The Conflict-Development Nexus: The Role of Land Distribution in Fostering Stability or Creating Conflict

January 26, 2004 // 2:00pm3:30pm
Event Co-sponsors: 
Environmental Change and Security Program

Bledsoe, Mbaya and Singh shared their perspectives on the role of land distribution issues as a trigger for conflict and how development assistance can help address conflict situations by resolving such issues.

Bledsoe cited the complexity of land distribution issues as the main reason for their intractability. He emphasized that land is not only the basis of 45 percent of the world's population's livelihood, but that people's attitudes towards their land are also guided by concerns of family and community continuity, as well as by other symbolical connections. Bledsoe presented inequality of land holdings, tenure failings and insecurity, competing land uses, displacement and return of populations and the symbolic power of land as common land-related contributing causes to conflict. In the presence of a number of catalyzing triggers, these conditions can lead to violent conflict. Among the means for mitigating land-based conflicts, the conflict resolution community has the following at its disposal: land redistribution, increasing tenure security, identifying and resolving competing claims, addressing conflict realities and providing legal assistance, such as legal literacy programs.

Mbaya focused on the connection between land, conflict, and poverty in Zimbabwe. Presenting observations from Zimbabwe's land redistribution program, she described how an initiative theoretically designed to restore political justice and empower disenfranchised, marginalized populations has actually resulted in increased vulnerability of the poor and immense social costs. Mbaya argued that development assistance can play a role in helping to prevent future conflict about land distribution by promoting tenure security and establishing mechanisms to resolve competing land claims that are a result of consecutive resettlement cycles.

Singh described contemporary the legacy of colonial rule with regard to land distribution in Fiji. In his view, policies established in the colonial era continue to affect land conflicts in Fiji today and contributed to the 2000 coup. The majority of land in Fiji is indigenous land and the Indian population, originally introduced to work in the sugar cane industry during colonial times, is thus largely barred from land ownership. Describing the effect of multilateral, bilateral and private foreign assistance on land issues in Fiji, Singh argued that contemporary land disputes are aggravated by foreign investors who have exploited the existing cultural differences and economic inequities between the indigenous and the immigrant communities.

Event Speakers List: 
  • Deputy Director and Staff Attorney, Rural Development Institute
  • Independent Researcher, Zimbabwe
  • Lecturer, University of the South Pacific, Fiji
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