Pastoral Land Rights and Peace-Building in North Kordofan: Policy and Legislative Challenges

By Babiker, Mustafa | Nomadic Peoples, June 2009 | Go to article overview
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Pastoral Land Rights and Peace-Building in North Kordofan: Policy and Legislative Challenges

Babiker, Mustafa, Nomadic Peoples


This article focuses on the policy and legislative challenges posed by land claims made by different pastoral and agro-pastoral groups in North Kordofan. It takes as its point of departure the fact that many past and contemporary pastoral conflicts have their roots in struggles over land and that failure to implement the necessary legislative and administrative mechanisms to guard pastoral land rights can keep conflicts simmering, either openly or under the surface, with high social and economic costs. These issues are here considered in the context of the opportunities for both legal and administrative reform provided by the Naivasha Peace Agreement and the progress in its implementation thus far.

Keywords: Land tenure, pastoralism, peace-building, resource conflict, Sudan


In the 1986 volume of the journal Worm Development, British historian Antony Hopkins published an article entitled 'The World Bank in Africa: Historical Reflections on the African Present'. The article essentially questions the knowledge base that informed a 1981 World Bank report, better known as the Berg Report, entitled 'Accelerated Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Agenda for Action'. A telling and inspiring phrase in that article, 'A little knowledge promotes easy generalisations; too much paralyses the mind' (Hopkins 1986: 1473), is nowhere as valid as in the case of the literature on land tenure in Africa. Indeed, most of the literature on African land tenure is either based on very little knowledge and is hence flawed with too many empirically unfounded and history-distorting generalizations or is replete with contradictory accounts. This is evident in the symptomatic confusion of the de jure (the legal provisions in law) with the de facto (the practice in the real world) aspects of land tenure as well as a total lack of sensitivity to the historical and contextual specificity. However, critics of African land tenure literature maintain that discussions on land policies are often characterized by preconceived notions and ideological viewpoints rather than by careful analysis of the reality on the ground (Bates 1984, Booth 1985, Leach and Mearns 1996). These problems raise grave doubts about the potential role for social science research in providing a solid knowledge base for influencing land policy and legal reform in a manner that would ensure the well being of rural people and sustainable peace. As a result, research findings have remained largely academic and have not always been disseminated in a form that is comprehensible to policymakers and other key stakeholders.

One such flawed generalization is that colonial governments invariably aspired to abolish communal land tenure and to introduce instead the individual absolute ownership of the land, as occurred in England. In Sudan, for example, this statement was certainly correct insomuch as it relates to the relatively limited and permanently cultivated lands along the Nile and its tributaries, where colonial authorities immediately discovered that the institution of individual private ownership of land was already in place. However, it is debateable whether such a generalization may be applied to the vast areas of rainlands that colonial authorities aspired to maintain, if not impose, communal land tenure in one form or another. This was especially the case in areas where their potential as suppliers of cheap export crops or as seasonal labour reserves was highly valued. Thus, contrary to sweeping statements regarding the evolution of African land tenure, the striking contradiction is that it was the colonial authorities--the primary agents of capitalism--that advocated 'communal' land tenure, whereas members of the agrarian societies sought 'individual' private ownership of the land. This' U-turn' in colonial land policy was dictated by political and economic considerations. Thus, in a predominantly agrarian country such as Sudan, the colonial government was shrewd enough early on to recognize that security of tenure was the best guarantee for peace.

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Pastoral Land Rights and Peace-Building in North Kordofan: Policy and Legislative Challenges


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