Gentrification and the New Manifest Destiny
Manifest Destiny, a colonial concept born from the lust for expansion. The term is based on the belief that expansion and development were unstoppable phenomena and that it was the colonizer’s destiny to expand. Popularized in America, the term was used in justification for America’s push west into Native American territory. More recently in an age of newly industrializing economies and a decline of old world power, manifest destiny has come under new manifestations as areas that were once kept under its heel are now practicing it themselves in same efforts of enrichment that created the term long ago.
It becomes a delicate balancing act, to sacrifice the beauty of one’s nation and the sanctity of its people for the sake of keeping up with the rest of the world. It is, in a sense, a country selling its soul. In Tanzania the government is evicting 80,000 Maasai from their traditional homeland in order to turn it into private hunting ground for royalty from Dubai. This eviction came as a renege to a previous agreement the Maasai had with Tanzanian government who promised the land would remain with the Maasai. Due to their nomadic lifestyle the Maasai depend on their living stock and finding grazing areas by which to feed them. The land that is being taken away from them is crucial for their livestock, and holds a heritage that runs deep in Maasai and Tanzanian culture. The government plans to mend the broken agreement with a compensation of 1 billions shillings (roughly 11 million US dollars) which will not be administered directly and will instead be used for socioeconomic development projects. The Maasai have rejected this deal. There are some things that escape a price tag.
-Maasai in Tanzania
Similar instances are happening throughout the newly industrializing world. As DeBeers relocates its headquarters to Gaborone, Botswana, many San bushmen are pushed out to make room for an economic boom. In Brazil, the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) announced the auction for the São Luiz do Tapajós mega-dam for December 15th. This dam has adverse effects on the Munduruku people of the amazon who expressed their outrage for the government failing to consult them. The MME cancelled the auction the next day for the need to adjust to the indigenous component of Brazil’s Constitution (Article 231, paragraph 5) which prohibits the eviction of indigenous peoples from their lands. There was further denouncement from the country’s Federal Indigenous Agency, and while the project was slowed, there has been no authority to cease it. The government has also stated that there is provision for the forced removal of indigenous people in the dam’s Environmental Impact Assessment. So despite best efforts by federal institutions, the government continues its manic pursuit for energy production, by finding technicalities and creating provisions that serve its ultimate goal. This runs parallel to the old implementation of manifest destiny where the government would renege on treaties made with native populations once they conflicted with their development plans.
-Secretariat-General of the Presidency of Brazil, Gilberto Carvalho meets the Munduruku people
In the international community Brazil is known for its urban policy legislation, especially in regards to housing. However Brazil, like many other countries in the world is one where the government finds a way of dancing around its laws for the sake of greater development. This ability was put into full effect in the wake of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. In cities hosting the event, costs of living has increased and construction has boomed, but many of the poor faced a unilateral demand for eviction by the government. In a report by Al Jazeera, locals have said the government officials provide one public meeting where they give the number of days the families have to prepare for their eviction. The evicted are met with the the compensation of a low monetary payment, sometimes 20-40% of their home’s value.
-evictions of indigenous and other locals for the 2014 World cup in Brazil
In these movements for expansion and development is an underlying conform or die policy. Usually the compensation given to the displaced people is a place within the new society provided that they conform to the standards and practices of the status quo. This is what was offered to the San Bushmen of Botswana. Even when these people claim to be protected under the law, governments turn the law into a malleable resource to fit their purposes. Laws are usually created for the public interest, in fact, public interest in a sense dictates the law. In countries like Botswana or Brazil, social projects become inevitable undertakings where the government can manipulate the law to justify something that they deem is for the greater good. It is as if village populations lived outside the full protection of the law and their respective governments see them as speed bumps on the road to progress.The government sees the state solely as the contemporary structure that it is and the village life of its peripheral tribes are seen as echoes to a precolonial past that are outside the new contemporary state and must be recolonized.
While this version of manifest destiny is clear in the developing world, in persists even in countries like the United States. As mentioned earlier, the United States is no stranger to the idea of manifest destiny, in fact it coined the term. However the aforementioned manifest destiny was the clear and obvious removal of Native Americans from their ancestral homes to make way for American expansion and development projects. Now there is a new name for the term, gentrification. This is the new manifest destiny in the developed world as well as the developing world. The poor and disenfranchised of the world find themselves uprooted frequently by corporate interests for the sake of increased property values and making room for wealthier citizens. The benefits of gentrification are reduced crime, more investments in infrastructure, and more economic activity. These benefits undoubtedly contribute to the overall good of society, but before gentrification occurs, the area goes through a period of disinvestment. It is later met with the arrival of ambitious wealthy investors whose investments slowly start to change the reputation of the area. These new investors create new restaurants and other works, the land increases its value and soon after, rent increases and lower income families can no longer afford to live in the area and move away.
Gentrification ultimately does good for the community by increasing the areas value and reduces crime, but it does so with the result of a direct and indirect removal of the original occupants of the area. Similar to the Native Americans during the days of America’s expansion, this removal is done through force by government action and the force is augmented via capitalism. It is something that proponents to gentrification would argue is a natural affect of capitalism, or in other words inevitable. This is where the parallels between manifest destiny and gentrification become apparent. They both contain occurrences of phenomena that arise naturally from humanity’s need to expand and grow. Due to humanity’s nature, this phenomenon is truly inevitable. When the powerful see value in an area they will seek to take it over in some fashion. Although the attempt of takeover is inevitable, the new manifest destiny can be combated in a select number of ways: community empowerment, where locals maintain control of their own businesses and achieve a higher level of education; pushing for proper legislation that protects people from eviction; disruptive protest that severs the lucrative chain of events for the government and powerful seeking to take control, or international outcry.
The final option came to the aid of the Maasai facing eviction in Tanzania. Online campaigns and activism both abroad and domestic rallied people against the eviction. Among those protesting was the Avaaz activist group which fought a 2 year battle against the removal and presented a petition signed by 2.3 million people. They put the issue into the world’s spotlight and made the Maasai removal more trouble that what it was worth for the government. This sheds a light of hope for those facing the new manifest destiny as the so called inevitable effects of capitalism, development, and expansion can be combated and while it is inevitable for the powerful and wealthy to seek expansion so too is it inevitable for those encroached upon to fight back.