Land issues and poverty reduction

Requirements for lasting peace in Sudan and Afghanistan

During the last decade, an increasing share of foreign aid has been provided to countries coming out of civil war or experiencing severe conflict. Most of these countries—like the Republic of Congo, Sudan, Somalia, Sierra Leone, and Liberia—suffer from a combination of conflict, a state in crisis, underdevelopment, and poverty. Under most circumstances, poverty is greatly exacerbated by conflict, but it is also one of a number of factors that may contribute to violent conflict. Addressing what Frances Stewart has called “horizontal inequalities” is, therefore, likely to play a role in preventing the shift from grievance to violence, as well as in building and sustaining peace in postwar situations. In several countries that have suffered from protracted conflict, however, an approach focused on poverty has been slow to emerge. To a large extent, peace-building missions have become statebuilding missions, first, because “fragile states” are seen as a risk both for their society and for international security and, second, because it is broadly assumed that one vital condition for sustainable peace is that the state apparatus has the capacity to exercise core functions of statehood in an efficient, nonviolent, and legitimate way. In the process, however, the extent to which the poverty and marginalization of large rural populations have spurred recent wars has been underestimated. As a consequence, donors and policymakers risk rebuilding the causes of war.

This brief uses examples from Sudan and Afghanistan to highlight the role that land issues have played both in causing poverty and in driving and sustaining protracted conflict. In both countries, a number of interconnected conflicts have global reach, as well as occurring at regional, national, and local levels. For example, conflicts over water and grazing rights in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan have become entwined with political rivalries on a larger scale, even including neighboring countries. In a similar fashion, efforts by foreign troops to track down remnants of Al-Qaida and Taliban forces in Afghanistan have become entangled with localized conflicts. A great challenge, therefore, is to identify which particular types of interventions affect the different levels and dimensions of current conflicts.

This is a tall order, but it seems safe to conclude that the international community has not yet responded adequately to the challenge. In Afghanistan, postwar reconstruction efforts have been focused on establishing an effective central state that operates under the rule of law and in accordance with principles of transparency and accountability. While the U.S.–led coalition has invested heavily in military efforts, aid strategies have created a state that depends on foreign funds and military forces for its survival. In the process, the role that rural land issues have played in driving and sustaining internal conflict has been insufficiently considered. In Sudan, the international community has been drawn into continuous crisis management because of Darfur, as well as the slow and very difficult implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in 2005 between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. As one consequence, there is less concern with the patterns of development that have been and are being pursued in Sudan, and the way in which they may promote or reduce poverty. In both countries, land
use is a key grievance that fuels a number of local and regional conflicts.

Strand, Arne
Sørbø, Gunnar M.
Published date: 
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
Series number: 
Special Edition
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