HomeLand and violent conflicts in Africa

HomeLand and violent conflicts in Africa

Land and violent conflicts in Africa

Foncier et conflits violents en Afrique

Tierras et conflictos violentos en África

Revue internationale des études du développement n°244 (2020-4)

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Published on Tuesday, November 05, 2019


The goal of this special issue is to establish a dialogue between two research fields in the social sciences, whose interactions are often overlooked as a consequence of disciplinary specialization. Some works refer to violence and civil wars, while other works investigate violent conflicts associated to land-related mechanisms. These two fields often ignore each other: on the one hand, the violence to access natural resources in the rural areas is regularly identified as one of the decisive elements of the origin, development, and duration of civil wars (guerrillas, insurrections, and endemic violence); on the other, civil wars spread around increasingly social tensions worldwide. Finally, the policies of ‟crisis-management or ‟post-conflict” make the property issues a key priority of their action.



  • Jean-Pierre Chauveau (jean-pierre.chauveau@ird.fr), socio-anthropologie, UMR GRED, IRD Montpellier
  • Jacobo Grajales (grajales-lopez@univ-lille.fr), science politique, CERAPS, Université de Lille
  • Eric Léonard (leonard@ird.fr), socio-économie, UMR GRED, IRD et Pôle Foncier Montpellier


Land and war: how to rethink such a dialectic relation?

The goal of this special issue is to establish a dialogue between two research fields in the social sciences, whose interactions are often overlooked as a consequence of disciplinary specialization. Some works refer to violence and civil wars, while other works investigate violent conflicts associated to land-related mechanisms. These two fields often ignore each other: on the one hand, the violence to access natural resources in the rural areas is regularly identified as one of the decisive elements of the origin, development, and duration of civil wars (guerrillas, insurrections, and endemic violence); on the other, civil wars spread around increasingly social tensions worldwide. Finally, the policies of ‟crisis-management or ‟post-conflict” make the property issues a key priority of their actions (Huggins and Clover (ed.), 2005; Baranyi and Weitzner, 2006; Peters, 2013; Bavinck, Pellegrini, Mostert (ed.), 2014; Van Leeuwen and Van Den Haar, 2016).

In spite of this, the interaction between these two research fields is not spontaneous. Such a dialogue must be simultaneously guided by : 1. An empirical approach, aiming at promoting within each field the awareness of the elements considered of high importance for the other, and 2. A conceptual approach aimed at profiting from the descriptive and analytic categories within each of these fields in order to go beyond a priori assumptions and normative perspectives on the relations between access to land, violence and war.

The specialists in conflicts too often approach these relations drawing on a causal and nomological interpretation, regardless of the stage of evolution of these conflicts and of their potential resolution (Newman, 2009; Kalyvas and Balcells, 2010; Strauss, 2012). The Malthusian approaches, which are guided by the postulate of relative scarcity of land, have followed those pointing out to abundance and to ‟the resource curse”. After that, the debate became oriented towards the so-called ‟ethnic wars” and, more recently, towards the hypothesis of ‟sons of the soil” wars, in which the ideology of autoctony would be the specific lever of civil war, particularly in Asia and Africa (Jackson, 2006; Dunn, 2009; Fearon and Laitin, 2011; Geschiere, 2011; Côté and Mitchell, 2015). Now, a comprehensive understanding of the role played by the question of property within the trajectories of conflicts and pacification needs a precise and rigourous analysis of real estate able to cross through the plurality of norms and institutions and through the diversity of factors (about politics, identity, territory, production) involved in land-related issues.

In retrospective, the specialists in property do not account empirically for the diverse systems of meaning and of collective relations of affiliation, power, or authority within which land and social relations are articulated (Sikor and Lund, 2009; Chauveau and Richards, 2008; Cramer and Richards, 2011 ; Lund and Boone, 2013). Yet the dynamics of property relations within countries of the South are embedded into configurations of ‟rural governance” (Chauveau, 2017) characterized by a plurality of powers of formal and informal institutions, of normative and practical rules, which are exerted simultaneously over the multiple rights relative to land (Bierschenk and Olivier de Sardan (ed.), 2014; De Herdt and Olivier de Sardan (eds.), 2015), and over the agents in charge of Security. Both the notions of governance and of social or hybrid politics are frequently used to underline the variety and sedimentary character of this institution (Luckham and Kirk, 2013). However, the empirical studies, carried out mainly in the fields of socio-anthropology and political science, show that this apparent disorder finds its roots in the articulation between scales and different social mechanisms (Bierschenk, 2014; Olivier de Sardan, 2016). Similarly, violence may appear as a routine political action (Grajales and Le Cour Grandmaison (ed.), 2019) rather than as a result of the disaggregation of the State and the public action, which probably might help specialised property studies in the regulation of land and social oriented relations.

Overall, this normative, dichotomic and state-centered theoretical background, is used extensively not only in the specialised scientific literature, but also in the dominant practitioners’ approach at the international level on civil wars.

Moreover, this special issue would like to give a contribution to the debates on theory and method about the nexus between property conflicts and civil wars, knowing that the general term ‟civil war” needs to be constantly redefined, specified and embodied for each context. It purports to provide the tools to depart from the normative theories of the war, of post-conflict situations, of the State, politics, jurisdiction, government or land rights (Grajales, 2016a and 2019; Le Roy, 1999; Bavinck et al. (ed.), 2014; Van Leeuwen and Van Den Haar, 2016). For this reason, it is part of the perspective of change proposed by global qualitative research that singles out the processes, mobilizations and increasing crossover of civil wars in the formation of the State and of rural societies (Cramer, 2006; Richards, 2005; Wasinski, 2006; Gomes Porto, 2008; Berry, 2009; Cramer and Richards, 2011; Linhardt and Moreau de Bellaing, 2013; Boone, 2014).

To do so, we approach the situations of conflicts, lulls, periods of uncertainty on a continuum, and build on the works pointing to a situation of ‟no peace, nowar” (Richards, 2005) or of ‟inter-wars” (Debos, 2009). This implies to overcome the limits imposed by a simplistic division between open conflict and the post-conflict, to explore overlapping temporalities, the intersection of distinct forms of violence and the ability of institutions to control their most destabilizing effects. What we challenge empirically is also the policies of land tenure security used to prevent, calm down or avoid the resurgence of conflicts, and which are coherently solid and extremely circumscribed (Grajales, 2016a; Daudelin, 2003; Humphreys, 2005; Baranyi and Weitzner, 2006).

As such, this issue aims to understand and clarify, on empirical rather than normative bases, the process of interaction between different dimensions like production, the economy, identity, territory, politics, which are called into action in both land and social relations, as well as their transformation as a result of instability and violence (Humphreys, 2005). In these processes, the articulation between land mechanisms, globalised flux of sources and the mobility of individuals needs particular attention along with the relations between exogenous actors (the agro-industrial firms for instance), local political sources and historical conflicts, which take part in bottom-up processes of State formation (Grajales, 2016b).

Is the African context specific?

A whole body of literature argue that there are certain African peculiarities and establish a strong relation between land and war: in this view, Africa is a continent rich in land, a “new frontier” in a world where resources are increasingly scarce, thus triggering the greed of investors. Rural societies would be submitted to those recently created States, whose bases of local positioning are fragile and whose abilities to assure land properties and rights are weak. In the end, violence configurations would be largely determined by the divisions between ethnic or social groups in ontological opposition (natives and migrants, breeders and farmers, for example).

The idea of an African specificity does not only consist in a leitmotiv of various academic publications; it also nurtures the mindsets and practices of development institutions and conflict resolution experts. However, the majority of these ‟peculiarities” do not resist empirical enquiry. As everywhere, ethnic divisions are less a consequence of violence than a sub-product of the conflict mechanisms. The lack of clearly delimited land rights is not necessarily a reason for conflicts and it can support some arrangements about use and access rights. Also, the supposed land availability should be requalified depending on the rapid population growth of the continent, the scarcity of urban employment and the associated phenomena of ‟back-to-the-land” that could perhaps be observed. As a result, the use of ‟cultural areas” does not apply here to the existence of a real specificity of African configurations, but constitutes mainly an epistemological strategy aimed at challenging the homogeneity of the existing notions about Africa.

Moreover, limiting this issue to African lands leads us to position the analysis of land and war relations within a broader understanding of the history of societies, of the creation of States, and of the invention of capitalism. The illusion of ‟cultural areas” could be of some use only if these are apprehended as ‟connected” entities, constituting crucial points at the juncture of historical temporalities, economic or political transformations and scholarly discourses. Their use must therefore be fitted with a constructivist approach, aware of the production of categories of thought. In this respect, this issue will welcome with a particular interest proposals dealing with places in Africa (like North Africa), which are often left aside from the privileged ‟areas” in the analyses connecting lands with violent civil conflicts, as opposed to sub-Saharan Africa, where this connection is considered self-evident.

The special issue welcomes contributions dealing, amongst other things, with the following research lines:

  • The incidence of migrations in the relations of property as an ingredient of civil wars.
  • The forced displacement of populations and the reproduction of land conflicts.
  • The tools of environmental global governance: do they create new risks for the emergence of land-related conflicts?
  • The emergence of ‟post-conflict” situations characterised by a strong property concern.
  • The integration of land-related political agendas for the formalization of customary rights within conflict resolution schemes.

Framework / Participation in Issue no. 244 (2020-4) of the RIED

This issue will favor an interdisciplinary approach. Authors from all the social and human sciences may submit papers, including but not limited to: sociology, political science, economics, history, anthropology, psychology, and philosophy. 

Authors should explore the theme of this Issue through local, national, international, and transnational analyses. The contextualization of empirical studies and original corpuses, and the combination of a sound theoretical approach and fieldwork are expected.

The selection process will take place according to the dates specified in the publication calendar below.

1- Proposal Submission

The proposals in French, English, or Spanish must present the paper in approximately 4,000 characters (with spaces), 500 words, or one page. 

The proposals (entitled “AUTHOR’S NAME-Proposition-242) must include: 

  • a title: 70 characters (with the possibility of adding a subtitle); 
  • an abstract detailing the research question, the theoretical framework, the fieldwork, and the main results; 
  • bibliographical references (not included in the character count);
  • a separate file entitled “AUTHOR’S NAME-Infos” providing the authors’ first names and last names, their status, and their institutional affiliation, as well as their email addresses.

The relevancy of the proposals with regard to this call for papers and their conformity to the journal guidelines will be verified by the journal editors and the editorial team.

2- Article Submission

The authors whose proposals have been selected will be invited to send a first draft of their article, which must follow the guidelines below. The articles will then be submitted to a double blind peer review by two external reviewers who are experts on the topic.

The articles (40,000 characters with spaces, excluding the abstract and references) may be written in French, English, or Spanish. They must be original work. They may however have been presented at a conference (with proceedings), as long as they have been adapted to the format required by the Revue internationale des études du développement (see the guidelines for authors on the blog for the publications of the IEDES). 

Publication Calendar

Article proposals must be submitted by November 15, 2019 to: 

  • The editorial office: revdev@univ-paris1.fr

The editors of this issue: 

  • Jean-Pierre Chauveau (jean-pierre.chauveau@ird.fr), socio-anthropologie, UMR GRED, IRD Montpellier
  • Jacobo Grajales (grajales-lopez@univ-lille.fr), science politique, CERAPS, Université de Lille
  • Eric Léonard (leonard@ird.fr), socio-économie, UMR GRED, IRD et Pôle Foncier Montpellier

The authors preselected by the editors and the editorial committee will be notified the week of November 18, 2019.

The first draft, following the journal’s guidelines for authors, must be submitted to the four aforementioned email addresses by January 24, 2020.

The evaluation process will take a few months; each – anonymous – article will be submitted to a double blind peer review by two external reviewers who are experts on the topic; no. 242 2020-2 is expected to be published in November 2020. 


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Bavinck M., Pellegrini L., Mostert E. (dir.), 2014, Conflicts over Natural Ressources in the Global South. Conceptual Approaches, Leiden, CRC Press/Balkema. DOI : 10.1201/b16498

Berry S., 2009, « Property, Authority and Citizenship: Land Claims, Politics and the Dynamics of Social Division in West Africa », Development and Change, vol. 40, n° 1, p. 23-45. DOI : 10.1111/j.1467-7660.2009.01504.x

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Colin J.-Ph., Le Meur P.-Y., Léonard E. (dir.), 2010, Les politiques d’enregistrement des droits fonciers. Du cadre légal aux pratiques locales, Paris, Karthala.

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Debos M., 2013, Le métier des armes au Tchad. Le gouvernement de l'entre-guerres, Paris, Karthala.

De Herdt T., Olivier de Sardan J.-P. (dir.), 2015, Real Governance and Practical Norms in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Game of the Rules, London, Routledge. DOI : 10.4324/9781315723365

Dunn K. C., 2009, « ‟Sons of the Soil” and Contemporary State Making: Autochthony, Uncertainty and Political Violence in Africa », Third World Quarterly, vol. 30, n° 1, p. 113-127.

Fearon J., Laitin D., 2011, « Sons of the Soil, Migrants, and Civil War », World Development, vol. 39, n° 2, p. 199–211.

Geschiere P., 2011, « ‟Sons of the Soil”: Autochthony and its ambiguities in Africa and Europe », dans Abbink J. G., De Bruijn M. (dir.), 2011, Land, Law and Politics in Africa: Mediating Conflict and Reshaping the State, Leiden, Brill. DOI : 10.1163/9789004218062_006

Gomes Porto J., 2008, « The mainstreaming of conflict analysis in Africa: contributions for theory », dans Francis D., Peace and conflict in Africa, p. 46-67, Londres, Zed Books.

Grajales J., Le Cour Grandmaison R. (dir.), 2019, L'État malgré tout. Produire l'autorité dans la violence, Paris, Karthala.

Grajales J., 2016, Gouverner dans la violence. Le paramilitarisme en Colombie, Paris, Karthala.

Grajales J., 2016, « La terre, entre guerre et paix. Politiques foncières et sortie de conflit en Colombie », Les Études du CERI, n° 223, Paris, SciencesPo.

Huggins C., Clover J. (dir.), 2005, From the Ground Up: Land Rights, Conflict and Peace in Sub-Saharan Africa, Pretoria, Institute of Security Studies.

Humphreys M., 2005, « Natural Resources, Conflict, and Conflict Résolution: Uncovering the Mechanisms », Journal of Conflict Resolution, vol. 49, n° 4, p. 508-537. DOI : 10.1177/0022002705277545

Jackson S., 2006, « Sons of Which Soil? The Language and Politics of Autochthony in Eastern D.R. Congo », African Studies Review, vol. 49, n° 2, p. 95-124.

Kalyvas S., Balcells L., 2010, « International System and Technologies of Rebellion: How the End of the Cold War Shaped Internal Conflict », American Political Science Review, vol. 104, n° 3, p. 415-429. DOI : 10.1017/S0003055410000286

Le Roy É., 1999, Le jeu des lois, une anthropologie « dynamique » du droit, Paris, Librairie générale de droit et de jurisprudence.

Linhardt D., Moreau de Bellaing C., 2013, « Ni guerre, ni paix. Dislocations de l'ordre politique et décantonnements de la guerre », Politix, vol. 4, n° 104, p. 7-23. DOI : 10.3917/pox.104.0007

Luckham R., Kirk T., 2013, « The Two Faces of Security in Hybrid Political Orders: A Framework for Analysis and Research », Stability: International Journal of Security & Development, vol. 2, n° 2, p. 1-30, DOI : 10.5334/sta.cf

Lund C., Boone C., 2013, « Introduction: Land Politics in Africa – Constituting Authority over Territory, Property and Persons », Africa, vol. 83, n° 1, p. 1-13. DOI : 10.1017/S000197201200068X

Lund C., 2006, « Twilight Institutions: Public Authority and Local Politics in Africa », Development and Change, vol. 37, n° 4, p. 685-705. DOI : 10.1111/j.1467-7660.2006.00497.x

Newman E., 2009, « Conflict Research and the ‟Decline” of Civil War », Civil Wars, vol. 11, n° 3, p. 255-278.

Olivier de Sardan J.-P., 2016, « For an Anthropology of Gaps, Discrepancies and Contradictions », Antropologia, vol. 3, n° 1 n.s., p. 111-131.

Peters P., 2013, « Land Appropriation, Surplus People and a Battle over Visions of Agrarian Futures in Africa », Journal of Peasant Studies, vol. 40, n° 3, p. 537-562. DOI : 10.1080/03066150.2013.803070

Sikor T., Lund C., 2009, « Access and property: A Question of Power and Authority », Development and Change, vol. 40, n° 1, p. 1-22. DOI : 10.1111/j.1467-7660.2009.01503.x

Strauss S., 2012, « Wars Do End! Changing Patterns of Political Violence in Sub-Saharan Africa », African Affairs, vol. 111, n° 443, p. 179-201. DOI : 10.1093/afraf/ads015

Van Leeuwen M., Van Den Haar G., 2016, « Theorising the Land-Violent Nexus », World Development, vol. 78, p. 94-104. DOI : 10.1016/j.worlddev.2015.10.011

Wasinski C., 2006, « Aperçu d’un atelier de recherches : les études sociales constructivistes, critiques et postmodernes de sécurité – deuxième partie », Les Cahiers du RMES, vol. 3, n° 1, p. 80-102.



  • Friday, November 15, 2019


  • appel à contributions, foncier, ruralité, conflits, afrique

Information source

  • Béatruce Trotier-Faurion
    courriel : revdev [at] univ-paris1 [dot] fr


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