Land disputes at the root of African wars
A selection of the African continent's fights over land that have turned into violent, conflict, or threaten to.
(Page 2 of 2)
Rwanda The 1994 genocide may have been catalyzed as much by land scarcity as by ethnic tension. Africa's most densely populated country found itself nearly without enough land to make farmers trust that they and their children could support themselves. Though the slaughter of minority Tutsis was also ethnically motivated, land fears played no small part in the violence.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Zimbabwe Land grievances helped fuel the 12-year war that led to independence in 1979. But recent violence stems from land reform efforts. In the name of economic fairness, President Robert Mugabe seized white farms and turned them over to blacks, primarily government officials who knew little about farming. As a result, agricultural production plummeted, food became scarce, and inflation spiked. Mugabe held power in a 2008 election only with violent intimidation of Zimbabweans.
Combustible land disputes that could erupt in conflict
Burundi The past decade brought the return of more than a half-million refugees who'd fled violence that began with independence in 1963. Many found their homes occupied – and because laws give ownership to anyone who has peacefully occupied land for at least 30 years, many refugees lost their homes and livelihoods. Experts fear the grievance could spark renewed conflict.
South Africa At the 1994 transition to democracy, the government planned to redistribute 30 percent of white-owned farms to blacks within 20 years. Transfers are behind schedule, and more than half have failed. After an outbreak of racial violence last year, observers fear the status quo – with expectations so high, progress so slow, and livelihoods at stake – is combustible.
Southern Sudan The 2005 peace agreement that ended a 20-year fight for the south didn't resolve tensions between the nation's two land systems. Private property reform implemented in the north was rejected in the south, which continues to use traditional rules. Danger of a potential clash between parallel systems is amplified by what's at stake: The south is oil-rich.
Uganda After 20 years of violence in the north, peace is bringing people home – and disputes are erupting over who owns property. Eighty percent of Ugandans have property claims based on the traditional land system, but a generation of conflict has weakened the traditional authority, of elders to resolve disputes or enforce land rules. As the government steps in to fill the power vacuum, experts fear a backlash.
Zambia White farmers forced off land in neighboring countries, found fertile soils here, and were initially welcomed by the government (five years ago). The tone changed as some immigrant farmers agitated locals by putting down roots on traditional lands. New arrivals, especially those fleeing Zimbabwe, are closely scrutinized. Observers fear deepening tensions.