Land disputes behind most “ethnic” conflicts in Africa

CSM has a series of articles the past weekend on the perils of ignoring land disputes in Africa. Perhaps not at all surprising, given survival in largely agricultural and herding communities depend on pastoral and grazing grounds.

Most of the deadly conflicts in Africa over the last two decades erupted from unresolved land issues: Darfur, DRC, Ethiopia vs. Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Zimbabwe; and trouble brewing on the horizon: Burundi, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda, Zambia, are all related to land.

Even the Nigerian riots over the weekend, supposedly as a result of religious frictions between the Muslim and Christian groups, can really be traced back to grievances about lands claims.

So here’s what activists say about preventing an escalation of land-related conflicts.

Africa’s most famous disasters, many argue, could have been prevented with changes in national land laws or better local conflict resolution but for one problem: Prevention doesn’t sell.

What does sell – what gets airtime, aid dollars, and military or other attention – is the violent chaos the world fails to prevent. By the time land conflict gets an international audience, land is an afterthought; talk turns to tribe and ethnicity or local politics and corruption. News coverage and nonprofits focus on the worst symptoms – refugees, rapes, massacres. Distracted by suffering, they miss the structural problem that can, it turns out, be solved.

In Africa, as elsewhere, economic grievances are behind every political movement and ethnic dispute.

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