P219 – Democracy, Land Reform and Rural Struggles in Sub-Saharan Africa
9 July, 16:00 – 17:30

Andrew Nancy / LAM Université de Bordeaux
Zamponi Mario / University of Bologna


Changes in access to rural land have led to an increase in social struggles among the rural population in African countries undergoing “democratic transitions”. These commonly involve livelihood or food vulnerability, access to natural resources, as well as resistance to loss of control over land and to becoming part of the swelling numbers of the rural poor. In a context of ineffective or difficult land reforms (including titling programs), the impact of broader dynamics driving these changes and heightened pressures on land and other resources is uneven, with regards to global processes of expanding privatisation acting on national politics and economies, “land grabbing” or foreign land deals. These may be intertwined and are likely to be shaped by local conflicts, unequal relations, and differing tenure/ownership systems. To what extent has land become a factor in mobilising the rural poor in Africa and in what forms? How do states’ promises of democratic rights to land and rural development play into the actions, political understanding and expectations of people? Who and what are the targets of collective mobilisations and to what degree are rural people questioning the root cause(s) of their situation? Given the relevance of land issues in most of the continent, the panel seeks to explore and debate these questions from a multi-disciplinary perspective, keeping in mind in particular the relation between land access, struggles and democratic experience.

Démocratie, réforme agraire et conflits ruraux en Afrique sub-saharienne

Des changements dans l’accès au foncier rural ont mené à une multiplication des conflits sociaux parmi les populations paysannes des pays ayant connu des  « transitions démocratiques ». Sur fond de vulnérabilité alimentaire et de faiblesse des moyens de subsistance, cela implique aussi la question de l’accès aux ressources naturelles, la résistance à la perte du contrôle des terres et à l’accroissement de la précarité. Dans un contexte de réformes agraires inefficaces ou difficiles (y compris sur le plan de la délivrance de titres), l’impact des dynamiques diverses et des pressions accrues sur les terres et autres ressources est inégal, qu’il s’agisse des processus mondiaux de privatisation influençant la politique et les économies nationales, l’accaparement des terres ou leur vente aux étrangers. Ces éléments peuvent être liés et sont façonnés en partie par les conflits locaux, des relations sociales inégales, des histoires et des systèmes fonciers distincts.
Dans quelle mesure et sous quelles formes la terre est-elle devenue un facteur de mobilisation des populations rurales pauvres? Quel rôle ont dans leurs actions les expectatives de développement rural et d’accès démocratiques à la terre promis par l’État? Que visent ces mobilisations collectives et en quoi leurs acteurs interrogent-ils les causes profondes de leur situation?
L’exposé cherche à explorer et débattre ces questions foncières pertinentes dans la plus grande partie du continent, dans une perspective pluridisciplinaire qui souligne le rapport entre accès à la terre, luttes et expérience démocratique.

Paper 1

Lanzano Cristiano / Nordic Afrika Institut

Women and “land securitization” in Burkina Faso

In Burkina Faso, the land act of 2009 is supposed to promote security of access and ownership of land, thus allegedly filling a loophole created by the land reform approved in 1984 by Sankara’s revolutionary junta (later amended several times), or rather by its limited implementation in the rural areas. The law is based on the idea of ‘sécurisation foncière’ (land securitization), which some authors (Colin et al.) view as a softer version of the classic approach of individualization/ formalization of rights: customary rights of use – both individual and collective – are mapped and local bodies for the resolution of controversies are created. The 2009 act has also been presented as a way to reconcile formal and customary law.
But what is the place for the so-called “marginalized categories” – particularly for women – in this framework? While a participatory approach is supposed to be more sympathetic to the claims of weaker actors, namely through their inclusion in decision-making bodies and through systems of quotas, the trend toward formalization can also jeopardize informal arrangements in which women negotiate spaces of autonomy. Through both case studies (on land allocation projects and local conflicts) and theoretical work, my paper seeks to discuss some paradoxes of the “land securitization” approach with respect to women’s access to land, and to situate the recent land reform in Burkina Faso in the context of the claims of activists and women’s organizations

Paper 2

Chitonge Horman / University of Cape Town

Who Owns the Land? The Double Vestment Twist to Customary Land in Zambia

Customary land in Zambia, as in many parts of rural Africa, has been controlled and administered by traditional leaders or authorities (usually the local chief and the headmen/women) for centuries. And in most instances, it is believed that the tradition authorities hold customary land in trust on behalf of the current and future members of their communities. Interviews conducted with some of the traditional leaders and local people in Zambia confirmed the view that customary land is vested in the traditional authorities who holds and administers the land on behalf of the local communities. However, in the last three years or so, this idea has been strongly challenged by state official who cite the constitutional provision that all land in Zambia (including customary land) is vested in the president of the republic (who holds the land in trust on behalf of the Zambian people), and therefore the president is the de jure land owner. This seeming double vestment, with regard to customary land, has in recent years given rise to a struggle over the control of land in customary areas between the agents of the state and the traditional authorities. In this paper I look at the nature of the contest over customary land, and also some of the reasons why this contest has become more pronounced in the last couple of years. In the paper I will draw from data collected during field work conducted in June and July 2014 in two rural districts in Zambia.

Paper 3

Cherif Sadia / Université Alassane Ouattara

Political ecology des violences post-électorales en Côte d’Ivoire à travers le cas des communautés cacaoyères de Soubré

Si l’accès démocratique au foncier a permis le développement de l’agriculture ivoirienne, il aura engendré une démographie galopante et une conception patrimoniale du foncier, conséquence de la raréfaction des terres arables. Déjà source de conflits avec la politisation de l’ivoirité, le foncier se retrouvera au centre des enjeux de la crise postélectorale de 2010-2011 en zone de production cacaoyère de Soubré où exacerbation des tensions et rupture des liens sociaux entre communautés de producteurs allogènes et autochtones se produisirent ; chacune d’elles soutenant l’un ou l’autre des candidats à l’élection présidentielle, Alassane Ouattara et Laurent Gbagbo. Le foncier apparait ainsi comme un analyseur de la répercussion locale du conflit de 2010-2011 et permet d’analyser les relations de pouvoir entre migrants et autochtones Cette communication montre, à partir d’une approche Political Ecology, la caractéristique environnementale du conflit post électoral à Soubré et démontre comment les migrants ont résisté à la perte du contrôle des terres menacées d’expropriation si le candidat Gbagbo était réélu. Rester dans les villages et la mobilisation collective leur ont valu une gestion de substitution des villages et du foncier notamment ; d’où le renforcement des droits fonciers. La restauration du capital social communautaire entreprise en vue d’une réconciliation des communautés devrait pouvoir aboutir à l’instauration d’une justice environnementale, gage d’une paix durable.

Paper 4

Ece Melis / Istanbul Bilgi University

“The Project has failed here”: Carbon Enclosures and Challenges of Democratic Forest Governance in Tanzania

This paper focuses on the cases of resistance to recent climate change mitigation related conservation interventions in Tanzania. Recent studies on carbon forestry show that the implementation of neoliberal conservation schemes such as REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) have a potential to increase or fuel the re-emergence of local land conflicts. The cases from Tanzania illustrate that land enclosures for carbon sequestration through REDD+ may lead to forced evictions, and serious conflicts between local communities and the project-implementing NGOs. Drawing on examples from REDD+ pilot projects implemented by a national NGO in Kilosa, this paper shows that although pilot projects promise local ‘participation’ in conservation, carbon benefits and land tenure security, the projects have encountered a widespread local resistance.
REDD+ interventions are perceived as undemocratic practices, bearing close similarities with commercial land grabs. The top-down delimitation of village land forests, reserved for carbon sequestration, ignited multiple boundary conflicts, and led to the individualized evictions of farmers and pastoralists from the forests once used as commons. The village inhabitants challenge the REDD+ interventions by resisting being part of pilot projects, and by confronting the NGOs and the village governments that undermine local democratic processes.

Paper 5

Martiniello Giuliano / Institute of Social Research, Makerere University

Contested land-based social relations in Uganda between reforms and enclosures

The early 2000s have been identified as years of “democratic transition” In Uganda. This period coincided with the first decade of land reforms which included privatization and titling. Yet the expectations generated by opening up the political space (towards a multi-party system) have not been matched by equal opportunities of access to economic resources for the majority of the population. Market-oriented land reforms and the simultaneous expansion of foreign-driven large-scale land deals resulted in heightened inequalities in land access and major changes in the dynamics of land use. However escalating conflicts over land unevenly impact on various regions and have differential implications for social groups and classes in the countryside. In this context scant attention has been paid by to the recrudescence of rural social struggles. Mounting social and political tensions are furthermore significant if situated in northern Uganda, a region dramatically affected by fifteen years of military confrontations and enforced encampment of rural populations. The paper explores the implications of capital and state enclosures on customary land-tenure systems and households’ social reproduction. It argues that mobilizations of agrarian subjects represent important “responses from below” which increasingly play an important role in challenging dispossession/displacement and shaping the trajectories of agrarian change and political dispensation.

← Back to list