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Inequality and Social Conflict over Land in Africa

By: Pauline Peters

Reports of increasing competition and conflict over land and natural resources in Africa contradict a commonly held view among academics and international aid agencies that customary landholding systems give poor smallholders the best chance to assert and maintain their access to land. The author of this article published in the Journal of Agrarian Change emphasizes that the ambiguity and vagueness characteristic of many customary landholding systems contributes to the exclusion, marginalization, and dispossession of poor rural landholders. This can be most clearly seen in the case of weak states where, in the absence of capable and effective national and local administrative bodies, ruling elites and educated bureaucrats can exploit their privileged positions and manipulate social relations, customs and traditions to seize land. The author urges practitioners and researchers to identify how social inequalities and power imbalances operating in particular customary landholding systems contribute to the growing exclusion and impoverishment of small landholders.

Keywords: customary landholding systems, international aid agencies, domestic power imbalances, social conflict, resource competition, class formation.

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Uploaded on: Aug 14, 2015
Last Updated: Dec 04, 2015
Year Published: 2004
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