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Powers of exclusion and counter-exclusion: The political ecology of ethno-territorial customary land boundary conflicts in Ghana

Kansanga, Moses Mosonsieyiri, Arku, Godwin, Luginaah, Isaac
Land use policy 2019 v.86 pp. 12-22
courts, ecology, empirical research, governance, information systems, interviews, land policy, land reform, land tenure, land values, leasing, politics, uncertainty, Ghana
Inter-community boundary conflicts are a key challenge to land governance in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), including Ghana. Although exclusions engendered by inter-community boundary conflicts usually affect large numbers of people, empirical research has mostly focused on largescale land grabbing. Drawing on three inter-community land boundary conflicts in the Upper West Region (UWR) using in-depth interviews, this paper examines the underlying drivers, the exclusion and counter-exclusion strategies deployed by disputing groups and makes policy recommendations for resolving the customary land boundary dilemma. We find that the undocumented nature of inter-community land boundaries and tenure histories; weakening of the traditional land tenure system; rising land value and widespread land leasing; and statutory interference are key underling drivers of ethno-territorial land boundary conflicts. These drivers have created incentives and maneuvering spaces for competing communities/clans to deploy varied interpretations of the ‘past’ and ‘space’ in particular combinations that serve their interests to control more land. Although the traditional land dispute resolution system is effective in resolving boundary conflicts, disputing groups are increasingly turning to the courts for redress. However, with the lack of written tenure history, the judicial process is marred by uncertainty, which in turn opens the courts to delays and corruption. While land reform has been widely proposed for resolving the customary land dilemma in most countries in SSA including Ghana, we argue that these reforms will be meaningless unless existing boundary disputes are effectively resolved. We recommend inter-community boundary reconciliation as an initial step. Through this program, a customary land boundary information system can be established to circumvent future tenure ambiguities.