Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant: Land Tenure and Conflict Dynamics in Pastoral Areas of Southern Ethiopia

  • Little, Peter (PI)
  • Debsu, Dejene (CoI)

Grants and Contracts Details


Project Summary During the past century African pastoralism has experienced profound social changes resulting from misinformed colonial and post-independence state policies. In Ethiopia policies that advocate privatization of communal lands, resettlement, and sedentarization especially have threatened pastoral livelihoods and customary tenure systems. Local access rights and resource use among pastoralists and agropastoralists in southern Ethiopia are flexibly defined to accommodate prevalent ecological and economic risks, yet external interventions have altered these practices. By restricting the territories available to pastoralism and eliminating local authority and customary sanctions, the Ethiopian government has a created situation in southern Ethiopia where restricted mobility, increased conflicts, and loss of assets are norms. To understand how external processes shape current resource use among Ethiopian pastoralists, a focus on both historical and contemporary practices is important. The project draws on two bodies of recent theory to address the relationship between state-imposed policies and pastoral institutions and livelihoods in southern Ethiopia, specifically the Guji-Oromo region. Each of these theories-(I) political ecology and (2) disequilibrium ecology-evolved from earlier work on pastoral communities that have commonalities in their concerns with examining relationships between environmental, cultural, economic, and political factors. Using a political ecology framework, the study will investigate changes in the Guji's customary land tenure system as a result of externally imposed policies and how these changes impact incidences of conflict and their resolution/non-resolution. It will explore how the rules governing common property in the area have been modified over time but have failed to resolve recent conflicts over resources with their neighbors, particularly the Gedeo people. The field research will be undertaken in the Guji-Oromo area, Oromiya Regional State, Ethiopia, in two selected sites (Finchawa and Galole) in the Qarcha District. These sites represent very different livelihood systems, dissimilar policy programs, varying degrees of reliance on customary institutions, and differing frequency of disputes over resource use. They are selected to incorporate ecological, economic, institutional and political diversity, but remain similar enough to allow cross-site comparisons. Finchawa represents the field site with a predominantly pastoral livelihood, communal ownership of grazing lands and water, and a relatively high dependence on customary institutions of resource access and management. On the other hand, Galole embodies a mixed production system with a heavy reliance on agriculture, high prevalence of policy interventions (including villagization, sedentarization, and state control of forestlands), and a reduced role for customary institutions of resource management. A combination of different qualitative and quantitative methods will be employed to allow an in-depth understanding of policy impacts on livelihood strategies, land tenure systems, and conflicts in the two sites. The methods used in this study will include participant observation, household surveys, in-depth interviews with key informants, case studies of conflict, and archival research. The intellectual merit of this project includes contributions to understandings of how communities respond to state-centered (socialist) mandates, the emergence of identity politics, and the effects of different policies on customary land tenure systems. Post-socialist changes, including the introduction of private markets and reduced government controls, have been the focus of considerable recent anthropological work in eastern Europe and the former USSR during the past decade, but have rarely been explored in the Horn of Africa, including Ethiopia. Not only will this project fill an important gap in understandings of socialist and post-socialist transformations, but will contribute to knowledge of how marginalized communities involved in resource-based conflicts frame and derive meaning from their struggles. By exploring empirically-based linkages between land access, policy interventions, and conflicts, the project also will have theoretical significance for the relatively new school of political ecology and the sub-disciplines of ecological and development anthropology. This project will have several broader impacts because of growing concerns among international bodies (including the US government) and policy makers with chronic poverty in Africa and its relationship to incidences of conflicts. The research outputs will have strong applications for understanding the causes of conflict in impoverished communities and how they might be prevented through improved development policies and programs.
Effective start/end date1/1/0612/31/06


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