Author : Jacobo Grajales
Type of publication : Research paper
Date de publication : June 2021
*Les Wathinotes sont des extraits de publications choisies par WATHI et conformes aux documents originaux. Les rapports utilisés pour l’élaboration des Wathinotes sont sélectionnés par WATHI compte tenu de leur pertinence par rapport au contexte du pays. Toutes les Wathinotes renvoient aux publications originales et intégrales qui ne sont pas hébergées par le site de WATHI, et sont destinées à promouvoir la lecture de ces documents, fruit du travail de recherche d’universitaires et d’experts.
Legal security, peace and development
In the aftermath of the Ivorian war, land was defined by international and domestic policy experts as a critical source of instability. However, while the government strived to portray the country as a stable, developing nation, land was also a vector of economic development. Most donors would support this claim, satisfied to participate in the transition from crisis to development and to redirect crisis aid elsewhere in the region.
Formalizing land for peace
Although land formalisation has a very long history in Côte d’Ivoire (Chauveau 2009), it underwent a reconfiguration when it was included in the country’s post-conflict stabilisation and development agenda (Boone 2018, 206). During the war, government officials and aid practitioners depicted formalisation as one of the key responses to the crisis: reliable, legitimate, participative and transparent land tenure systems were supposed to contribute to a sort of ‘bottom-up peace building’.
Property rights and economic development
Nevertheless, in the years following the end of the crisis, the Rural Land Act progressively ceased to be approached from a perspective of peace-building. When I first came to Abidjan in the summer of 2016, most of the officials I spoke to at the ministry of agriculture and in the development assistance circles saw land formalisation as a development issue. According to them, distributing clear, robust rights to land would effectively revive both domestic and foreign investment potential. Today, the success of this development approach is exemplified by the creation of the Rural Land Agency in December 2016, which will be in charge of implementing a nationwide formalisation policy within the legal framework established by a slightly amendment 1998 law.
The fact that Ivorian officials were concerned by the need to secure investment through formalisation reflected the ways in which the law has been applied to date. With the exception of those benefiting from massive land formalisation campaigns financed by foreign donors – most of which were still in their early stages at the time of my research – obtaining a property title is a long and expensive procedure.
Competition for land
Since the 1960s, South-Eastern Côte d’Ivoire, and South-Comoé in particular, has been a key zone for the development of export crops, chief among them palm oil, also because of public policies implemented through a state-owned company, Sodepalm. In 1997, the company was privatised and its assets in the South-East were purchased by a corporation named Palmci (Kouamé 2006).
The fact that Ivorian officials were concerned by the need to secure investment through formalisation reflected the ways in which the law has been applied to date
Being fairly stable, the region has been a preferred location for a variety of post-war development policies. The PARFACI programme for instance – an AFD funded effort to implement land certification schemes – chose the Aboisso department as one of its 15 locations for priority action. One of the motives for this choice was the exacerbation of land conflicts due to the presence of agribusiness investors (Direction du foncier rural 2014).
Identity, gender and exclusion
While categories such as ‘autochthonous’ and ‘migrant’ are necessary in order to untangle village politics, they do not do justice to these complex processes of exclusion. Migrants do not constitute a homogeneous group; they are divided by lines of class and gender. This final section elaborates on the interaction between identity and gender, analysing a case in which migrant women were dispossessed with the approval of both autochthonous and migrant men.
The occupants of the supposedly ‘idle land’ – which it was promised would make a fortune for the village – were therefore migrant women, a category of individuals with very weak claims to land
In the village of Diby, a different form of dispossession was taking place during the same period. In 2010, the village chief signed a lease with Dekel covering 3,000 hectares of supposedly ‘idle’ land. Negotiations were undertaken by a cooperative of civil servants from the ministry of agriculture. Diby villagers today claim that this official pedigree inspired confidence. They also allege that Dekel intermediaries lured them into consenting by claiming that Diby might be an appropriate location for the mill. These were false promises, as Ayenouan’s land had already been secured by then. Regardless, versions converge as to the enthusiasm elicited by the company’s arrival.
Once the contract was signed, the following step was clearing the land. Through the intermediation of village authorities, groups of young men were formed. Their pay would depend on the amount of land they managed to clean. This is when conflicts arose. Oil palm was supposed to be planted on drained shallows, called bas-fonds, which is difficult to farm. Because of the low financial and symbolic value of this land, bas-fonds were essentially farmed by foreigners. Moreover, in light of the fact that humidity makes them unsuitable for cocoa and rubber, they were essentially devoted to food crops – which were generally produced by women. The occupants of the supposedly ‘idle land’ – which it was promised would make a fortune for the village – were therefore migrant women, a category of individuals with very weak claims to land.