P173 – Social Mobilisations, Land and entitlement in East Africa
10 July, 16:00-17:30

Droz Yvan / Institut de hautes études internationales et du développement, Genève
Médard Claire / IRD-URMIS, Paris & CPAS, Université de Makerere


In this panel, we discuss the legal, political and symbolic aspects of land titles in East Africa as well as other forms of entitlement or land “ownership”. By forms of land “ownership”, we refer both to the notion of property, associated with usus and abus, as well as to the array of locally recognised land rights in East Africa. We shall address the symbolic representations of land in order to grasp socio-political stakes. In addition, the anthropological dimensions of land titles and their importance in the understanding of an ethos and of local moralities will be explored.
Many social movements in East Africa, as elsewhere on the continent, focus on land. They are more or less formalized or violent and, in some instances, reflect collective strategies and informal networks. They are tied, for instance, to land-grabbing by politicians or businessmen promoting mafias and acting informally. They also reflect large-scale land acquisitions by multinationals and other organisations under varied pretenses. Finally, they are rooted in symbolism when land is equated to the realisation of utopia and neotraditionalism. Land is owned and cultivated and its political and symbolic uses, as the final resting place of ancestors, are crucial in defining a “new”  collective identities.

Mouvements sociaux, titres fonciers et “propriétés” de la terre en Afrique orientale
Ce panel interroge les aspects juridiques, politiques et symboliques que recouvrent les titres fonciers en Afrique orientale, ainsi que les « propriétés » de la terre. Nous entendons par ces dernières tant la notion de propriété, au sens d’usus et abus, que les différents faisceaux locaux de droits d’usage qui touchent le foncier en Afrique orientale. En outre, nous considérons également dans ce panel les représentations symboliques de la terre, tant il nous paraît impossible de comprendre les enjeux sociopolitiques des titres fonciers, sans prendre en compte ses aspects anthropologiques et la place qu’ils occupent dans les éthos ou les moralités locales.

Le foncier en Afrique orientale, comme ailleurs sur le continent, est au centre de nombreux mouvements sociaux – plus ou moins formalisés ou violents – et de stratégies collectives de réseaux informels. On peut penser ici à l’accaparement de terres par certains politiciens ou hommes d’affaires qui constituent parfois de véritables mafias informelles ; au land grabbing auquel se livrent des multinationales et des organisations sous des prétextes les plus divers ; à l’ancrage symbolique dans le foncier et aux réalisations utopiques de communautés néotraditionnelles qui voient dans la propriété de la terre, sa mise en culture ou son usage politique et symbolique comme lieu du dernier repos des ancêtres, des éléments essentiels pour fonder de « nouvelles » identités collectives.

Paper 1

Kisekka-Ntale Fredrick / Development Research and Social Policy Analysis Centre

Mobilizing for Political support through of Land Reforms: Making sense of the National Land Policy in Uganda

Land resources form a substantial proportion of Uganda’s foreign exchange earnings. This is rooted in the fact, that land provides the majority of the populace with avenues to earn income, as well as food for both consumption and the market. Therefore in order to secure livelihoods and productivity, there must be consistent institutions relating to land management and administration in order to guarantee the social advancement for the people who depend on it. It is a well known fact that land-related administrative and regulatory institutions and the respective stakeholders play a vital role in defining and supporting land markets in those countries where such markets are viable, healthy and active. Although these land-related administrative and regulatory institutions vary in organisation, structure, size, locale and scope of responsibility from country to country, they typically fill many of the same roles and provide similar services. Some of the functional roles that such institutions play include: regulation, administrative services land use planning, taxation, survey and mapping, credit and mortgage among others. The central proposition of this concept paper is that the existence of multiple and overlapping authorities dealing with land disputes in Uganda (for instance, Resident District Commissioners, government land officials, customary tribunals.

Paper 2

Maganga Faustin / University of Dar es Salaam

Between Legality, Legitimacy and Disempowerment: Formalization of Property Rights and the Expansion of Conservation Areas in Tanzania

One of the most dramatic developments in Tanzania in recent years is the campaign to formalize rural property rights. While there has been a multiplicity of actors involved with titling each with different funding sources, methods, interests, international connections, and locations one common focal point has been the assumed effect that formalizing property rights will have on securing villagers’ tenure from land-grabbing by outsiders, authorities, and elites. . However, formalization of property rights has gone hand in hand with the growing expansion of conservation areas. In 2007, the Ruaha National Park increased from 10,300 square kilometres to 20,226; 11 villages and 5 sub-villages were swallowed up by the park and its inhabitants resettled. By 2012, at least 40 per cent of Tanzania’s total land area was under conservation in one form or another. Between 2009 and 2014 an interdisciplinary team of researchers undertook more than 1500 household surveys covering 30 villages in six districts in the regions of Manyara, Mbeya and Dodoma along with dozens of semi-structured interviews with key players. The paper will present the findings of this research from villages around Tarangire and Ruaha National Parks.

Paper 3

Badoux Miriam / Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Basel (Switzerland)

‘‘He might have the title but we have the landland’’: Contested ownership claims over urban land in Eldoret, Kenya

This presentation explores the dynamics of land ownership disputes in Eldoret, a mid-sized city located in Western Kenya. It focuses on the case of Langas Estate, a former agricultural farm of the ‘White Highlands’ which developed into Eldoret’s largest informal settlement. The co-existence of the original title deed applying to the entire area on the one hand, and thousands of sale agreements for each of the subdivided plots on the other hand, has led to divergent ownership claims by the parties involved – including the first buyers, the current residents, and the government. The paper depicts how the dispute emerged and how it has evolved over the past fifty years, with a specific emphasis on the role played by title deeds. Spanning across Kenya’s postcolonial history, the case of Langas illustrates how the importance of title deeds has changed over time and how this new significance of legal documents has affected long lasting land disputes. My intention is to show how the various actors involved articulate and legitimise their claims over land ownership, as well as to shed light on strategies of collective action deployed to support these claims. On a more general level, the empirical data presented will invite the panelists and the public to critically reflect on the concepts of (in)formality, (il)legality and (il)legitimacy.

Paper 4

Chułek Magdalena / Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Adam Mickiewicz University

Kibera – Promised Land. The Nubians’ symbolic and economic activities in their fight for their homeland

Kibera, known as one of the largest African slums, is famous for its high land prices. Although officially Kibera belongs to the state, many groups inhabiting it lay claims to ownership of this land. Among them, Kenyan Nubians stand out. Their ancestors fought for the British colonial authorities, which, in return, granted them the land. The Nubians established here a settlement – Kibra. Nonetheless, until today, despite subsequent promises made by the Kenyan government, this land grant has no legal effect.
With the use of data collected during my field research conducted in Kibera between 2010 and 2014, I will analyse the actions of Nubians aiming at regaining their right to the land. These take the form of symbolic domination, which internally integrates this group and stabilizes its interests in the competition for influencing other Kibera groups.
For the Nubians, Kibera has not only economic value, connected with profits from renting premises, but also symbolic value – they view the land as a well-earned inheritance from their ancestors. Around the idea of rightful ownership of their land they build their unity as the “Nubian community”, manifesting their belonging to this place on a conceptual level, as well as on the level of numerous actions. What is more, their activities are connected with the broader context of life in Kibera, where many doings of the government can be observed. These are often at odds with the officially upheld democratic etiquette.

Paper 5

Waaranpera Ulrika / Lund University, Malmö University

Working, belonging, naming: Land and the construction of ethnic identity in Molo, Kenya

Land is never far away when political office is contended for – or fought over – in Kenya. Previous research offers rich illustrations of how the land-politics nexus is rooted in colonial constructions of ‘tribal homelands’, was at the center stage of post-independent state and party formation, and retains its central position in contemporary politics. This paper will discuss how such broader historical patterns of land politicization has affected group formations at the local level, contributing to the emerging body of local level-studies centered on how land and politics interplays with constructions of ethnic identities and affiliations. Building on fieldwork conducted in Molo, Kenya, I argue that it is struggles over resources that vests ethnic markers with political importance. This implies that not only is ethnicity of social construction, but that ‘ethnicity’ in and of itself, in the Kenyan context, is an empty concept which cannot be forwarded as an explanation to local conflicts over land and resources. This paper will describe how ethnic boundaries are maintained and reinvigorated by homeland narratives, claims to belonging and productivity arguments. Hence, mine is an argument in support of the suggestion that it is not ethnic difference that creates contestation over politics and resources, but that ethnic difference is created when land and political and administrative offices are up for grabs.

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