Redefining the boundaries of control: Post-Colonial tenure policies and dynamics of social and tenure change in Western Niger
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Recent efforts by Sahelian states to define and recognize "traditional" ownership rights and encourage local participation in resource management are often deluded, because these policies tend to be based on an inadequate understanding of local institutions in the 1990s. Governments in the Sahel have promoted land tenure reform ever since independence in the 1960s to rationalize formal and customary systems, to promote equity, to encourage land markets, to appease international creditors, and to consolidate power. Niger's most recent land reform effort involves writing a new Rural Code, which recognizes and empowers customary land tenure practices and institutions. Moreover, the Code's objective is to establish a national-level legal and institutional framework for (1) increasing local participation in resource management, (2) recognizing customary ownership rights, and (3) incorporating local tenure and land management systems. However, Niger and many African states contemplating resource management reforms seem unaware or willing to ignore the structural impact on "traditional" institutions and practices of 30 years of post-colonial policy reforms. Survey research in households in three villages within the Kollo district, interviews conducted among canton chiefs, judges, and government magistrates in Kollo, and an exhaustive review of the proceedings of land dispute cases brought before official courts in Kollo from independence until 1994 show: (a) the concept of customary land tenure institutions and norms is very ambiguous because customs have evolved during the colonial and post-colonial periods, absorbing elements of formal law; (b) the most consistent behavior of persons seeking land access--whether farmer, herder, owner, use-right holder, landless person, or other--has been to petition successively, often repeatedly, the various courts, authorities, and institutions available for adjudication, in rarely-ending cycles of appeal; (c) each successive policy shift has created new institutions, arguments, and avenues of appeal for actual and potential litigants; and (d) land claims are pressed especially strongly during periods of policy flux, as astute claimants jockey for advantage under anticipated reforms. Thus, land tenure reforms serve to shift in sometimes predictable and sometimes unpredictable ways the boundaries of social and tenure control exercised by persons and groups seeking to maintain or obtain access to land. (CAB Abstracts)
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