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Conflicts Over Land and Threats to Customary Tenure in Africa Today

CID Working Paper 247

Pauline Peters
September 2012

Abstract

Issues swirling around land across Africa have never been so central to key social and political-economic dynamics as they are at the present time. The first part of the paper briefly reviews the construction of customary tenure and the historical phases of administrative interventions into land tenure, and considers their heritage in contemporary situations. The second part reviews the increasing competition and conflict centered on land; the increase in various types of land transfers that are implicated in the pervasive social conflict focused on land; and the associated rise in social inequality and contestation over belonging and citizenship. The third and final part discusses ‘land grabs’, the most recent surge of international interest in African land, and external and internal threats to ‘customary’ rights in land. The overall conclusion is that while relations around land have long been central to political economy, culture and society across the continent, their greater salience in intensifying struggles among actors within and from outside Africa has significance for the disposition of authority, property and citizenship.