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From the Ground Up:
Land rights, conflict and peace in Sub-Saharan Africa

Chris Huggins & Jenny Clover

Joint project of the Institute for Security Studies & the African Centre for Technology Studies

June 2005

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Conflicts in Africa

From the Ground Up: Land Rights, Conflict and Peace in Sub-Saharan Africa For many people the word ‘Africa’ has become synonymous with conflict and the various stages of conflict. There are continuing civil conflicts; countries in danger of descent into conflict; countries facing renewed conflict; countries economically, socially or militarily affected by neighbouring conflicts; countries directly involved in neighbouring conflicts; and countries in transition from war to peace.

Over the past three decades, more than seventy wars have been fought in Africa. The total magnitude of armed conflict increased in the period from the 1950s to the 1980s, then declined sharply after the Cold War ended in 1991, and during the 1990s fluctuated between escalation and de-escalation. There are now a growing number of new conflicts in Africa that are increasingly violent and protracted. At the beginning of the new century, armed conflicts afflicted 16 of Africa’s 54 countries, and the average duration of conflicts being fought was 22 years, while their median duration was 17 years.1 This new generation of violence is particularly threatening, not only for the countries involved, but also more broadly for regional and international security. More importantly, peace is often fragile, making it difficult to apply the term ‘post-conflict’ to many countries – in most cases there is a precarious balance between renewed conflict and sustained peace. Increasingly countries are caught in a ‘conflict trap’: emerging from conflict but maintaining only a fragile, ‘negative’ peace; caught in an underdevelopment-conflict cycle. In fact, of the countries that are in their first decade of post-conflict peace, an estimated half will fall back into conflict within the decade.

Whereas internal conflict has been previously seen as a ‘political’ issue to be addressed by the government concerned, the importance of multistakeholder responses is increasingly being acknowledged. The African Union, for example, is trying to tackle the thorny issue of national sovereignty and ensure that internal conflicts are addressed through regional strategies where necessary. Different kinds of actors have become involved in working on conflict issues. Even institutions which have traditionally focused on one aspect only – for example, humanitarian aid – are finding it necessary to adopt a more comprehensive approach to conflict analysis and conflict prevention. Donor organisations increasingly place conflict-prevention or conflict-resolution at the heart of their strategies; non-governmental organisations working in conflict-affected areas are attempting to make connections between ‘humanitarian’ responses, which are often based on delivery of relief supplies, and ‘development’ activities which seek to be more sustainable; the United Nations response to conflict is now tailored not only to addressing violence through diplomacy and peacekeeping operations, but to operationalising structural prevention strategies, which, in the words of the Secretary General, Kofi Annan, “address the political, social, cultural, economic, environmental and other structural causes that often underlie the immediate symptoms of armed conflicts.”2

The most striking common factor among war-prone countries is their poverty – the poorest one-sixth of humanity endures four-fifths of the world’s civil wars. The strong correlation between conflict and poverty includes deep inequality, unequal growth and the unequal distribution of resources. Inequality between groups is one of the foremost causes of violent conflict. Structurally, these may be related directly back to the allocation and distribution of resources, including the scarcity of land and the compromising of land tenure rights. Access to or distribution of properly managed, protected and controlled natural resources can augment livelihood strategies. While it is empirically difficult to demonstrate that either poverty or environmental factors, in and by themselves, are strong determinants of conflict, the ‘loss of livelihoods’ constitutes a missing link in explanations of current conflict patterns.

Table of contents

  • Preface

  • List of Contributors

  • Introduction
    - Chris Huggins and Jenny Clover
Part One
Land Reform: Paradigms, processes, meanings and contexts
  • Paradigms, processes and practicalities of land reform in post-conflict Sub-Saharan Africa
    - Chris Huggins and Benson Ochieng

  • ‘Customary land tenure’ in Sub-Saharan Africa today: Meanings and contexts
    - Johan Pottier

  • Human-centred environmental security: The link between environmental care and the creation of a more secure society
    - Jenny Clover
Part Two
Land reform in Sub-Saharan Africa: Case-Studies
  • Land, migration and conflict in eastern DRC
    - Koen Vlassenroot & Chris Huggins

  • Land access and the return and resettlement of IDPs and refugees in Burundi
    - Prisca Mbura Kamungi, Johnstone Summit Oketch and Chris Huggins

  • Land reform, land scarcity and post-conflict reconstruction: A case study of Rwanda
    - Herman Musahara and Chris Huggins

  • Land reform in Angola: Establishing the ground rules
    - Jenny Clover
  • Land tenure, land reform and conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa: Towards a research agenda
    - Chris Huggins and Johan Pottier

  1. T R Gurr and M G Marshall with D Khosla, cited in J Gomes Porto, The role of conflict analysis in conflict resolution: Reflections on international mediation, the case of Angola, PhD in International Conflict Analysis, University of Kent, 2002, p 18.
  2. Secretary General of the United Nations. Interim report of the Secretary-General on the prevention of armed conflict. General Assembly of the United Nations, Washington, D.C., 2003

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