Dans : Progress in Development Studies, Volume 21, Issue 2, Pages: 144-160.

Année de publication: 2021

Auteurs : Klara Claessens, Aymar Nyenyezi Bisoka, An Ansoms

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/14649934211006553


In the Great Lakes region of Central Africa, land-use rights underwent profound changes following processes of colonization, commodification and conflict, leading to an increased individualization and privatization of tenure. Despite these evolutions, customary tenure continues to be described as a common-property system managed through a strong hierarchical and tribute-based land allocation mechanism. This central place of the commons in policy discourses either stems from a romantic, often Western, notion on communal land governance or from a neoliberal privatization discourse that frames communal land governance as chaotic and non-productive. In this article, we will use cases from Eastern DRC, Burundi and Rwanda to demonstrate how communal land governance has always existed in the region, but in modalities that do not correspond to the notions found in policy discourses. These cases demonstrate how the memory and the actual practice of communal land governance continues to play a role in contemporary land access negotiations. Through a process of institutional bricolage, the discourse of the, often imaginary, commons is used by different actors to legitimize the restructuring of land claims in their favour. Hence, the commons do not correspond to an idealized or normative situation, but they are rather a starting point to rethink land governance in a contextualized socio-historical perspective.