Defusing Land Disputes? The Politics of Land Certification and Dispute Resolution in Burundi

Tchatchoua-Djomo, Rosine; Leeuwen, Mathijs van; Haar, Gemma van der


There is a growing interest in localized land registration, in which user rights are acknowledged and recorded through a community-based procedure, as an alternative to centralized titling to promote secure tenure in sub-Saharan Africa. Localized land registration is expected to reduce land disputes, yet it remains unclear how it impacts disputes in practice. This is an urgent question for war-affected settings that experience sensitive land disputes. This article discusses findings from ethnographic fieldwork in Burundi on pilot projects for land certification. It identifies three ways in which certification feeds into land conflicts rather than preventing or resolving them. First, land certification represents a chance for local people to enter a new round of claim making, as those ignored or disenfranchised in earlier rounds see new opportunities. Second, it offers an avenue for institutional competition between different land-governing institutions. Third, certification provides politicians with openings to interfere in tenure relations and to expand their support base. The authors conclude that these problems are not simply a matter of inadequate policy design. Rather, there are crucial political dimensions to land conflicts and land tenure in Burundi, which means that land registration programmes run the risk of inflaming conflictive property relations in rural communities.