The Politics of Land (and) Violence in Ghana

Lefore, Nicole Renee, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Department of Politics, University of Virginia

Conflict over land has increased and the nature of land-related violence has changed in Ghana, as well as in other countries in Africa, undermining economic growth and threatening political stability. Violence over land had once been primarily between customary groups over boundaries, or between peasants and the state over expropriation of customary land by those in power. Now, violence has become more destructive and deadly, and is most often between factions within the ruling class who have no customary claim to the land under dispute. This research seeks to explain how relations in land have changed and what caused the related change in the nature of land violence. It uses class analysis to examine differences in land relations across regimes since the 1970s to the early 2000s. The study finds that the nature and levels of violence changed alongside the instrumental role of land in ruling class strategies for gaining power and accumulating wealth. In the 1970s, the military regime used land for accumulation and patronage. Peasants engaged in sporadic violence to resist the loss of land, while the ruling class deployed state coercion to suppress resistance. The authoritarian regime that took over state power in 1981 sought the support of subaltern classes. Violence over land changed, with the regime using state coercive bodies to repress rivals and defend subaltern interests in land. Following democratization in 1992, land became instrumental in the intra-ruling class factional contest for state power to build patron-client networks, provide revenue for iii electoral politics, and enable primitive accumulation. Violence occurred when disputants from rival ruling class factions without customary rights to the land deployed private coercive means to acquire and defend land. The dissertation concludes that factional conflict within an inchoate ruling class was a primary underlying cause of land violence and the changes in the nature of violence over land in Ghana. The study offers lessons for future development planning in land institutions and governance.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Ghana, land, land-related violence, land politics
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