Academic journal article African Studies Review

Negotiating Property in Africa

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Negotiating Property in Africa

Article excerpt

Kristine Juul and Christian Luund, eds. Negotiating Property in Africa. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 2002. xiii + 255 pp. Bibliographies. Index. $27.95. Paper.

Land and water rights are at issue in these engaging essays from a 1999 seminar at Denmark's Roskilde University. Given the "multiple, overlapping, and interlocking" (ix) nature of such property rights in Africa, these essays focus upon what people actually do to stake such claims when the rules of the game are fluid, and where state agents and institutions are just some of the actors involved. The touchstone for all these essays is Sally Falk Moore and Sarah Berry's view "that the negotiability of rules and relationships is one of the fundamental characteristics of African societies" (5). The topics raised by the authors include those of inequality and class formation, the influence of the state, patron-client ties, ethnic stranger-host relations, invented histories, and strategic interpretations of law and custom.

Each of the eight essays following the editors' deft introduction shines a different light on these issues. The first four address those of negotiability and privilege. Asserting that land rights are a social relationship, Christian Luund offers a case study from Burkina Faso to show how different authorities "use disputes for their own, mainly local, political ends" (20). Pauline E. Peters, as if in response, cautions that negotiability tends to favor privilege, and that the attention being paid to it may obscure a broader trend toward Latin American-style class formation. Ben Cousins, describing the tangle of tenure reform issues in South Africa, argues that the state must promote and monitor whatever rights it awards; yet he implies that the interests of traditional leaders may well dominate those of an internally fractured state. Then Sarah Berry's paper on land allocations in the bedroom suburbs of Kumase, Ghana, shows how claims to property, family membership, history, and office are all negotiable; but also that the continuous chiefly contests over stool lands are as much about their subjects' security of tenure as they are about chiefly prestige and wealth. …

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