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Taking stock of land policy in Africa

The end of the post-colonial conflicts in Africa and the rebuilding of both States and societies have considerably improved the lives of both individuals and communities.

However, in many cases, the state of peace achieved is very fragile, and conflicts often recur. One common denominator of the situation in these countries is the failure of post-conflict reconstruction to address the issue of land. Land is a primary, fundamental resource that is also highly symbolic for most Africans, and plays a unique role within so-called traditional societies and economies.

The nature of the political regimes in southern Africa is the key to understanding the decision-making processes concerning land issues in these countries. This understanding encompasses the construction of States, notably including the establishment of an electoral democracy, human rights and adhesion to a market economy. Furthermore, over and above the debate on the legitimacy of the post-colonial regimes, the current land crisis highlights the prevailing conflict between the independence of bureaucracy and the demands of heritage opponents on a national and internal level.

The complexity of these issues, which is often overlooked by politicians, was demonstrated at the conference on "The Changing Politics of Land in Africa: Domestic Policies, Crisis Management and Regional Norms", held on 28 and 29 November 2005 in Pretoria, South Africa. It is now necessary to combine a vast range of approaches and methods in order to tackle land issues in Africa. Moreover, while issues traditionally linked to land, such as the lack of land, the monopolization of land resources and ethnic conflicts are still primordial in the current situation, new issues have now arisen: ecological aspects, diverging economic interests, and consideration of minority rights, of the range of existing land ownership regimes and of urban conflicts, but also the advent of new norms, the North-South balance of power, and the rise of anti-imperialism and anti-liberalism.

Land monopolization strategies are sometimes roundly condemned in the field by some groups. However, the political, legal and even civil frameworks within which multilateral agencies operate do not take account of the complexity of these issues. This irrefutable fact casts doubt on the very significance of any conflict prevention or resolution strategy that fails to take account of the underlying causes of those conflicts, making them likely to recur.

Ward Anseeuw | alfa
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