Clandestine political economy and Arizona Market

As part of The Political Geographies of Postcolonialism, a third-year undergraduate paper here at Cambridge led by Prof. Sarah Radcliffe, we run a series of ’round tables’, taking a topic and thinking in through from a diverse range of intellectual/empirical perspectives. Tomorrow we (Prof Radcliffe, Dr. Michael Bravo, Dr. Alice Evans and myself) are holding a session exploring ‘post-colonial political economy’.

My first thought was to start from Deborah Cowan‘s recent majestic book The Deadly life of Logistics, a text that takes seriously the martial aspects of the protection of supply chains, exposing the military and political incursions that sustain current global trade systems. This is a beacon of critical and relational scholarship, taking an apparently mundane field of practice –logistics — and exploring how the fulfillment of the trade rests upon a history of managing risk, distributing violence and reinvigorating long-held colonial ties and relationships.

But rather than start with Cowen, this seems more like an endpoint, a planetary story that illuminates the violence of the colonial present. Rather than starting by thinking of the contemporary political economy as a permanent state of war, what of the political economies that are fostered within  particular wars? I am starting my comments from the specific, and in particular the clandestine political economy of war, to use Peter Andreas‘s phrase, that emerged during the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The connections between armed conflict and illicit economic practices are well known, and ethnographic work has explored how black markets were used by both ethno-national military elites and members of the ‘international community’ to sustain their presence in BiH.

But to understand the synergy between intervention and criminality needs examples, and in the case of BiH they don’t come starker than the case of Arizona Market.This is a 35-acre site is located on Arizona road (named by the US Military) around ten miles south of Brčko in the north of BiH. The site is located close to the frontlines that had been cleared of mines during the 1992-5 conflict by UNPROFOR to allow trading, with the Pentagon apparently supplying $40 000 of the start-up costs (Andreas, 2004: 46). By 2002, the Market had grown to over 2 500 stalls, sprawling next to the main road between Brčko and Tuzla (see image).  Commentators have viewed the market as janus-faced: it was a multi-ethnic goods and produce trading area with a regular cattle market representing “an engine of peace”  (Morfit and Feit: 2002), and at the same time, a zone of human trafficking, drugs smuggling and arms trading (see Sherwell, 2000).  The former sentiment is further evidence of the primacy given to mathematical multi-ethnicity in Brčko, as any activity, regardless of legality, is given a positive sheen by the existence of people from ‘different ethnicities’ carrying it out (see Jeffrey 2006; 2007). In some ways the market encapsulates aspects of the shadow sovereignty (to use Carolyn Nordstrom’s term) that emerged in the territory of BiH during and after the conflict.

Astonishingly — and reflecting the neoliberal approach to budget control espoused by (mainly US-led) intervening agencies in Brcko — from 1999 onwards Brcko authorities commenced preparations to privatise Arizona Market. Following an EU and UNICEF co-initiative in 2001 entitled ‘STOP’, the brothels and trafficking way-stations were shut down at Arizona Market, The District Government (advised by the US-sent District Management Team) formulated a concept paper detailing a strategy to legitimise trade at Arizona and register all of the stallholders directed towards encouraging private investment (Morfit and Feit, 2002). This seems a particularly audacious proposal, as Arizona Market could be seen as the most privatised space imaginable with little or no state intervention or regulation. The idea of attempting to encourage further private investment demonstrates the symbolic capital of legitimising certain investment. One of the key difficulties behind the proposed privatisation of Arizona Market was purchasing the land: despite its retail usage this was registered as agricultural land. This was resolved through a compulsory purchase order in 2002, bringing this site under the gaze of legal regulation and legislation for the first time in ten years.  Following a bidding process the site and market were sold to ItalProjekt, an Italian-Bosnian joint venture, which held plans to redevelop the market as a large shopping complex, with all the stores in uniform warehouses.

But how does this relate to questions of post-colonial political economies? For some, the presence of Arizona (and the priority given to its establishment during the conflict) point to the long historical significance of this corridor of trade through south east Europe, a significance that can be traced to the Ottoman Empire. In this sense, Arizona wasn’t built out of altruism towards the local populous, but to sustain the cheap transfer of goods and services on from this site into Western Europe. It is also a reflection of the centrality of clandestine political economy to the making of war. the establishment of Arizona wasn’t a welcome multi-ethnic diversion from the violence of the conflict, it was a key mechanism for funding the violence itself. That it wasn’t shut down earlier points to both the incapacity of the state and the potential complicity of intervening agencies in profiting from the trade.

To adopt Cowan’s analysis,it is not simply the militarism (de-mining) and violence (trafficking) in Arizona Market that should be considered, but rather the bodies and materials that populate these supply chains need to be traced both back to their origins (to expose the violence found along these networks and routes) and towards their final destinations. Arizona was a fleeting materialisation of clandestine political economy that existed within — and assisted in the reproduction of — post-Cold War interventionalism. I am looking forward to discussing the significance of this site to postcolonial political geographies tomorrow.

Alex Jeffrey, November 2015


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