P024 – Land Governance in Conflict-affected Settings
8 July, 14:00-15:30

van Leeuwen Mathijs / Centre for International Conflict Analysis and Management, Radboud University Nijmegen ; African Studies Centre, Leiden University
van Dijk Han / Sociology of Development and Change Group, Wageningen University


In many conflict-affected African countries land conflicts are seen as an important challenge. During conflict, land tenure is reshuffled and land is misappropriated or becomes a stake in other (ethnic) tensions. Displacement and return give rise to competing claims to land. Conflict erodes the land governing institutions to deal with these conflicts. Hence, development organizations engage in a variety of programmes to enhance land governance: supporting decentralization; assisting legislative reform; enhancing customary dispute resolution; and enabling formalization of land ownership.
Such reforms are already contested in more stable settings: decentralization often fails to increase local participation and accountability, or stirs up local contestation over resources. Formal registration and titling is often seen to fuel inequality and exclusion. Land governance reforms are all the more sensitive after conflict, as they impact how the state is ordered and political authority works, and the nature of citizenship and state-society relations. Land governance reform often touches on precisely those issues that have contributed to violence in the first place.
This panel explores such (political) sensitivities of land governance reform in conflict-affected settings, as well as its potential contributions to enhancing tenure security and recovery of livelihoods, and what this implies for land-related interventions by development organizations and donors.

La gouvernance foncière dans les zones de conflit
Dans la plupart des pays africains touchés par des conflits violents, les tensions autour du foncier constituent souvent un aspect clé des dynamiques de violence. Pendant la guerre, les droits de propriétés sont remis en question, certaines terres étant détournées ou appropriées de force au détriment de certains propriétaires. Dans des autres cas, les enjeux fonciers sont aggravés quand ils sont instrumentalisés dans une perspective ethnique. Les déplacements de population et les mouvements de retour entraînent souvent des réclamations concurrentes sur de larges espaces. Les conflits affaiblissent les institutions de régulation susceptibles de gérer les problèmes fonciers et d’y trouver des solutions pacifiques. Par conséquent, des ONGs s’engagent dans différentes interventions pour améliorer la gouvernance foncière, soutenir la décentralisation, aider la réforme législative, améliorer la résolution des conflits à base coutumière ; et permettre la formalisation de la propriété foncière. En situation de paix, ces réformes sont déjà contestées, parce que la décentralisation ne parvient souvent pas à accroître la participation et les responsabilités au niveau local et attise les compétitions locales pour l’accès aux ressources. L’enregistrement formel des titres fonciers a souvent pour conséquence exclusion et inégalité. Les réformes foncières sont encore plus sensibles après un conflit, dans la mesure où elles sont liées à l’organisation de l’État, au fonctionnement des autorités politiques et à la nature des relations entre la population et l’État. Les réformes foncières touchent souvent précisément à ce qui a contribué à créer la violence en premier lieu.
Ce panel explore les enjeux (politiques) liés aux réformes foncières dans les zones de conflit, ainsi que les moyens d’améliorer les réformes foncières, la sécurité foncière et le rétablissement des moyens de subsistance. En outre, ce panel analyse ce que cela implique pour les ONGs et leurs bailleurs de fond dans le cadre des interventions liées au foncier.


Paper 1

Kohlhagen Dominik / Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Germany

Everyday Land Conflicts in Burundi: Searching for Meaning

In Burundi, recent reform projects related to land have mainly focused on the registration of non-contested land rights. Outside the very specific context of returning refugees, very little attention is currently given to the resolution of already existing conflicts. Yet land conflicts account for more than 70 % of court cases and frequently remain unresolved. Most land disputes today do not occur between different ethnic or social groups, but between neighbors and members of the same family. Many of these conflicts tend to degenerate into violence at some point. As the proposed paper will show, the difficulty to resolve every-day land conflicts peacefully actually reveals a deep socio-cultural crisis. On basis of legal court records and ethnographic fieldwork, the paper shows the complexity of land conflicts in Burundi and relates them to an almost generalized lack of socially accepted rules regulating land tenure. Tracing the changes to the ancient system of land administration under the Burundian monarchy, the paper highlights the progressive de-structuring of traditional checks and balances and questions the socials effect of recurring moments of political crisis, conflict and violence. It identifies the erosion of the ancient systems of meanings, values and beliefs as a key factor for the absence of socially-binding norms. Without explicitly addressing this general crisis, current reform projects are very unlikely to defuse the highly problematic situation.

Paper 2

Hennings Anne / University of Muenster

Post-war Land Governance in Sierra Leone: What Implications for Conflict Transformation and Peace?

In the aftermath of war land governance and reforms are crucial to rebuild peace. However, these configuration processes are highly contested. Likewise, war-induced displacement and the recent phenomenon of large-scale land commercialization remain major obstacles for successful land tenure reforms. Against this backdrop, the paper focusses on exclusion mechanisms, decentralization efforts and conflict risks of post-war land governance in Sierra Leone. Ranking among the top ten target countries, I raise the question how recent post-conflict land governance developments have facilitated large-scale land acquisitions for mining, agriculture or green purposes. Promising in terms of reconstruction and economic prosperity, this recent large-scale land commodification and related tenure changes may, however, pose unpredictable risks to livelihoods and long-term peace prospects – due to (anew) displacement and the unjust distribution of negative externalities and benefits. In this regard, I also consider post-war state-society relations and the impact of land-related development projects accelerated by various donors. Looking at different territorialization processes, I refer to post-structuralist assemblage thinking which allows an alternative perspective on vulnerable post-conflict societies with regard to tenure shifts and reconciliation. Drawing on findings from Sierra Leone, my paper places special emphasis on the impact of post-war land governance on peacebuilding efforts.

Paper 3

Leegwater Margot / African Studies Center, Leiden University

Land Reform and its Pitfalls in Southeastern Rwanda

Since it came into power after the 1994 genocide, the Rwandan government has attempted to change the agricultural sector drastically in order to make agriculture contribute to national development. Important elements of a 2005/2013 Land Law are official land registration, crop specialization and land consolidation. Although these reforms aim to increase tenure and food security and diminish land conflicts, the opposite is happening, as will be shown with data from fieldwork in south-east Rwanda.
Adding to land-related insecurity and tensions is the fact that many Hutu peasants feel mistreated because of a 1996 land-sharing agreement and a villagization policy that made them loose land to returned Tutsi refugees. After the 2010 land registration, these land arrangements have become permanent, land conflicts have aggravated and grudges concerning land sharing often underlie these conflicts. Because of the existing perception of many Rwandans that the government engenders inequality and perpetuates ethnic cleavages, ethnicity remains an important feature in social relations. Together with an increasing interference in land management by a dominant and centralized government it is questionable whether the government is perceived as legitimate by Hutu and Tutsi alike. The risk of renewed violence, of which land could be a cause, is again present and is aggravated by an increase in land scarcity, poverty, lack of off-farm possibilities, and mounting frustration, anger and fear.

Paper 4

Tra Goin Lou Tina Virginie / Université Alassane Ouattara

Resurgence of land conflict in post-crisis in Côte d’Ivoire

L’objectif de cet exposé est de comprendre l’effet de la crise militaro-politique (2002-2011) sur l’exacerbation actuelle des conflits fonciers dans le Nord-Ouest de la Côte d’Ivoire. En effet, malgré les efforts consentis par le gouvernement ivoirien en vue de réguler les conflits fonciers de façon durable, ceux-ci gagnent en intensité depuis la fin la crise militaro-politique, révélant ainsi la dimension stratégique de la propriété foncière. Dans la Sous-préfecture de Tienko en particulier, consécutivement à la période de crise, on assiste à une résurgence des conflits fonciers inter villages ivoiriens d’une part, due au dépassement des limites octroyées par le village hôte en collaboration avec les rebelles aux migrants venus du Mali. Et d’autre part, des conflits inter villages ivoiriens/Maliens sur la délimitation des zones concédées. On enregistre par ailleurs plusieurs revendications des terres cédées aux migrants maliens depuis le retour à la normalité. Egalement, on note un échec des instances traditionnelles locales (chefs de village, notables et chefs de famille) de gestion des conflits, ce qui révèle des logiques d’intérêts diverses et une faiblesse des instances coutumières de règlements de conflits.

Paper 5

Justin Peter / African Studies Centre, Leiden University

van Leeuwen Mathijs / African Studies Centre, Leiden University; Centre for International Conflict Analysis & Management, Radboud University Nijmegen

The Geo-Politics of Displacement-Related Land Disputes in Yei River County, South Sudan

This paper explores the politics of land reclamation after violent conflict in Yei River County in South Sudan, and shows how war-related displacement and return come to promote particular geopolitical projects around land governance. While displacement is commonly seen to result in reshuffles in landownership, which need be ‘reversed’ in post-conflict settings, this paper argues that in practice, displacement may come down to a drastic reorganization of the institutions governing land. This makes displacement highly political, and not easily reversible. To make this argument, the paper explores interactions between returning landowners and internally displaced persons in Yei River County. While the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement stipulates restitution of land occupied by others in the absence of the pre-war owners as well as compensation of those that have to leave, in practice, many people perceive injustices in the restitution process. Due to grievances of the past and fears that the displaced might settle permanently, the displaced are perceived as perpetrators of land grabbing. Those with good connections to the military are able to circumvent legislation and overpower land governing authorities, while those without such connections are at the losing end. The de facto result is a new institutional order surrounding land, which puts at sharp relationships between returnees and displaced from elsewhere and creates potential for (violent) conflict in the future.

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