitous in neoliberal discourse and has long been used as a synonym for 'development' and 'improvement', though it is also rooted in and often responsible for dynamics of dispossession. This article theorizes the ironic relations between these concepts and investigates them empirically by drawing on and connecting disparate investment spaces. Focusing on the Mozambican coal boom, the article connects the practices, promises and consequences of investment in resettled rural villages in Tete and an investors' conference in a 5-star hotel in Cape Town. It argues that 'everyday-type ironies' are an important way in which tensions and contradictions of capitalist investment are expressed and rendered manageable. 'Investing in irony', however, does not necessarily enhance the stability of the accumulation process. More importantly, the article concludes, it emphasizes its unpredictability.