Thanks to Laura Cunial of NRC in Liberia for cluing me in to an interesting recent article in the Christian Science Monitor on land disputes in Africa. Its a long piece, and frustratingly journalistic in that it refers briefly to virtually every possible issue (post-conflict, development, gender, legal pluralism, the new land-grabbing trend, etc.) and scenario (latent conflict in Uganda, inflamed grievances in Kenya, post-conflict issues in Liberia, historical restitution in South Africa, etc.) without going into a great deal of depth on any. On the other hand, the article does do a nice job right up front of framing the point that land issues may be endemic and complicated but that the opportunity cost of not addressing them is simply profligate:
Africa’s most famous disasters, many argue, could have been prevented with changes in national land laws or better local conflict resolution but for one problem: Prevention doesn’t sell.
What does sell – what gets airtime, aid dollars, and military or other attention – is the violent chaos the world fails to prevent. By the time land conflict gets an international audience, land is an afterthought; talk turns to tribe and ethnicity or local politics and corruption. News coverage and nonprofits focus on the worst symptoms – refugees, rapes, massacres. Distracted by suffering, they miss the structural problem that can, it turns out, be solved.
Fixing the land problem may lay the foundation for fixing so many others, from poverty to famine to ethnic conflict. If farmers feel their claims to plots are sound, if social groups feel land policies are impartial and just, and if women and men have equal rights to the soil, experts say Africa’s other ills will be easier to treat.
The article also includes quotes from a pretty impressive array of big names in the land and conflict field. The research was supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and I’d be interested to hear from any readers who are aware of whether this is just a blip or whether it might represent something in the way of a more sustained attempt to make these issues accessible.