Academic journal article Africa

Negotiated or Negated? the Rhetoric and Reality of Customary Tenure in an Ashanti Village in Ghana

Academic journal article Africa

Negotiated or Negated? the Rhetoric and Reality of Customary Tenure in an Ashanti Village in Ghana

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Customary land tenure is seen as a field in which social and political relationships are diverse, overlapping and competing. Property regimes are, therefore, often analysed in terms of processes of negotiation, with people's social and political identities as central elements. This article studies the negotiability of customary tenure in peri-urban Ghana where land is at the centre of intense and unequal competition and closely tied up with struggles over authority. It focuses on one village to provide a grassroots view of processes of contestation of customary rights to land. The analysis of how and to what extent local actors in this village deal with, negotiate and struggle for rights to land confirms that contestants for land never operate on a level playing field. Postulating the social inequalities of local communities, the article analyses whether it is useful to place all local land dealings under the terra 'negotiations', or whether such a characterization stretches the boundaries of the terra too far and risks undermining the significance of local stratification and ignoring the winners and losers in a contest with uncertain rules.

RESUME

Le foncier coutumier est un domaine dans lequel les rapports sociaux et politiques sont divers, partiellement communs et en concurrence. C'est pourquoi les regimes de la propriete sont souvent analyses en termes de processus de negociation ayant pour elements centraux les identites sociales et politiques des personnes. Cet article etudie la negociabilite du foncier coutumier dans les zones periurbaines du Ghana, dans lesquelles les terres sont au ceeur d'une concurrence intense et inegale etroitement liee aux luttes de pouvoir. Il porte son attention sur un village pour offrir une perspective locale des processus de contestation des droits coutumiers a la terre. L'analyse de la maniere et de la mesure dans laquelle les acteurs locaux de ce village traitent, negocient et luttent pour les droits a la terre confirme que les candidats a la terre ne sont jamais sur un pied d'egalite. En postulant les inegalites sociales des communautes locales, l'article analyse la question de savoir s'il est utile de mettre toutes les transacfions foncieres locales sous le terme de "negociations", ou si cette caracterisation pousse trop loin les limites de ce terme et risque de mettre en cause l'importance de la stratification locale et d'ignorer les gagnants et les perdants dans une competition aux regles incertaines.

THE NEGOTIABILITY OF CUSTOMARY TENURE

Issues of equity and security in the governance of land and natural resources are of growing concern to scholars and policy makers, and the suitability of customary and state tenure systems to provide rights of access to land for the poor has been debated for many years. (1) Whereas historically land tenure reforms in Africa have attempted to replace existing customary structures, a more pragmatic adaptive strategy of building on and reconfiguring customary law is now emerging (Bruce and Migot-Adholla 1994; Cotula et al. 2004: 5, 7; DfID 1999: 7; Platteau 1996: 76; Quan 2000: 38; World Bank 2003). Notions of customary tenure as a pre-colonial code of fixed rules have recently been abandoned, in recognition of the evolution and flexibility of customary systems (Juul and Lund 2002: 3; Shipton and Goheen 1992: 308-11; Toulmin et al. 2002; Woodhouse 2003: 1712). Customary land tenure is now seen as a field where social and political relationships are diverse, overlapping and competing. Property regimes are thus often analysed in terms of processes of negotiation, in which people's social and political identities are central elements, and are also becoming contested terrain (Berry 2002b; Juul and Lund 2002).

Peters (2002: 46-7) identifies three basic positions in the literature with regard to the negotiability of customary tenure. The first argues that the ambiguity and negotiability of customary tenure leads to a pervasive insecurity of rights of producers and to a lack of investment and inefficient uses. …

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