Dividing Communities in South Sudan and Northern Uganda: Boundary disputes and land governance

Leonardi, Cherry and Santschi, Martina. (2016) Dividing Communities in South Sudan and Northern Uganda: Boundary disputes and land governance. Contested Borderlands. London, UK and Nairobi, Kenya.

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Many people in South Sudan and northern Uganda—like others around the world—see boundaries and borders as a potential source of clarity, security and conflict prevention. Political and economic ambitions, along with fears of discrimination or exclusion from land lead to the promotion of more rigid boundaries, both on the ground and between groups of people. The prevalence of such discourse reflects a picture first imagined by colonial officials, in which the peoples of this region live in discrete ethnic territories, organized into patrilineal descent groups and governed by their own decentralized administrations. In such a picture, it might indeed seem that demarcating clear boundaries and borders between various territories would resolve the tensions and conflicts that surround them. A different picture emerges, however, from a detailed exploration of the intricate histories and present realities of demography, ecology, liveli­hoods, social relations and land governance in South Sudan and northern Uganda. Historically, there is said to have been popular unease here with the moral and spiritual implications of trying to demarcate fixed boundaries in the soil. Moreover, transhumant pastoralism depends on negotiating access to land controlled by others, rendering the delimita­tion of clear and fixed borders impractical. Drawing boundaries between clans and tribal sections is also impossible because settlements are widely interspersed with other clans and sections. Although clans and sections are defined in a language of patrilineal kinship, they have always absorbed outsiders into their lineages and co-residential communities. Oral histories reveal the extent of migration and shifting identities. Practices of assimilation and intermarriage have worked to overcome boundaries rather than to create them. After all, being able to cross borders during recurrent wars and violent conflicts has been vital for survival. There is, however, a paradox. Greater peace in some parts of this region seems to have brought new conflict over land and boundariesThere is, however, a paradox. Greater peace in some parts of this region seems to have brought new conflict over land and boundaries in the past decade. Multiple factors are at work here, including urban­ization and uneven population densities driven by processes of return and patterns of service delivery and economic activity. Many people in South Sudan and northern Uganda are well aware of the wider context in Sudan and eastern Africa, where conflict over land and land grabbing are prevalent concerns. In their own countries, anticipated development and commercial exploitation drive perceptions of the changing value of land. The processes of government decentralization, begun in the 1990s, also play a key role in growing conflict over land. Local govern­ment officials and politicians may have an interest in promoting the idea of ethnic territorial units to garner popular support and increase their control of land and natural resources. Local land governance institu­tions—whether state-related, customary or the more common hybrid arrangements—derive revenue and power from both land transactions and disputes over land. It would be mistaken, however, to see increasing land disputes as simply the result of top-down control and manipulation. In an atmosphere of growing uncertainty and insecurity over land rights, there is also bottom-up demand for greater security and dispute resolution. Many people in South Sudan and northern Uganda are seeking to secure their own land rights through various mechanisms, whether through written documen­tation, the purchase of leasehold titles or by asserting customary rights to land through historical narratives and genealogical claims. Unsurpris­ingly, their efforts can easily become attempts at exclusion on the same basis, creating yet more disputes and conflicts over land and boundaries. Attempts to privatize land rights or assert more exclusionary defini­tions of customary land rights have been aided by national land reforms, which promote legal clarity and simultaneously impose simplified defini­tions of customary rights. External interventions in land governance have tended to support legal and policy processes, failing to adequately consider the implementation of statutory approaches on the ground. At the local level, it is evident that national laws and policies are being interpreted with varying degrees of accuracy, as well as being selectively adopted and adapted in combination with customary principles. These processes both rely on the cooperation of customary authorities and local governments and create competitions between them. This demonstrates a hybrid approach to land governance that is not amenable to being reduced to a legal or statutory form.
Faculties and Departments:04 Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > Departement Gesellschaftswissenschaften > Fachbereich Politikwissenschaft > Politikwissenschaft (Goetschel)
09 Associated Institutions > swisspeace foundation
UniBasel Contributors:Santschi, Martina
Item Type:Book
Book Subtype:Authored Book
Publisher:Rift Valley Institute
Number of Pages:159
Note:Publication type according to Uni Basel Research Database: Authored book
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Last Modified:22 Dec 2016 09:53
Deposited On:22 Dec 2016 09:53

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