Land conflicts among villages in Côte d’Ivoire have very real political and economic repercussions. In most regions, the village committee, made up of individuals selected based on family and ethnic lineage, decides land ownership. In theory, as long as this local governance structure remains stable, land disputes can be solved peacefully.
However, in the western part of Côte d’Ivoire, traditional leadership follows no rules; anyone with the intellectual and financial means can claim the leadership title. This fluid process has diluted the decision-making strength of village councils as new leaders come and go through no discernible process. At the same time, multiple political crises during the past decade saw an emigration of natives to neighboring countries and an influx of non-natives to work the land.
In the last few years, a return to political normalcy has brought natives back to the region. Now, many groups claim entitlement to the land. This has burdened the already weak local governance structure, and village councils are feeling the strain.
The situation has become particularly acute in the villages of Dah and Béoué: land there is well-suited for vegetable and cocoa production, which is a boon to farmers, but the combination of political instability and lucrative farming opportunities have led to land ownership struggles between transitory migrant laborers and native populations.
“More than 80 percent of my time is spent solving land disputes in my district,” said a community member who belongs to the sub-prefecture of Bangolo, which oversees governance issues in Dah and Béoué.
Seeing the need for a formal and more efficient approach to dealing with land disputes, Chemonics and USAID developed a pilot activity in September 2014 through the Côte d’Ivoire Transition Initiative 2 to help the Dah and Béoué communities build on traditional land dispute mechanisms to deal peacefully with disputes. By bringing the two communities together, the initiative hoped restore public confidence and encourage constructive interaction on land conflicts. The alternative? A slippery slope into ethnic and political strife.
The workshop lasted three days and involved a series of group activities. There were also several inter-community dialogues, in which villagers from Dah and Béoué listened to stories of their shared history and rediscovered socio-historical factors that had led to the current tension between them. With this foundation, the participants came up with a “consensus document” to structure their approach to land conflict resolution, including how to draw borders between their villages.