Transforming land governance and strengthening the state in south Sudan

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This article analyzes how transformations of land governance in the new Republic of South Sudan play into processes of everyday state formation. National land tenure reforms and decentralization policies have increased polarization between local public authorities in and around Yei Town, who vie for legitimacy amongst returning refugees, internally displaced people and migrants arriving in the wake of the civil war. Ambiguously worded national policies and shifts in the composition of the population provide a structure of opportunity that works largely to the advantage of chiefs and at the expense of other, more localized customary authorities. Our analysis shows how chiefly and state power are mutually reinforcing. Evolving notions of community land rights further legitimize the centrality of the state in land governance. Highlighting the institutional competition between state and customary authorities, as well as among customary authorities, our findings emphasize the centrality of the state – however limited its presence may be – in land governance, and nuance political economy analyses that overemphasize the role of ethnicity in land contestation in South Sudan.

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Mathijs van Leeuwen

Assistant Professor, CICAM at Radbout University, the Netherlands
Mathijs van Leeuwen is a rural development sociologist, who specialises in conflict and peacebuilding in developing countries. After his graduation at Wageningen University in 1999, he worked as a researcher at the Institute of International Relations Clingendael, and with various NGOs in Kenya, Sudan, Guatemala and Bolivia. His PhD research at Wageningen Disaster Studies concerned discourses and practices of civil society peacebuilding and their international support. This research was conducted in collaboration with the Dutch development organization Cordaid and its local partners in Burundi, DRC, Rwanda, and Guatemala.

Since January 2010 he works as an Assistant Professor at CICAM, teaching on ‘Conflicts and Governance in Africa’, ‘Civil Society and Peacebuilding’, and ‘Conflicting Theories’.

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