Land, Access and Power. Case studies from Kalehe, DRC

Date: 6 March 2017

Venue: UAntwerp - Stadscampus - IOB - Building S - Promotion Hall - Gebouw S , Lange Sint-Annastraat 7 - 2000 ANTWERPEN (route: UAntwerpen, Stadscampus)

Time: 5:00 PM - 7:00 PM

Organization / co-organization: IOB

PhD candidate: Klara Claessens

Principal investigator: Filip Reyntjens (IOB), Tom De Herdt (IOB), An Ansoms (UCL)

Short description: PhD defence Klara Claessens - IOB

The conceptual focus on access rather than rights enables analysing land relations and local practices in the political context in which they originate, characterized by instability, the absence of an overall regulatory state authority, and a history of unequal land division.

This conceptualisation of access is then used to examine land-access practices in different case studies. First, the lakeside region is characterised by the presence of agricultural plantations predominantly founded during the colonial period. Nowadays, foreign colonial settlers have left, export crops have been replaced by domestic food crops and local leaders play a pivotal role in the distribution of land, labour and profits on the plantations. By historically framing the plantations’ contemporary political dynamics, it is demonstrated that the appropriation of labour and productive assets by local elites entails more continuity than change.

Second, in the highland region, access to land often relates to ethnic cleavages and violent outburst of conflict.  Land is unequally divided and mostly occupied by large cattle farms in competition with subsistence farmers. Local actors’ success in accessing land depends on shifting circumstances and their ability to strategically align with the local military and customary authorities and with the state’s instruments to enforce land claims.  The analysis demonstrates how broader conflict dynamics affect local actors’ land access mechanism and vice versa, but in an indirect, negotiated way.

The analysis of these cases demonstrates how access negotiation is an iterative process with differentiated outcomes. Different mechanisms used by individual and collective actors to facilitate their access and the access process itself are mutually reinforcing and embedded in particular local realities.

Furthermore, the analysis reveals a large diversity of access patterns in a confined geographical area. This variation is explained by historically determined incidents of territorial division, contemporary local and regional dynamics and the role of individuals manoeuvring complex institutional landscapes. However, the way in which individual agendas are intertwined with contemporary and past dynamics is fragmented and hence outcomes of access negotiations are unpredictable. An in-depth understanding of existing practices is therefore essential to enhance the responsiveness of existing arrangements and to address the impact of unequal outcomes. 

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